Maverick singer-painter acquitted of fraud for hiring assistants

Lim Chang-won Reporter Posted : 2018-08-17 16:45 Updated : 2018-08-17 16:45
글씨작게 글씨크게

[Yonhap Photo]

SEOUL -- Jo Young-nam, a 73-year-old maverick singer and painter, was acquitted of fraud Friday after an appeals court reserved legal judgment over whether to criminalize a common practice of hiring assistants including a ghost painter in the world of art.

The case has attracted great attention from the world of art in South Korea due to ongoing debate over how much the role of assistants is acceptable in producing paintings. A district court in Seoul ruled that Jo deceived buyers because assistants were involved independently in the creative process of descriptions, perspectives and coloring.

In October last year, Jo was sentenced to 10 months in prison with a stay of execution for two years after he was found guilty of hiring ghost painters to produce paintings sold under his name. The court ruled that collectors and buyers have purchased Jo's works without knowing the singer-painter used assistants or ghost painters.

The high court overturned the lower court's decision, saying Jo followed a common practice in the world of art and hired assistants to implement his own idea. Jo has argued his ideas were copied and translated by assistants into paintings before he put the finishing touches.

"It is a widely known fact in the history of art that assistants are involved in the process of creation as part of apprenticeship training," the court said in a statement. "As long as the way of using an assistant exists in the art world, it can not be called a crime."

Jo, respected as a legendary singer from the 1970s, has served as a professional painter since 1990 to produce hundreds of works. His Hwatu (flower cards) series have been popular. Hanafuda of Japanese origin, also known as "Hwatu" in Korean, is very commonly played in South Korea.

He was accused of selling 21 paintings from September 2011 to January 2015 for a total of 153 million won ($134,800). Art critics say hiring assistants is acceptable in certain genres of contemporary art, but artists usually work together with assistants. Jo insisted he did not conceal the existence of assistants with his ideas copied and translated by assistants into paintings before he put the finishing touches.

"Thanks to this trial, I became more sincere about drawing," Jo said, vowing to continue his work.