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 where super-high rents have been criticized as 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 central Seoul in 2012 and wants to evict the artists based on a 2011 court ruling that ordered them to leave by the end of 2013. The artists, whose gallery has occupied two floors of the building since 2010, question whether the ruling is valid since it was based on the previous owner's plans to reconstruct the building. 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 mediated through his entertainment agency that allowed them to stay in the building through November.
PSY is talking about reconstructing the building, Choi said. But that wouldn't make the 2011 ruling effective because South Korean laws now have stronger 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.
Critics say that the continuous rise in rent prices at Seoul's trendy districts is making neighborhoods less colorful by forcing out local people and small businesses. Such trends perhaps are manifested most strongly in Gangnam, the affluent southern Seoul area PSY made globally famous with his ubiquitous 2012 hit "Gangnam Style,'' which shattered YouTube viewing records and made his bizarre, horse-galloping dance iconic.