Collector and Patron Higgin Kim on Cultural Enrichment And The Meaning of Art

Korean collector Higgin Kim
About 400 artworks hang in Higgin Kim’s office
Ryan Gander, Hokusai’s Blues, 2014. Cyanotype, screen print with natural indigo pigment, Saunders 638g paper. 135 x 195 cm
Paola Pezzi, De-forma Nero, 2016. Black Rubber, 71x70x13cm
Nam June Paik, Hacker Newbie, 1994. Mixed media, 110x69x157cm
A glimpse of Kim’s collection.
Kenji Sugiyama, Outside 1, 2017. Mixed media, 52.9×29.9×4.2cm
CoBo Social Market News Reports

Higgin Kim might be the CEO of Byucksan Engineering and Construction Company, and the director of a number of other corporations, but during his downtime the 72-year-old is a passionate patron of the arts. He’s established foundations, served on the boards of various arts organizations, and, of course, takes the time to cultivate his own visual arts education. We spoke to him during KIAF – one of the most prominent Korean art fairs that Kim himself is a keen supporter, about his various artistic pursuits and how he built his collection over the years.

IMAGES: Courtesy of Interviewee


Korean collector Higgin Kim
About 400 artworks hang in Higgin Kim’s office


What’s your involvement in the arts?

I am very deeply involved in classical music. I am a patron. I have been on the National Orchestra Symphony for six years, and I have a cultural foundation. My first wife passed away, and whatever she left over I built into the foundation to help drama, scripts, fine arts and music. Apart from that, I have my own different corporations that help with social responsibility, and then my personal interests.


Where do you fit in the art world?

The arts consists of museums, galleries, auction houses, dealers, consultants, artists, and scholars. They all have their different interests. Curators only concentrate on exhibitions. They always go for the legacy. But, the way I look at it, everything has to start from the market, and the market has to start with the collector.


Ryan Gander, Hokusai’s Blues, 2014. Cyanotype, screen print with natural indigo pigment, Saunders 638g paper. 135 x 195 cm


What does art mean to you?

Art is inner energy. It is something you appreciate, not accomplish. Art is also a symbol of culture, and manners, but never your means. Money is one thing, but quality of life… Culture is the measurement of how you live. We have to understand how to appreciate culture. It takes time. Appreciating art is one thing, but embedding it within you and your life is another. Fine art is a great instrument you can live your life around.


Do you have a focus for your art collection?

I am concentrating on contemporary art for the simple reason that I cannot afford to buy modern impressionists. I cannot own the whole world, so what do I do? Choose and focus. I find things I like. I am a contractor and a developer, so I like bright colours. I don’t like monochrome, which is the hottest in Korea right now.


Paola Pezzi, De-forma Nero, 2016. Black Rubber, 71x70x13cm


How do you usually find out about pieces to buy?

I buy mainly from art fairs — 90% from Basel. But before that, I know a lot of people from different places and with different professions, and I gather information from real friends that I trust. Since my wife is an art gallerist, she knows who the artist is and how much the art costs. That is her job, but I normally don’t care about the artist. I just pay for it and enjoy it. If the piece ends up being scrap, so be it. It’s like buying a piece of land. It can turn out to be 100 times more expensive, or it can be trash. I don’t buy artworks to make money.


What was one of the most recent pieces you acquired?

The last commission I gave was to Olafur Eliasson for a piece of glasswork in my living room. It is huge and heavy. It’s an amber colour, but it depends on the lighting. It is fun to talk about. “What is this, Higgin?” “Well, it is nothing but glass”.


Nam June Paik, Hacker Newbie, 1994. Mixed media, 110x69x157cm


Where do you keep your collection?

About 400 artworks hang in my office, and there are about 600 over in the warehouse. They change every year.


So your employees get to work while surrounded by your collection.

I love my employees. I want them to understand and learn because they are ordinary people. They are not as blessed as I am, with a good family, good education and everything else. They didn’t have opportunity. They don’t care about culture, they don’t even understand it. They are hard-working, rugged people. That is why I want to tenderize them. I don’t blame them, but I should give them a chance. All of these hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of artworks — we should enjoy them.

We also have this point system — a culture mileage system in our company. I spend my own money, but they have to participate. They can go to musicals, movies, concerts, or anything with their families. All the music concerts [I organize for them] are free. I have more than enough musicians around me that I support. Yesterday, we had a big concert at the Seoul Art Centre. There were 2,000 people. They used my two violins and one cello. It is usually tens of millions of dollars, and they play for us for free. I have more than enough, and I let [my employees] use and appreciate it. At the same time, I appreciate it too.


A glimpse of Kim’s collection.


What do you want to do with your art collection, ultimately?

Very fortunately, I have one son who graduated from the University of Southern California as a fine art major. Since about 20 years ago, I have bought artworks under my son’s name. I also have houses in Hawaii, Los Angeles, Japan, and Korea, and they are all under his name. I pay the taxes and utilize all of the facilities, but they are his assets. I can live without them.


It sounds like the future generation is important to you.

The reason of existence for every single elderly person is for the future. What are we living for, if not for our descendants? [If I lived] for my happiness and for my pleasure — that won’t last.

There is so much you can do for the future, so don’t ever look down. Always look up to the challenge. That is youth, and that is wealth. They are things I don’t have at this age. That energy is not here anymore. When my son does things, he does not care about what is going to happen later, he just does it. That is spirit and energy. That is something youth can have, and we cannot have. You have to utilize that.


Kenji Sugiyama, Outside 1, 2017. Mixed media, 52.9×29.9×4.2cm


Have you always been based in the US?

I was 18 when I went to the States. We started there. My father wanted it, and I wanted to explore myself. Some 27 years later, I came back home [to South Korea]. I’ve also lived in Saudi Arabia for 12 years. Now, I travel all around the world, but I live for about four months every year in Los Angeles. I have a home right next to the Getty Museum.


What do you do when you’re not working?

In my second marriage, I have to acknowledge my wife. So I go home comparatively early. I watch TV with her until about twelve or one o’clock. We play cards for about an hour together. Our goal and mission that we decided is to live well. It is different from when you get married early. You get married because you love each other, right? But at later ages — no. You want to be happier. She is an artist, she loves music, so we try to do things together. Walk around, go to concerts, go to museums, spend evenings with friends.


Any parting words?

Leave your heart open. Meet different people. That is what I learned from music and fine arts.




About Higgin Kim

Mr. Higgin Kim graduated Miami Univ. in 1969 and achieved an honorary doctorate in 2002. He has been in construction, engineering and real estate development field since 1979 under the name of Byucksan Engineering.

He is known as modest philanthropist in many cultural fields as well as missionary work; Chair of Membership Society of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea, Korean Symphony Orchestra, Korea Festival Ensemble, Sejong Soloists based in NYC, Board of Korea Mecenat Association, Arts Council Korea.

As a patron of the Stradivari Society, he has been a devoted patron for talented artists, by lending music instruments (ANTONIO STRADIVARI, Cremona 1683-‘Cobbett’, PIETRO GUARNERI, Mantua 1710-‘Posner’, MATTEO GOFFRILLER, Venice 1707-‘Munroe’ ) for free to improve their skills. He later founded Byucksan Cultural Foundation and started the “NEXT Classic Project”, which showcases free classical music performances to high school students across the country to convey the significance of arts.

He received the ‘Mecenat Figure Award’ by Korea Mecenat Association in 2011 and the 22nd Montblanc de la Culture Arts Patronage Award in 2013. And he is an only Korean nominated at the Art Basel, Global Patrons Council(GPC).



Elise YAU (Editor of CoBo)

Elise YAU is an editor and writer specialises in design, lifestyle and luxury topics. She has written extensively for Ming Pao Weekly, City Magazine and HK01, and she is the author of book projects regarding design, architecture and Hong Kong culture. Currently based in Hong Kong, Elise is immersing the art world after joining CoBo, the first Asia community platform for collectors.


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