An Andy Warhol show inaugurated the Daegu headquarters, establishing Mrs. Ahn, 64, as a source in South Korea for work of artists from abroad. American giants like David Salle, Alex Katz and Elizabeth Peyton have had their first solo outings in the country with her. Now, as galleries from outside South Korea quickly enter the nation — Pace Gallery, Tang Contemporary Art, Lehmann Maupin and Gladstone Gallery have opened branches, or relocated to far larger venues, over the past year in Seoul — Mrs. Ahn is building big in Daegu. The city, which is about two hours away from Seoul by high-speed rail and home to 2.5 million, has far fewer exhibition spaces than the capital.
Leeahn plans to unveil an expansion there in the summer of 2023, with 15,000 square feet across five floors designed by the architect Pil Joon Jeon, and a show by the German artist Imi Knoebel. Along with new exhibition space, it will feature an auditorium for lectures about art and collecting. A proud booster of her adopted city, Mrs. Ahn is also chairman of the Galleries Association of Daegu, which runs an annual art fair. She has advised many of the city’s collectors, and said, speaking via an interpreter, “Rather than follow the market, they go toward their own sense of what truly is art.”
Mrs. Ahn has also made her own way into art. Growing up, she said, her parents dissuaded her from becoming an artist. Instead, she studied mathematics and taught the subject at a high school. She began collecting after marrying, encouraged by her husband, Sung Doo Lee, a doctor of traditional Korean medicine. “Because he supported me when I first started collecting, I was nice enough to put his name first” in Leeahn, she said. (His work led the couple to settle in Daegu; Mrs. Ahn is from Masan, on the southern coast, and had been living in Seoul.)
Her move into dealing came in 2006. After the death of Lee Tae, the owner of an important Daegu gallery called Ci-Gong, she acquired it, and it became Leeahn.