South Korean singer PSY is fighting a legal battle with artist tenants who are reluctant to leave a building he owns in Seoul. The property dispute has struck a nerve in a country notorious for super-high rents that critics say are killing vibrancy in cities by spurring gentrification and evictions.
Choi Jee Ahn of Takeout Drawing said Thursday that about 10 lawsuits have been exchanged between a gallery the artists belong to and their YouTube star landlord.
PSY bought the six-floor building in February 2012 and wants to evict the artists on the grounds of a 2011 court ruling that ordered them to move out by the end of 2013. The artists, whose gallery has occupied two floors of the building since 2010, question whether the ruling is still effective when it was based on earlier plans by the building’s previous owner to reconstruct it. The company didn’t go through with the plans before selling the property to PSY for about $6.8 million.
The artists said PSY’s continued attempts to evict them betray an agreement they reached with the singer in May through the mediation of his entertainment agency, which stated that they remain at their current space until the end of November.
PSY, who first told the artists he planned to convert the entire building into a coffee shop, has changed from his initial plans to preserve the building and is now talking about reconstruction plans, Choi said. However, this doesn’t restore the effectiveness of the 2011 ruling because South Korean laws have changed since then to strengthen the protection of tenants, she said.
PSY’s lawyer did not respond to calls to his office for comment. The lawyer has previously told South Korean media that PSY was just trying to rightfully exercise his property rights and that the artists were trying to exploit the singer’s celebrity status.
The artists have staged rallies to protect their space since March when dozens of enforcers appeared at the gallery and tried to physically force them out, Choi said. One artist was seriously injured, causing a two-week hospital stay, she said.
PSY’s lawyer has filed defamation suits against four of the artists for criticizing the singer on the Internet.