KIAF Art Seoul 2019: Post-Fair Report

KIAF Art Seoul 2019 during the VIP Preview on Wednesday, 25 September, 2019.
Installation view of Jompet Kuswidanantos On Paradise, The Dogs, 2018 at the booth of Arario Gallery at KIAF Art Seoul 2019.
Installation view of Han Yajuan, Art Fair, 2011, oil on canvas, 180 x 540 cm, at the booth of The Columns Gallery at KIAF Art Seoul 2019.
Installation view of Ryan Cho, Amalgamation, 2018-19, glass, glaze, ink, stick, acrylic on ceramic, 23 x 23 cm each, in the booth of Bongsung Gallery at KIAF Art Seoul 2019.
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CoBo Social Chinese Abstraction Series

Korea’s longest running art fair, KIAF Art Seoul, opened with great fervor last week at the convention and retail center, COEX, in the south of the capital city. With a mammoth 175 galleries hailing from 17 countries and territories, some 10,000 artworks of various size, medium and price were on display. The five-day fair concluded on Sunday with its organizer, the Galleries Association of Korea reporting a record number of visitors.

TEXT: Denise Tsui
IMAGES: Denise Tsui for CoBo Social

 

KIAF Art Seoul 2019 during the VIP Preview on Wednesday, 25 September, 2019.

“Just be prepared, it’ll feel very corporate,” warned a friend attending with me. By this he meant I should set my expectations right. I’m a fan of warm and cozy boutique regional fairs but KIAF is in the category of the mega-scale beasts. And he was right. Before we found the familiar bright KIAF logo delineating the entrance to the fair, we walked past well-suited lawyers there to attend the annual conference of the International Bar Association in the hall next door. I was with a cheerful, giggly group dressed in attire to match, so as one may expect, we were unashamedly a spectacle.

The fair occupied Hall A and Hall B of COEX, with ice cream and coffee stops in between the connecting passageways. Smaller galleries were scattered across both halls with many more lining the perimeter, while larger international and Korean galleries occupied spacious booths throughout the center aisles. Figuring out the formula by which galleries are given their spot in a fair is often part of the fun. It’s commonly believed that booths near the front naturally achieve more foot traffic; or the first hall is more ideal unless you are near the VIP Lounge, for example. Collectors and visitors do tire out after all. We call this fair fatigue. So it’s likely of no coincidence that Gallery Woong (Seoul) was among those right at the entrance—I later met the chairwoman of this year’s fair and it was none other than the president of Gallery Woong. I also came to learn during the VIP after party that KIAF’s primary staffs are largely made up of Korean gallery owners and the chairperson is rotated every few years from selected members of the Association.

Back inside the hall, the VIP Preview, which ran for a better part of four hours, felt ghostly quiet. Yet the fair has reported a 30% surge in footfall from last year with some 82,000 visitors across five days. So what gives? One explanation given to me was the notoriously private reputation of Korean collectors. Another explanation was, unlike the snap-up nature of many other fairs, collectors here prefer to take their time—often until the last day. Nevertheless by the end of the preview, as hungry crowds left in search of sustenance (bibimbap anyone?), many stickers could be seen on the walls and some galleries were already reporting a pleasant stream of sales, with one booth even apparently having fully sold out.

Artworks varied greatly across the two halls, as did the price tags. Nam June Paik’s lithographs could be snapped up for a reasonable USD 2600 from one gallery while a Nam June Paik 1978 TV sculpture at Hakgojae Gallery (Seoul) held a much higher tag as one would expect. The usual pop and street art inspired offerings could be seen among many of the smaller galleries but booth size didn’t mean there couldn’t be extraordinary works. Gallery K.O.N.G (Seoul) dedicated most of their booth to renowned Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf. His video installation, Troubled (2016), was simply mesmerizing to watch. A limited edition work of which the first of five is reportedly owned by Gemeentenmuseum Den Haag, you too could own this museum piece for USD 120,000.

Installation view of Jompet Kuswidanantos On Paradise, The Dogs, 2018 at the booth of Arario Gallery at KIAF Art Seoul 2019.

Minimalist paintings by Korean modern heavyweights could be seen scattered right through the fair, from Kukje Gallery (Seoul/Busan) to Gallery Hyundai (Seoul) and many others. At Arario Gallery (Seoul/ Cheonan/Shanghai), beautiful collages made from maps by Paris-based Kim Soun-Gui had an asking price of USD 170,000. In the same booth, Jompet Kuswidananto’s haunting installation inspired by the story of an Indonesian revolutionary and a video work with a chilling song voiced by the revolutionary’s son, who was one of the Bali bombers of 2002, simply stopped you in your tracks. Sold separately, the former was tagged at USD 22,000 while the later could be purchased for USD 5000.

Installation view of Han Yajuan, Art Fair, 2011, oil on canvas, 180 x 540 cm, at the booth of The Columns Gallery at KIAF Art Seoul 2019.

Chinese contemporary art was pleasantly represented at The Columns Gallery (Seoul), where a five-and-a-half meter long painting by Beijing-based artist Han Yajuan provided lots of Where’s Wally fun. Speaking of fun, Bongsung Gallery (Daegu) returned this year once again with glazed ceramic crackers by Ryan Cho featuring various famous artists, musicians, artworks and more. While they do look more appealing en masse, Bob Marley’s fans could purchase his portrait alone for 1,000,000 KRW (USD 832). Or perhaps Bruce Lee or Charlie Chaplin is more your cup of tea?

Installation view of Ryan Cho, Amalgamation, 2018-19, glass, glaze, ink, stick, acrylic on ceramic, 23 x 23 cm each, in the booth of Bongsung Gallery at KIAF Art Seoul 2019.

In all, the fair reported total sales of 31,000,000,000 KRW (approximately USD 25,800,500) across the duration of the fair. Safe to say then that what may be the most expensive artwork at KIAF this year, Constantin Brancusi’s Princess X, presented by Die Galerie (Frankfurt) did not sell. The glossy sculpture had an asking price of some USD 7.39 million.

While rumors are circulating that Korea seeks to position itself as a muscle player in Asia, it’s tough competition in an overcrowded fair market and KIAF Art Seoul 2019, while had some great artworks and plenty to offer, may still be quite some digits off from competing with the MCH-backed Art Basel Hong Kong. It does, however, show that Korea’s most internationally known galleries are no longer playing the game alone, but rather, the country’s large art scene has many galleries and artists ripe for entering the international arena. The country has already successfully done so with its biennales, perhaps the fair will be next?

 

 

 


 

Denise Tsui is currently the Editor for CoBo Social. A Hong Kong-born Aussie with an addiction to coffee, her research interests are primarily in the study of exhibition models and curatorial practices and art from the Southeast Asia Region. Previously she was an editor for ArtAsiaPacific and curator for a private collection of Australian and New Zealand art. A condensed version of her postgraduate curatorial thesis on contemporary Indonesian art was published in the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies in 2015.

 
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