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[Herald Interview] Frieze Seoul uses collaboration to boost local art scene

Patrick Lee, director of Frieze Seoul (Frieze, Deniz Guzel)
Patrick Lee, director of Frieze Seoul (Frieze, Deniz Guzel)

Frieze Seoul, is set to take place next month, with art lovers eager to see how the event will affect the local art market and what role Seoul will play as a potential Asia art hub.

The art fair will collaborate with the Galleries Association of Korea, which has run the international art fair Kiaf Seoul for 20 years. The two fairs will open on Sept. 2 at Coex in southern Seoul.

“Frieze wanted to engage with the local art scene and develop a relationship with the Galleries Association of Korea. We wanted to establish ourselves here long-term and to engage with the whole scene,” said Patrick Lee, director of Frieze Seoul, in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.

The highly established event was first launched in 2003 in London by art magazine Frieze and has since grown into one of the world’s leading art fairs, expanding to New York and Los Angeles. Frieze Seoul is the first edition of the fair to be held in an Asian city.

Lee has been pushing for Frieze Seoul to establish itself in the city since he was appointed as director of the institution in October 2021. The two fairs have been open to collaboration and have even shared knowledge, according to Lee. One example involved the Kiaf Seoul team visiting Frieze New York in May to see how such an event functions in the local art scene.

“Kiaf Seoul has a great audience and has built up the market (in South Korea). So Frieze has the luxury of already having an audience because people who come to Kiaf Seoul will visit Frieze Seoul,” Lee said.

“Frieze Seoul will attract many foreign people who will see Kiaf Seoul too. Tickets are for both events, so anybody with a ticket can experience all the art from Frieze and Kiaf.”

Frieze Seoul will bring a total of 119 galleries to the city, including many of the world’s top galleries, such as Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth and David Zwirner, which do not have galleries in Seoul. Kiaf Seoul will host 164 galleries from home and abroad. Kiaf Seoul drew some 90,000 people last year.

Lee said Seoul has the “energy” of a cultural hub in Asia, with vibrant film, music, cuisine and fashion scenes. Other draws for international galleries include a growing collecting culture with the rapid inflow of younger collectors and a business-friendly environment with no import duty on artworks.

Lee considers September a great time to host an art fair, as the month coincides with other major art events in Korea, such as the Busan Biennale, the Seoul Mediacity Biennale and the Gwangju Biennale.

“I think it’s a great time for Korea. Busan Biennale is opening on Sept. 3,” Lee said.

While Lee aimed to focus on the fair itself for the first year of Frieze Seoul, it will accompany some programs, including Frieze Film, curated by two art non-profits, GYOPO, based in Los Angeles and WESS, based in Seoul.

During Frieze Week, which will start on Aug. 29, a series of special events will take place throughout the city. Hannam Night will be on Sept.1, with galleries in the Hannam-dong district staying open late for visitors, while Samcheong Night on Sept. 2 will feature galleries in the Samcheong-dong neighborhood and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea that will host “the 10th Anniversary of Korea Artist Prize Party.”

Frieze and Kiaf Seoul will host “Talk Programs” at Coex from Sept. 3 to 5 - three talks per day, including artist discussions on global art trends. The program will also reflect some of the timely conversations taking place across the international art world.

Before joining Frieze Seoul, Lee was executive director of Gallery Hyundai. For thirteen years until 2019, he was a partner with ONE AND J. Gallery in Seoul.

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)
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