Could Seoul become the Art Capital of Asia?
With Frieze preparing a new Seoul fair, and a growing roster of galleries, the city could steal Hong Kong’s crown. There has been K-pop, K-cinema, K-tech and K-philosophy. Now there is K-art and it is much in evidence in London this week, notably at Frieze, which today announces Patrick Lee as the director of its new fair in Seoul, due to launch September. Lee says art has been more of a slow burner than other aspects of Korean culture, which recently have been rapidly exported and consumed across the globe. “I wouldn’t say art is the missing link,” Lee says, “but it takes time to understand the machinations of the art world.”
The cultural exchange is flowing both ways. In the past six months, several international galleries have opened in Seoul including Berlin’s König Galerie, which opened a space in the luxury boutique MCM Haus in April, and the Austrian Thaddaeus Ropac gallery, which launched just last week in the Hannam-dong district. The New York-based Gladstone Gallery also announced last month that it plans to open an outpost in Seoul.
Dealers are beginning to tout tax-friendly Seoul as a more attractive alternative to Hong Kong, which has suffered mounting crackdowns on freedom of expression in recent months. “We believe Seoul could be a hub for the Asian market—and the rest of the world,” says Sojung Kang, the director of Arario Gallery, which is showing multi-media works by the Korean artist Soungui Kim for its debut at Frieze Masters. “We don’t have any tax issues, there are no issues with shipping and everything is very convenient. What is more, we don’t have political issues, we are stable.”
South Korea’s art market is estimated to hit about 532 billion won ($410.2 million) for the first half of 2022, according to a report by the Korea Arts Management Service last week. The six-month figure amounted to 58 percent of the annual art market size of 2021, which was 915.7 billion won.
Six major art fairs held in the first half of the year showed strong growth. The total sales reached 1429 billion won, up 165 percent from the previous year. The total number of visitors also increased by 72 percent. About 245 billion won in art transactions took place at local art galleries. While,145 billion won worth of domestic art transactions were reported at 141 auctions held by the country’s 10 major auction companies.
The online art market continued to boom thanks to growing interest in “fractional ownership” and non-fungible token (NFT) art as tech-savvy young people enter the art market, KAMS explained. The art market has also expanded into other fields such as retail and fashion. The market for fractional ownership -- a type of investment in which customers split ownership of a work of art -- is estimated to have reached 31 billion won in the first half of the year, equivalent to 56.9 percent of the fractional ownership art market size in 2021.
KAMS estimates the total amount of art transactions to reach 1 trillion won this year, with Kiaf Seoul and Frieze Seoul’s first joint art fair scheduled to take place in September.
Source: Hwang Dong-Hee, Korea Herald (July 10)