The latest iteration of KIAF Seoul, one of the country’s mainstay art fairs organised by the Galleries Association of Korea, was its most highly anticipated and buzzworthy edition, leading up to the partnership with Frieze next year.
TEXT: Reena Devi
IMAGES: Courtesy of various
Running from 13 to 17 October at COEX, the convention and exhibition centre in Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu district, KIAF Seoul closed last Sunday with a widely reported record-breaking KRW65 billion (US$55 million) in sales and 88,000 visitors. According to the organisers, the fair received 5,000 visitors on its first VVIP day, culminating KRW35 billion (US$29.5 million) in sales, surpassing the total sales of KRW31 billion in 2019’s pre-pandemic physical edition.
While these figures have not been independently verified, this year’s KIAF Seoul, which marked the fair’s 20th anniversary, also saw first-time participation by international galleries such as KÖNIG GALERIE and Peres Projects from Berlin, as well as Los Angeles favourite, Various Small Fires, with a space in Seoul since 2019. This was in addition to returning international participants such as Pace Gallery, Lehmann Maupin, and Perrotin—all with outposts in the city, and local galleries such as Kukje Gallery, Johyun Gallery, Hakgojae Gallery and PKM Gallery, totalling 170 exhibitors.
Speaking to CoBo Social, P21 Gallery director Soo Choi, who also runs KÖNIG GALERIE’s relatively new space situated in a flagship MCM store in Gangnam, described the entire fair period as “very busy” with interested buyers lining up at the gallery’s booth on the first VVIP day. She noted that while the crowd was mostly local, the influx of established international galleries, anticipation for Frieze Seoul next year, and growing interest amongst locals to buy art contributed to the crowds and brisk sales.
Key works sold at the KÖNIG GALERIE booth included Claudia Comte’s Quarter Circle Painting (from peach to pineapple) (2019), Jeremy Shaw’s Towards Universal Pattern Recognition (Staring Down Snake, 1973) (2020), and Robert Janitz’s Sculpting in Water (2021), with the gallery reporting that total sales on the first day amounted to €289,000 (approximately US$346,470).
While much has been made of the interest in Western blue-chip art amongst Asian collectors, be it young and diverse artists such as Jadé Fadojutimi or blockbuster names like Banksy, Various Small Fires (VSF) opted to flip the script in their KIAF booth presentation. Using their reputation as an international gallery from the West to bolster interest in young Korean artists, VSF’s booth presented one of the fair’s rare solo presentations, showcasing “modestly scaled but forceful paintings” by Seoul-born, New York-based Mark Yang. Esther Kim Varet, who helms VSF and was in town for KIAF, shared that their booth sold out on the first day, with local collectors connecting to Yang’s work.
Speaking from the fairground, Kim said, “I am really impressed with the quality of collectors and the rigor of their research. We met a lot of new collectors from different parts of South Korea, so that’s been a pleasant surprise for us, to see there is this robust collecting community where people share with each other information, so word travels very fast when people are interested in certain works.”
Industry insiders observed foreign dealers visiting the fair, such as members of the team from Los Angeles gallery David Kordansky. Additionally, given the intense correlation between Korean celebrities and collecting art, it was not the least bit surprising that the likes of V and RM from global K-pop sensation BTS, actor Lee Byung-hun who was most recently seen in Netflix sensation Squid Game, and actress Jeon Ji-hyun, were spotted at KIAF Seoul.
A spokesperson for local outfit g.gallery, shared that BTS’s V visited their booth on the first day, and expressed interest in Michael Scoggins’ and George Morton-Clark’s artworks.
While the gallery was reticent about sharing exact figures, sales was supposedly “quite strong”, and they made three times more than the last physical iteration in 2019. “We were very surprised to see how many people were at the VVIP preview. KIAF also seems to be upping its game visually; there was a lot more variety in lighting and flooring,” said the spokesperson.
According to fair organisers, this year’s edition was specifically organised “to meet global standards” such as installing trusses, improving floor conditions and the condition of the gallery booth. Additionally, KIAF also established a VVIP card for the first time this year to expand “opportunities to participate in the rapidly growing MZ (Millennials and Generation Z) generation of collectors in Korea.”
Clearly, Seoul’s biggest fair is ramping up for next year, with sky high expectations for Frieze Seoul’s inaugural edition, which will be featuring around 100 galleries. According to at least one industry source, Gagosian and Hauser & Wirth will most likely be participating. The fair will run alongside KIAF in September 2022 to avoid competing with its London edition in October. KIAF organisers are hoping the partnership “will change the whole landscape of the Asia or global art market beyond Korea.”
In fact, VSF is already gearing up for next year’s Frieze Seoul—working on organising a week of events, dinners, along with local galleries and institutions to visit— as part of efforts “to share our knowledge of the city with our clients and artists.”
The combination of KIAF and Frieze in 2022, along with increasing relaxation of travel restrictions in South Korea, will likely draw droves of international collectors, dealers, media and more. But what is increasingly obvious is the real and palpable global itch to understand and connect with the country, its people and its nuanced arts and culture. Any art fair infrastructure would benefit from this fascination. Hopefully, with more logistical flow and diversity, rather than mere paintings or secondary market works, Seoul’s biggest art fairs will be able to do so.