In 2006, Pier Luigi Cecioni traveled from Florence to the People’s Republic of North Korea as a visiting musician. After his hosts showed him some North Korean art, he left with an entirely new mission: He planned to become an art dealer.
For more than a decade since then, Cecioni has served as an international gallerist for North Korea’s artists. He imports posters, embroidery, and paintings from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang to his small gallery in a town outside of Tuscany, in Italy. In the wake of Kim Jong-un’s historic summit with US President Donald Trump, global interest in North Korea has never been higher, he says.
This interest hasn’t had a major effect on his business, however—because technically, he is unable to sell new work being made in North Korea. Last year, Cecioni had to effectively shutter his import business after the United Nations slapped new sanctions on the country.
UN officials claimed that the monumental sculptures being produced by North Korean artists—such as the 164-foot-tall African Resistance Monument in Senegal or the Grand Panorama Museum in Cambodia—were enabling the country to evade existing sanctions. Several former North Korean state artists have also spoken out about the abuse they experienced at the hands of the government. Although Cecioni claims the proceeds from his dealings go directly to the artists and not to the North Korean regime, his business has been under heightened scrutiny since then. Read more