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Hotel art fairs not so fresh anymore

Novelty factor wears out, while organizers now openly announce event is reserved for the privileged

The idea of room-hopping in the city’s most luxurious hotels to browse artwork adorning the walls was very fresh in 2009 when the first-ever hotel art fair in the city was opened at the Grand Hyatt Seoul in Hannam-dong, central Seoul.

But with so many hotel art fairs popping up every season since then in different hotels throughout Seoul, viewing artwork in well appointed hotel rooms has become a stale affair. A week has barely passed since the last hotel art fair held at Imperial Palace Hotel in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul, from Nov. 25 to 27, and another one is opening on Friday at JW Marriott Hotel in southern Seoul.

Organizers say that the biggest advantage of a hotel art fair is that potential buyers can imagine how the artwork would look when it is displayed in their own homes. But in many cases the artworks look too jammed up in hotel rooms that measure about 30 square meters on average ― paintings were spread out on the bed, floors and bathrooms and sculptures were crowded on the balconies. 
A view of “Seoul Art Festival” held at Ritz Carlton Hotel in Seoul in July 22 to 24. (Seoul Art Festival)
A view of “Seoul Art Festival” held at Ritz Carlton Hotel in Seoul in July 22 to 24. (Seoul Art Festival)

“It is possible to put them up on the ceiling using string hooks but artists like to arrange them like installation arts. The difference between a hotel art fair and ordinary convention center art fairs is that there will be no gap between what visitors saw at the fair and what they see when they take them home because the height of the ceiling is similar to that of normal homes,” said Cha Mi-ra, PR official of “Seoul Art Festival” which was held in July at Ritz Carlton Hotel in Yeoksam-dong, southern Seoul.

Meanwhile, hotel art fairs are openly turning their backs on “non-VIPs,” announcing that the event is only for the “top one percent” of society. “Seoul Art Festival” which runs from Dec. 2 to 4 at JW Marriott Hotel only invited CEOs, VIP members of Shinsegae Department Store and those who have Marriott Hotel memberships.

“We used to invite about 10,000, mostly artists, critics and other art industry insiders. But this time we only invited about 2,700 who will actually contribute to sales. Our staff personally invited every single one of them and most said would come on Friday because they have golf plans in the weekend. About 70 pieces are already sold out, picked out straight from the catalogues,” said Cha.

The art fair will feature 1,300 works by 700 local and international artists and also hold a charity auction to help child breadwinners. “The VIPs donated their treasured items like golf clubs received as a present from golfer Pak Seri,” said Cha, adding that it made sense to invite only those who could actually participate in such auctions and help the less fortunate.

Major art galleries, however, are rather reluctant to participate in such art fairs because of the high fees required to join. In most cases galleries have to pay about 3 million to 5 million won to rent a room during the fair, which is at least three times the regular room charge.

Moreover, most major local galleries are busy this time of the year, pushing their best artists at overseas art fairs, so they are not interested as much in the hotel art fairs. Critics claim that the quality of the works found in hotel art fairs do not exactly match the so called “VIP” level.

“It has been about a decade since art fairs started here, and seeing its effectiveness in sales weakening, some of the organizers are turning to actual money holders instead of targeting the general public. But it is going against another purpose of art fairs which is to promote art to the general public and expand the base of art lovers and collectors. Other than for the fact that the privileged would buy artworks feeling privileged, it is difficult to see hotel art fairs in a positive light,” said art critic Hong Kyung-han.

By Park Min-young  (