The “frieze storm” shakes the Korean art market

September 9, 2022

SEOUL – Frieze Seoul was a storm. The inaugural event was not just about the art fair; he brought a new culture to the city, creating a platform to talk about art. Parties and exhibitions at galleries and museums in Seoul’s art districts were packed with people late into the night.

“It’s been a fabulous week. I visited many parties and events that took place alongside Frieze Seoul and got to meet many collectors there. It’s been a kind of exclusive culture to talk about collecting art. art here, and as far as I know, we’ve never had an open place to network with other artists,” said David Kim, 29, who visited Frieze Seoul three days in a row. started collecting art two years ago.

On the last day of Frieze Seoul on Monday, “Frieze Seoul is now closed” sounded throughout the Coex hall, and people were busy taking art photos until the very last minute. Visitors were delighted and amazed to see works by contemporary artists presented by foreign galleries, as well as works by old masters such as Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Wassily Kandinsky, Egon Schiele and Andy Warhol.

Lehmann Maupin is hosting a party at its venue in Hannam-dong, Seoul on September 1. (Hwang Dong-hee/The Korea Herald)

“I collected works by Korean artists and only went to local art fairs. I recently started getting interested in works by foreign artists, so it was a good time for me to come to Frieze Seoul. I learned a lot about artists that I didn’t know before,” said Son Woo-kyung, 41, from Seoul, who was visiting the booth of Sao Paulo-based Mendes Wood DM gallery on Monday.

Frieze Seoul attracted more than 70,000 visitors over four days and saw “rapid sales with galleries reporting widespread enthusiasm for collectors,” according to Frieze Seoul. Some 110 galleries participated in the first Frieze Seoul.

Thaddaeus Ropac recorded significant sales, including a painting by Georg Baselitz which sold for 1.2 million euros ($1.19 million). Hauser & Wirth was another gallery with major sales, including George Condo’s “Red Portrait Composition”, which sold for $2.8 million to a private museum. Seoul-based Jason Haam sold Urs Fischer’s “Problem Painting” to a Seoul-based private collector for $1.2 million.

Artworks worth hundreds of billions of won were sold during the four-day fair and 80 percent of them were made on the VIP opening day, according to an insider source.

“It’s quite impressive. In the art fairs that we do in Europe or America, the average age is much higher. But here it’s around, say, 25 to 30, very young,” said Jorn Gunther, who runs Basel-based Dr. Jorn Gunther Rare Books, which showcased European medieval and Renaissance books at Frieze. Masters and was one of the most popular booths at the show.

A young woman looks around the stand of Dr Jorn Gunther Rare Books on Sunday in the Frieze Masters section. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Collaboration with Kiaf Seoul

The excitement carried over to Kiaf Seoul, the 20-year-old international art fair organized by the Galleries Association of Korea, which took place on the first floor of Coex while Frieze Seoul was held on the third floor.

The Seoul-based art fair had prepared for the collaboration with the world’s largest art fair with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, but the fair turned out to be a success in terms of momentum. and sales, according to several gallery owners.

“We definitely had good energy this year. Those who wanted to see Korean artists seemed to visit our fair after Frieze Seoul. They showed positive reactions because we presented quality works by Korean artists,” said Park Ryu-sook, owner of Park Ryu Sook gallery who joined Kiaf Seoul and presented works by art masters. Korean contemporary art such as Park Seo-bo, Yun Hyong-keun. and Kwon Dae-sup.

Some of the foreigners at the joint fair expressed their interest in seeing more Korean artworks and learning more about the Korean art scene.

“You see a lot of these things all over the world, which is impressive. But at the same time, the reason I come here is to learn a bit more about Korea,” said Michael Hue-Williams, an England-based art dealer.

Visitors view works during Kiaf Seoul’s VIP opening on Sept. 2 in Coex in southern Seoul. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

After five hectic days, however, many local galleries found themselves doing complicated math. Galleries that only participated in Kiaf Seoul and those that participated in both fairs clearly differed in their assessment of the first joint art fair. A total of 12 local galleries were selected to join Frieze Seoul, including those from Frieze Masters, featuring old masters.

“I think we should take advantage of Frieze Seoul, hosting parties and providing a place to meet collectors and other gallery owners during the joint art fair period. Local galleries that are smart enough to pull the better part of this chance will survive,” said Lee Joon-yub, director of Gallery Shilla, a 30-year-old gallery based in Daegu and Seoul.

The gallery has shown experimental attempts to question the gallery’s role in the contemporary art scene through a variety of events at Kiaf Seoul and its gallery over the past few years.

Some major galleries in Seoul have admitted that it is not easy to prepare to participate in two fairs at the same time. There were time and staff constraints, as the joint art fair technically consists of two separate art fairs. According to a major local gallery that participated in both art fairs, its sales at Frieze Seoul were five times larger than those at Kiaf Seoul when it started. Most sales at Kiaf Seoul were made on the last day, September 6, a day after Frieze Seoul ended.

“It was not easy to prepare for two art fairs, but we have to consider the relationship with the Galleries Association of Korea and the local art market, so we can’t give up on Kiaf Seoul,” said a gallery owner from Seoul who wished to remain anonymous. “I would say that we (local galleries) now find ourselves in an era of unlimited competition with international galleries. Now, I have more pressure to present quality works and find talented artists from here and elsewhere.

Although comparisons between the two art fairs are inevitable, many at the fair said it was important to nurture the local art market and maintain the Kiaf Seoul brand as the biggest country art fair.

“It’s not just about Frieze, it’s also about how to be together. They only talk about Frieze, but it’s important to say Frieze and Kiaf because it’s a partnership,” said Said Alfred Kornfeld, who runs Berlin-based contemporary art gallery Galerie Kornfeld, “Koreans should be proud of how they put things together. They shouldn’t hide behind a global brand.”

The joint fair was a success in terms of sales and attention. The number of collectors from China and Hong Kong, many of whom could not come to Seoul this time due to quarantine measures, will visit Seoul next year will be another measure of success at the upcoming Frieze and Kiaf Seoul.

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