As Seoul has emerged as a new key Asian art hub in the last couple of years with the country's growing number of art collectors, many are curious as to whether its new presence in the global art scene will grow bigger and stronger or slowly diminish.
Hwang Dal-sung, president of the Galleries Association of Korea, who was reelected to lead the association representing some 160 galleries in Korea for another two years following a tightly fought election in February, is determined to strengthen Korea's position in the international art scene.
“As South Korea’s art market grows fast, attracting international attention, the status of the association and Kiaf Seoul (the annual art fair run by the association) have been elevated too, which led to a competitive election for the position that heads the association and Kiaf Seoul,” Hwang said during an interview with The Korea Herald on April 28 in Seoul.
Last year, Kiaf Seoul, which has run for 20 years here, took place alongside the inaugural Seoul edition of leading global art fair Frieze, at the Convention and Exhibition Center in Gangnam-gu, southern Seoul. Frieze Seoul is the first art fair in Asia launched by Frieze, which originated in London. The two art fairs are set to be held concurrently every year for five years at Coex.
Hwang is convinced Seoul will be the strongest Asian art hub for the next few years, as it hosts the two art fairs at the same time. According to him, Seoul is the sole case where a local art fair and a global-brand art fair collaborate together while operating separately.
“Seoul city and the government were not aware of what kind of impact the two fairs would bring to the city together last year, but now they know how the city will be put at the center of global attention through art. The city and the government have shown willingness to cooperate with us (Kiaf Seoul and Frieze Seoul) this year,” he said, adding that they have had several meetings to discuss how to host the fairs successfully. This year's events will kick off on Sept. 6.
“The atmosphere is quite different from last year. The city government’s attitude is now, ‘What can we do for the fairs?’” he said. The discussions include choosing a venue for a VIP party in Seoul at a place that features Korean aesthetics.
Hwang said South Korea is moving toward breaking prejudices about commercial art fairs that have led to them being shunned by both the government and academia.
Kiaf Seoul will use some of the 37,00-square-meter park in Songhyeon-dong next to Gyeongbokgung to present works by Korea’s emerging young artists, Hwang said. The park is a temporary location until a museum dedicated to the collection bequeathed by late Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee is completed.
Despite the unprecedented art market boom during the past two years, local auctions and art fairs have been rather tepid so far this year.
“The market fluctuates in a wave-like pattern. We just passed a period in which the market boomed excessively and reached a time to take a breather. The market will mature eventually after going through ups and downs,” he said.
Last year, Hwang pledged to bring Kiaf Seoul to Jakarta, Indonesia to promote Korean galleries and artists. The plan is currently on hold to allow for a thorough review of the whole process.
“We are looking into the right timing to launch Kiaf Seoul in other countries,” he said.