How Seoul is becoming a major centre of interest for the global art market

  • Arts
  • Sunday, 24 Jul 2022

South Korea, most notably Seoul, is becoming a prime art destination with a great museums, biennials and renowned foreign art galleries and fairs. Photo: AFP

Seoul may be best known as the home of K-pop, but the South Korean capital is increasingly evolving into a mecca for artistic creation. The Perrotin and Pace galleries are set to open new spaces there, confirming the country’s growing appeal as a hub for the contemporary art market.

Emmanuel Perrotin has always had a taste for risk. Indeed, he was the first Western art dealer to open an outpost in Seoul in 2016. Six years later, he is about to open another one in the South Korean capital.

This new space is located in the very chic district of Gangnam. It will open in September with an exhibition dedicated to the British-American artist, Emma Webster. This date coincides with the first edition of Frieze Seoul art fair and the latest edition of KIAF (the Korea International Art Fair) – two events in which Emmanuel Perrotin’s gallery is (obviously) participating.

The Parisian art dealer isn’t the only one opening sites in Seoul to better serve Asian art collectors.

The American Pace Gallery will add a new ground-floor space to the 789sq m space it previously opened in the South Korean capital in 2017.

The three-story gallery is a veritable art complex, as its general manager, Marc Glimcher, explained to The Art Newspaper. It will soon include a tearoom and a bookstore, where art lovers will be able to buy Pace’s books.

This is the second time the powerful American gallery has taken action to cement its presence in the city. It had already moved from a much smaller location to the space it currently occupies in the central district of Hannam.

A booming local market

Western galleries such as Thaddaeus Ropac, Konig, Peres Projects and Gladstone Gallery have also arrived in Seoul in recent years – or even more recently, as in the case of Lehmann Maupin.

This phenomenon highlights the rise of South Korea in the contemporary art market. The 2021 edition of KIAF was a resounding success, attracting 88,000 visitors, up from 63,000 five years ago. And that’s not all: sales reached 65 billion won (about US$49mil, RM218mil) during the five days of the fair.

This appears to be proof of South Koreans’ appetite for art. Many K-pop stars, such as Choi Seung-hyun, G-Dragon and RM, are seasoned art lovers and collectors.

And they aren’t the only ones. Kyu-jin Hwang, associate director for Asia at Thaddaeus Ropac in Seoul, says many young people buy art as a hobby.

“For the MZ (a Korean term encompassing “Millennials” and “Generation Z”), collecting art is a form of self-expression, and everyone openly shares their experiences online,” she told Quotidien de l’Art in December.

Add to that a vibrant art scene, great museums, biennials and renowned foreign galleries and fairs, and this all makes South Korea a country that is becoming a prime art destination.

However, South Korea is still far from matching its neighbour China, which alone accounts for 20% of the world’s art market according to the latest Art Market report from Art Basel and UBS. Nevertheless, Yoon Seok-youl’s country intends to catch up thanks to the attractiveness of its capital. – AFP

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South Korea , art market , collectors , galleries , Seoul


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