The Korea Herald


South Korean art market more volatile than global market: report

By Hwang Joo-young

Published : July 25, 2023 - 18:57

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An auction takes place at Seoul Auction in this undated photo. (Seoul Auction) An auction takes place at Seoul Auction in this undated photo. (Seoul Auction)

South Korea's art auction market almost halved in the first half of this year, demonstrating greater volatility compared to the global art market, a report from the Korea Art Authentication and Appraisal Research Center showed Monday.

The total amount of winning bids at South Korean auction houses Seoul Auction, K-auction and Myart Auction amounted to 61.3 billion won ($47.9 million) in the first half of 2023, a 47 percent decline from the same period of the preceding year, even though the number of auctioned items fell only 8.45 percent during the same period.

In the first half of the year, approximately 70 percent of the total items put up for auction received successful bids. This figure is slightly lower than 80 percent the previous year.

In contrast, the top three global auction houses -- Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips -- recorded $5.8 billion in sales in the first half of 2023, an 18.2 percent decrease from the same period of the prior year, according to the report.

The report explained that the art market witnessed substantial inflation over the last two years, particularly in the realm of artwork produced by emerging and youthful artist collectives.

"The domestic art market was vulnerable to the external environments while overseas art auction markets could comparatively maintain bid prices for artworks as they possessed quality masterpieces,” Lee Myung-sun, director of the appraisal institute, told The Korea Herald on Tuesday.

In addition, consumer sentiment has turned negative due to an unstable market environment amid an unsteady economic situation weighing down on consumer sentiment.

"The art market is being affected heavily amid a situation when businesses and companies like startups in the overall industries have tightened financial budgets due to the ongoing economic downturn," said the report.

The appraisal institution expects that the downturn in the global art market during the first half of 2023 will continue through the rest of the year.

The price of Lee Ufan's The price of Lee Ufan's "Dialogue" is estimated at 1.35 billion won to 2 billion won($1.06 million-$1.56 million). (K-auction)

Meanwhile, the three top artists by the number of works sold at the three major Korean auctions houses were Lee Ufan, Yayoi Kusama and Kim Whanki.

Lee, an 87-year-old Korean painter known as a pioneer of the avant-garde Mono-ha -- meaning "school of things" -- group in Japan, ranked first as his works were traded the most in the first six months in 2023, with a total of 40 pieces auctioned off. Lee was followed by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama with 24 pieces and Kim Whanki, a pioneering abstract artist, with 21 pieces.