With a little help from Frieze Seoul, long-running Korean art fair KIAF is making a comeback

With a significant increase in the number of international galleries and an affluent crowd strolling through the exhibition grounds with Hermès handbags, the Korea International Art Fair (KIAF) is feeling the benefits of its partnership with Frieze Seoul.

The latest edition of South Korea’s oldest art fair, now open in the Gangnam district, features 164 galleries from 17 countries and regions, with 37 first-time exhibitors. The number of international galleries doubled to 60 from a year ago, and a steady stream of reported sales suggests a robust market.

“Many VIPs felt they should come here today instead of coming later,” said Kim Donghyun, chief director of the exhibition and business department of the Galleries Association of Korea, which organized the fair. . “The crowd was more dispersed throughout the week of the fair.”

“There is huge interest from the national government, city government, as well as Incheon Airport and Gangnam District government,” Kim added. “It’s not just an art fair. It’s a city event.

Building on the partnership with Frieze, which will share space with KIAF under a five-year plan, the Korean fair has upped its game, hiring a foreign PR firm to help with publicity and hosting for the first time foreign journalists.

Installation view of KIAF Seoul 2022. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

At first glance, the fair is dominated by brightly colored and fashionable paintings and sculptures, as well as media works by top-notch artists such as Nam June Paik, Lee Ufan and Park Seo-bo. The crowd seemed to be mostly Korean, with some English, Cantonese and Mandarin speakers.

But whether Seoul can replace Hong Kong as the region’s arts hub remains to be seen (especially as some overseas visitors and attendees have reported difficulty getting around the city).

Still, that hasn’t stopped many exhibitors, especially those overseas, from taking the opportunity to explore a new market, as Hong Kong remains inaccessible due to prolonged pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Kiaf 2022.

KIAF 2022. Photo by KIAF Operating Committee. Courtesy of KIAF.

Tokyo’s Art Front Gallery returned to KIAF for the first time since 2015 when sales expectations were not met, managing director Shoji Hideyuki said.

“But with the launch of Frieze Seoul, we believe more people will come, and the Korean economy is strong,” Hideyuki told Artnet News. The gallery even splurged to ship large-scale sculpture works by Bunpei Kado and said it sold two works, including a 2018 painting by Sakamoto Tokuro, to Korean and Western buyers at opening time. the event. Starting prices for the works are ₩8,000,000 ($5,875).

Kiaf 2022

KIAF 2022. Photo by KIAF Operating Committee. Courtesy of KIAF.

Many galleries reported selling work during the first hours of opening. Seoul’s Kiche Gallery said it sold its booth of Ok Seungcheol paintings for about $45,000 each, and two sculptures for $12,000 each. Representatives of another local business, Cylinder, said the gallery sold 10 oil-on-panel works by Tristan Pigott for between £1.8million ($1,321) and £18million. pounds ($13,219). Zoom Gallery, also from Seoul, sold five oil-on-canvas works by Lee Yea Ji for $2,200 to $3,700.

International galleries also reported good results. Zilberman Gallery, based in Istanbul and Berlin, presented works by eight artists priced between $10,000 and $15,000, including examples by Sim Chi Yin from Singapore, Omar Barquet from Mexico and the Hong Kong Berlin artist Isaac Chong Wai. The booth also featured works by Hong Kong artist Jaffa Lam Laam with political overtones that could complicate their display in Hong Kong.

Gallery founder Moiz Zilberman said he had stopped going to Art Basel Hong Kong for the past two years due to travel restrictions and was trying Seoul as his new landing spot.

“Frieze attracts international collectors,” he told Artnet News. “The Korean government also supports contemporary art. We decided it was time to come and visit Seoul.”

Kiaf 2022

KIAF 2022. Photo by KIAF Operating Committee. Courtesy of KIAF.

Still, there are downsides. “It’s not as international as Hong Kong,” Zilberman said, citing language barriers and Google maps that he said didn’t fully work in Korea. Getting a taxi was also a challenge for visitors (supply didn’t seem to meet demand) and prices quoted in Korean Won were confusing to some.

“But they will overcome this,” Zilberman added.

The real question now is whether Frieze will eclipse KIAF – a possibility that Kim of the Korea Gallery Association doesn’t worry about, given the partnership between the events.

“Systems and people are most important to our art market,” he said. “There is a growing pool of art professionals in Korea and more of them are working with their counterparts overseas. International galleries operating here must also hire local people. In this way, the new generation learns from these great galleries and, in a few years, they will be able to play a more important role in the world art market in the future, while bringing with them their resources, their knowledge and their network to the local market. art scene.

KIAF Seoul runs until September 6 at COEX. KIAF Plus takes place until September 5 at SETEC.

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