Korean national treasure sold after garnering no offers in auction

SEOUL-- A national treasure that was up for auction by the financially struggling Kansong Art Museum but attracted no bids in January has recently found its new owner.

Heritage DAO, a group of cryptocurrency-based investors who are cultural enthusiasts, has purchased the treasure and agreed to donate a 51 percent stake to the Kansong Art and Culture Foundation that runs the museum in Seoul, the foundation said.

DAO, which stands for "decentralized autonomous organization," is a term in the world of cryptocurrency for a bunch of people who have pooled funds to accomplish a particular task.

It marks the first time that a cultural heritage item listed as a national treasure has been sold to a cryptocurrency-based investor group.

The foundation also said the purchase was made through K Auction, the country's second-largest auction house, and that DAO asked the item be kept under its permanent custody for public benefits.

It, however, did not give details over why DAO decided to return more than half of its shares.

Local news media have reported that DAO sought to gain rights to issue non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in exchange for the donation.

"We are grateful to the donor who decided to place the Portable Shrine of Gilt-bronze Buddha Triad, the national treasure, under our permanent custody and donate its stakes with deep interest and affection for the Korean cultural heritage," the foundation said in a statement. "We repeatedly apologize to many people who have loved and supported Kansong," it said. "We will do our best to prevent similar things from happening in the future."

Previously owned by the family of Jeon Hyeong-pil, the late founder of the museum, the Buddhist relic was one of the two national treasures put up for auction at the K Auction house in Seoul about two months ago.

The bidding prices started at 2.8 billion won ($2.3 million won) for the Portable Shrine of Gilt-bronze Buddha Triad and 3.2 billion won for the Gilt-bronze Standing Buddha Triad with Inscription of Gyemi Year, the other item, but the auction quickly ended with no offers.

After the auction, the second item remains under the ownership of the Jeon family.

The auction attracted high public attention, as it was the first time national treasures had been put up for sale.

The portable shrine, a miniature version of a Buddhist shrine inside a temple, is believed to have been made in the 11-12th century during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), while the Buddhist statue is thought to be from the 6th century during the Baekje Kingdom (18 B.C.-A.D. 660), judging from the inscription on the back of the mandoria.

The two were collected by the late museum founder Jeon with his personal assets while Korea was under the Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945. They were designated as national treasures in 1962.

Faced with financial difficulties, the museum has been selling works from its collection in recent years, including two rare Buddhist statues put on auction in 2020. The statues were purchased by the National Museum of Korea after they failed to attract bids in the auction.

Source: Yonhap News Agency