The Original Art work Hotspot in Asia: Seoul’s Rapid-Rising Scene Is Attracting International Consideration

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When South Korea’s richest man, Lee Kun-hee, died this previous October, at 78, rumors straight began swirling about his art collection, a trove acknowledged to consist of thousands of objects, and to be worth properly extra than $1 billion. “The cause many glide to the Louvre is to scrutinize the Mona Lisa, and the Sistine Chapel, the Introduction of Adam,” an anonymous critic who had viewed Lee’s bounty told Reuters, collectively with that “there are treasured masterpieces that will maybe maybe compare to that within the Lee collection.” Lee’s father, the founding father of Samsung, had bought masterworks of old-long-established Korean art, and Lee Kun-hee followed in his footsteps, spending extra than 30 years as chairman of Samsung, and along with his companion, Hong Ra-hee, procuring extra most up-to-date objects by Claude Monet, Lee Jung-seop, Pablo Picasso, and pretty a pair of giants. The company’s cultural foundation runs two museums in South Korea, the Leeum and Ho-Am. The demand each person used to be asking used to be: Would Lee’s holdings glide to institutions in South Korea? His heirs confronted an property-tax bill north of $10 billion, and that art collection would reduction duvet it, if it were to be sold or frail as loan collateral. Dealers and primitive culture ministers called on the authorities to pass regulations that will maybe maybe well permit art to be utilized to taxes, to place the work from leaving the country. In uninteresting April, the household ultimately launched its plans: 23,000 works from the patriarch’s collection would be donated to local museums. It is a sizable step, however easiest the most up-to-date within the country’s emergence as an global-class art vacation location, with a thriving market heart, Seoul, positioned to steal the spotlight from Asia’s fresh market capital, Hong Kong.

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South Korea is a small country, about the scale of Indiana, and half its residents are residing within the Seoul Metropolitan Condo, which is roughly Los Angeles County with twice as many folks, 25 million. As of 2019, that dense space boasted 100 art museums. Nationwide, they’ve been opening at a like a flash clip. Between 2008 and 2019, their quantity doubled, from 127 to 256, in preserving with a anecdote on the art sector attach out yearly by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and the Korea Arts Management Service, a authorities agency. A pair of quarter of those museums are national or public; the relaxation are privately funded by universities or corporations, which agree with turn into customers within the Samsung mildew (albeit at a smaller scale).

In 2017, magnificence conglomerate Amorepacific (of Innisfree reputation) opened a headquarters in Seoul, designed by David Chipperfield, which choices a mountainous exhibition jam. Its CEO, Suh Kyung-bae (an ARTnews High 200 Collector since 2016), has stuffed the Amorepacific Museum of Art work with works by Valid Ruby, Adam Pendleton, and Lee Bul, many fresh from the studio.

Art work areas agree with turn into a system for brands to compete. This previous February, 1,000,000-square-foot Hyundai department store, with a devoted exhibition jam, began welcoming customers within the Yeouido district. (Fittingly, the commercial-art maestro Andy Warhol bought the first display veil.) Retail rival Lotte has a museum of its own in its Lotte World mall, which opened in 2014, with the country’s tallest constructing hovering above it. A touring Basquiat display veil there currently drew extra than 100,000 traffic, a huge quantity even in non-pandemic cases. The energy company Samtan is readying a original Herzog & de Meuron–designed headquarters in ultra-luxe Cheongdam—a striking, $52 million merely triangle, 11 tales sizable—that will dwelling its closely watched SongEun Art work and Cultural Foundation.

Teach-backed institutions agree with moreover stepped up. The Nationwide Museum of Popular and Up to date Art work (MMCA) has opened two original branches within the final eight years. One used to be inaugurated in 2018 in Cheongju, a metropolis of about 1 million an hour south of Seoul by put collectively. The moderately a pair of arrived within the capital’s moneyed Samcheong neighborhood, in 2013. As part of the Lee household donation, the MMCA will receive north of 1,200 objects, collectively with its first Claude Monet and tense canvases by Kim Whanki and Lee Jung-seop. Extra than 20,000 old-long-established Korean works, collectively with dozens designated as Nationwide Treasures, will head to the Nationwide Museum of Korea, and pretty a pair of field topic would bolster the collections of regional museums. The donation involves art that nearly no public museums on this planet can now come up with the cash for—and, very with out wretchedness, it eliminated those assets from the Lees’ tax bill; the hope within the art change is that the donation may maybe maybe maybe well region an example for future patrons. (With Samsung’s de facto leader, Lee Jae-yong [Lee Kun-hee’s son], in penal advanced for bribery, the donations moreover had the kindly wait on of generating some kindly press for the household.)

The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, the Seoul location of which is shown here, will receive more than 1,200 valuable artworks from the collection of Lee Kun-hee.

The Nationwide Museum of Popular and Up to date Art work, the Seoul region of which is confirmed here, will receive extra than 1,200 treasured artworks from the gathering of Lee Kun-hee.
Characterize Kim Yong Kwan/Courtesy Nationwide Museum of Up to date Art work, Gwacheon

Seoul’s art scene has risen rapidly. Until the 1980s, when a dictatorship gave system to democracy, easiest the most properly-connected artists may maybe maybe maybe well get visas to mosey out of the country. The MMCA used to be founded in 1969, after a picketing marketing campaign by artists, Soojung Kang, an MMCA curator, acknowledged by a translator, however its first cause-constructed dwelling opened easiest in 1986, merely outside Seoul. (The MMCA has no longer emphasised gathering Western art—no public museum in Korea has it in big depth—so gifts from the Lee Kun-hee property would be transformative.) In 1995, authorities officers intent on boosting South Korea’s art world began the Gwangju Biennale, attracting world investigate cross-test. Identical occasions followed in Busan (on the south flee) and Seoul, in 1998 and 2000. They align on the calendar within the drop every two years to blueprint the worldwide art region.

In 1979, the Korea Galleries Association founded the annual Korea Galleries Art work Honest, and a local bazaar used to be born. This previous March, it drew 48,000 other folks, with traffic the use of apps to facilitate contact tracing, ought to a Covid outbreak get that a in point of fact noteworthy (it didn’t). “I’ve never considered so many folks at that intellectual in my whole 20-year profession,” acknowledged Emma Son, senior director on the Seoul department of Original York’s Lehmann Maupin gallery. Sales were appropriate too, the most up-to-date indicator of true local interrogate. “I defend telling my colleagues, it feels love a revival of what took space reduction in 2007,” Son acknowledged of the bullish mood within the country. That preceded a crash, however this time, she acknowledged, “the market is so a lot stronger.”

“In the 1990s, after the Seoul Olympics [which occurred in 1988], and after the globalization of South Korea, the art market grew to turn into very filled with life,” acknowledged Kang, the MMCA curator, “and there used to be moreover a huge growth within the 2000s.” She’s going to highlight the artists who solid the art scene sooner than then, love Lee Kang-So and Lee Seung-taek, in “The Avant-Garde: Experimental Art work in South Korea, in 1960s–1970s,” which is region to bustle in 2022 on the MMCA and the Guggenheim, whose Kyung An is co-curating. It’s the first predominant museum display veil to earn the field beyond the Korean peninsula.

Lee Seung-taek, whose 1964 painting Untitled (Burning Canvases Floating on the River) is shown here, helped create an art scene in Seoul.

Lee Seung-taek, whose 1964 painting Untitled (Burning Canvases Floating on the River) is confirmed here, helped create an art scene in Seoul.
Characterize Adrià Goula/Courtesy Center for Up to date Arts, Norway

Blue-chip art dealers from out of the country agree with taken investigate cross-test of this process and established beachheads in Seoul all over the final five years. Generous commercial rules equipped encouragement: there’s no import responsibility on art, and no gross sales tax on objects below 60 million South Korean obtained, about $55,000. Between 2016 and 2017, Lehmann Maupin, Emmanuel Perrotin, and Toddle all took jam within the metropolis.

“The South Korean art market had been properly developed sooner than many different Asian markets,” acknowledged the Paris-based mostly Perrotin, who has helped manual the careers of Takashi Murakami and Paola Pivi. He rented in a constructing the put aside Christie’s resides, within the Samcheong dwelling, which is dwelling to stalwart local galleries love Hyundai (now in its 51st year, and no relation to the department store: the identify ability “fashionable”) and Kukje, a transient stroll from the Blue Condo, the official jam of South Korea’s president.

Pre-pandemic, Perrotin visited Korea three or four cases a year, and he added to his roster canonical submit–Korean Warfare painters love Park Seo-Bo and the uninteresting Chung Chang-Sup, whose stature and costs agree with risen out of the country, alongside their peers within the Dansaekhwa (“Monochrome”) scramble. The Seoul gallery grew to turn into integral to Perrotin’s regional growth plans. He’d opened in Hong Kong in 2012, and after Seoul, he launched in Tokyo and Shanghai. “With our expertise there, we were properly-geared up when coming into moderately a pair of markets in Asia,” he acknowledged.

New York–based gallery Lehmann Maupin showed the work of Chilean- born artist Cecilia Vicuña (left) in its five-year-old Seoul branch earlier this year.

Original York–based mostly gallery Lehmann Maupin confirmed the work of artist Cecilia Vicuña in its five-year-ancient Seoul department earlier this year.
Characterize OnArt Studio; Characterize Kim Sang Tae/Courtesy Lehmann Maupin, Original York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London

Samcheong moreover attracted Original York–based mostly Lehmann Maupin, which had been exhibiting the Korean stars Lee Bul and Perform Ho Suh for years, and which moreover has London and Hong Kong outposts. “We had a in actuality crucial disagreeable of Korean collectors,” cofounder Rachel Lehmann acknowledged. Before global mosey halted, Seoul used to be a gathering level. “It is seemingly you’ll maybe maybe well maybe agree with Eastern collectors, it’s seemingly you’ll maybe maybe agree with Chinese collectors who were coming, as an example, to make a meals fade,” she acknowledged.

Toddle went with Hannam-dong, a sublime haven for expats and the prosperous, and the positioning of the Leeum, which opened in 2004, with structures by a trio of starchitects, Mario Botta, Jean Nouvel, and Rem Koolhaas. Toddle began with a compact jam tucked away in an space of work constructing. “I’d comparatively merely start than produce a temple to myself,” Toddle CEO Marc Glimcher acknowledged. “But we did outgrow it.” In May well maybe maybe well, it opened a essential greater, two-story venue all over the avenue with paintings by African-American artist Sam Gilliam. Why Seoul? “Clearly, the ancient previous of gathering our artists in Korea is unquestionable,” Glimcher acknowledged, then persisted, “we did agree with something so that you can add, in a system that, love, in L.A., I maintain I don’t agree with something so that you can add.”

Final year, Original York dealer Barbara Gladstone employed HeeJin Park, a Kukje alum, to bustle a Seoul space of work and handle gala’s around Asia. (The gallery has no plans so that you can add a corpulent-fledged exhibition jam.) The noteworthy European dealer Thaddaeus Ropac plans to start a Seoul department in October. This April, German energy couple Johann and Lena König, who show mid-profession figures love Camille Henrot and Helen Marten, swung start the doors on a gallery that occupies the head flooring and (selfie-ready) rooftop backyard of model sign MCM’s constructing in Cheongdam. (The gallery beforehand had an MCM jam in Tokyo that shuttered final year.) König’s ambassador within the metropolis is Soo Choi, who will proceed to bustle her four-year-ancient P21 gallery in two pocket-measurement storefronts in Itaewon. König’s entry comes because the “same old viewers and the collector disagreeable for up-to-the-minute art are continuously rising” within the country, Choi acknowledged.

“Until pretty currently, heaps of Korean collectors seldom knew about or traveled to the principle global art gala’s, or even local gala’s,” Park acknowledged in an email.

It is far no longer any longer exclusively deep-pocketed mega-galleries having a guess on the metropolis. In 2019, Esther Kim Varet opened a department of her Los Angeles gallery, A lot of Diminutive Fires, in Hannam, the put aside she’s been exhibiting artists from her eclectic, American-centered roster, love Gina Beavers and Billy Al Bengston. Until Covid, she flew out for every opening. The modest-measurement venue now accounts for half her commercial, she acknowledged by video from L.A. “It’s get of gruesome.”

Varet’s fogeys emigrated from Korea to the United States, and kept a dwelling within the metropolis, so she visited step by step. But Seoul’s blueprint used to be about extra than her household ties. The West Flee avant-garde looked to Asia, she identified, and the idea of a single market heart is no longer any longer professional. “Being in L.A., it makes for a essential extra natural leaping-off designate glide into Korea for me than if I were to region up shop in Original York,” she acknowledged.

An installation view of the inaugural exhibition at German dealers Johann and Lena König’s Seoul gallery.

An installation glimpse of the inaugural exhibition at German dealers Johann and Lena König’s Seoul gallery.
Characterize Chunho An/Courtesy KÖNIG GALERIE Berlin/London/Seoul

South Korea has been spending cash to promote the realm, aiming to create, for art, the “Korean wave” (hallyu) loved by Korean pop juggernauts love Blackpink and BTS. (As it occurs, BTS’s leader, RM, is a sizable art fan, and currently gave funds to the MMCA to republish out-of-print books.) And it’s no longer exclusively spending on biennials. Native artists can get grants to increase projects within the country and beyond, and dealers can partake too. “If a younger gallery love [mine] is going to Taipei Dangdai [an annual fair], we are capable of analysis for the funds,” Kyungmin Lee acknowledged in a video name, sitting in Whistle, her gallery in Itaewon, a purple abstract painting by Eimei Kaneyama on the wall on the help of her. Such funding “doesn’t duvet the entire element, however no no longer up to it in total is rather of little bit of relief from paying the transport,” she acknowledged.

Lee began her gallery in 2017, after working at One and J., a key location for emerging Korean up-to-the-minute art that opened in 2005. She wished to “display veil the younger expertise of artists,” she acknowledged. “It’s in actuality no longer easy for younger artists to enter industrial galleries in Korea.” As in so many locations, the largest galleries agree with established, global rosters, and heaps collectors gravitate in opposition to bankable names.

Choi Jeong Hwa’s solo exhibition 'Origin, Originality' was held at P21 in 2017.

Choi Jeong Hwa’s solo exhibition “Origin, Originality” used to be held

at P21 in 2017.

Courtesy P21, Seoul

“No topic having a in actuality prosperous art scene, many proficient emerging artists in Korea make no longer agree with a platform in a industrial sector, even although they’re highly filled with life in nonprofit art areas and institutions,” Choi, the original König director, acknowledged. That led her to start P21, which has championed younger figures love Heemin Chung, who makes deliriously frenetic paintings in a submit-net vein, and Haneyl Choi, whose charismatic, idiosyncratic sculptures (teach Rachel Harrison) allude playfully to uncommon themes.

For foreign dealers coming into Seoul, payments are below no conditions low, however the metropolis is extra cheap than some moderately a pair of metropolises. On a yearly listing of the costliest cities for expats compiled by ECA International, a consultancy specializing in wicked-border commercial, the head three spots were occupied by Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Original York. Seoul came in at quantity eight.

“Can agree with to you’re opening up a gallery in Original York, the seed cash will be entirely moderately a pair of,” Lee, the Whistle founder, acknowledged. “I maintain other folks in Asia are starting up to scrutinize into Korea, on story of it’s get of doable at the present.” And its responsibility-free put aside ability “it’s in point of fact love Hong Kong, with the exception of it’s no longer tied to China,” Varet acknowledged.

As Beijing has tightened its management over the Hong Kong Special Administrative Space, jailing protesters, crushing free speech, and banning opposition parties, there may maybe be talk of global corporations abandoning the metropolis. In an American Chamber of Commerce pollof corporations, reported on by Nikkei, practically 40 percent of respondents acknowledged they may maybe maybe pick into consideration transferring operations from the metropolis. Deutsche Financial institution has shifted its Asia chief to Singapore, and the Original York Times determined final summer to place a disagreeable in Seoul, relocating some workers from Hong Kong. (Full disclosure: my companion’s job on the Times introduced us here.) May well maybe maybe well the art world follow, with South Korea deposing Hong Kong because the dominant arts hub within the gap?

To this level, there were no signs of dealers packing up and heading someplace else on political grounds. “Hong Kong has been irregular in its positioning as a gateway to the worldwide and mainland Chinese markets for heaps of years,” Perrotin acknowledged. “We remain optimistic about it.”

“We are entirely on the help of Hong Kong, on story of Hong Kong has been very appropriate to us,” Lehmann acknowledged, while admitting, love each person, “I don’t know how it’s going to glide.”

Belgian collector Alain Servais acknowledged that he would feel heart-broken visiting the metropolis, given feedback he has made on social media about China within the previous. “I’d pick into consideration positively a transfer of Art work Basel to Korea or Taiwan,” he acknowledged, “however I’m no longer naive, the unfavorable and revengeful reaction of Beijing to the form of transfer would get it a no-glide for Art work Basel on story of of the energy and have an effect on of Chinese collectors within the gap.”

“There is a level at which such an erosion of growth makes a metropolis untenable for the art corporations that exist there,” Glimcher acknowledged. “I don’t teach that’s took space in Hong Kong. The instance of that is Moscow. We were all going to Moscow three cases a year.”

Regardless, that worth differential is critical. “Why exhaust those sizable rents on the Pedder Constructing in Hong Kong and Central [the city’s business nexus], and get these little areas, within the event it’s seemingly you’ll maybe maybe well also agree with something in actuality moderately good in Seoul?” acknowledged Iain Robertson, head of art commercial reports at Sotheby’s Institute of Art work in London. He used to be relating to the century-ancient Beaux-Arts tower, at display veil dwelling to branches of world galleries love Gagosian, Simon Lee, and Lehmann Maupin. To duvet that overhead, he acknowledged, “it’s seemingly you’ll maybe maybe well also easiest sell Picassos and Hirsts, in actuality.”

In April, the Original York Times reported that China used to be prepping tax breaks to place corporations valid to Hong Kong. For art corporations weighing their choices, the metropolis has the wait on of net net hosting a world intellectual, which began when Art work Basel took over the annual Art work HK in 2013. But Frieze, the London-based mostly intellectual that moreover does reveals in Original York and Los Angeles, has been eyeing Seoul. In May well maybe maybe well, after months of hypothesis, it launched that it would stage a September intellectual in Seoul in 2022, with about 100 galleries, to coincide with the Korea Galleries Association’s annual Korea International Art work Honest, which runs every drop at Coex.

The Coex Convention and Exhibition Center.

The Coex Convention and Exhibition Center, which is in a location to be the dwelling of the upcoming Frieze Seoul art intellectual.
Daniel Kalker/image-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Frieze may maybe maybe maybe well shift energy from Hong Kong to Seoul. It may maybe well maybe maybe maybe well moreover bring original vigor to KIAF, which is the most excessive-profile market tournament of the year in Korea, however one which is silent dominated by local exhibitors. At the 2019 edition (the 2020 time out used to be scuttled by a corona spike), easiest a pair of 3rd of the booths featured exhibitors with out a South Korean presence. Quipped Robertson, “It’s called the Korea International Art work Honest. It’s something however global.”

For sure, it takes extra than properly-capitalized corporations and audacious entrepreneurs, whether or no longer foreign or domestic, to get a in actuality crucial arts heart. It takes true art colleges (test, within the get of Hongik, Seoul Nationwide, Korea Nationwide, and others). Different venues reduction too, and so they’ve proliferated, aided by authorities grants and diverse funding devices.

“We don’t make gross sales,” Sangjin Kim, director of a jam called Out_Sight, acknowledged wryly. “We must, however it’s no longer very easy.” There’s a huge divide between the industrial sector, the put aside collectors rob, and the experimental realm, the put aside they make no longer, in his glimpse, and the gallery he runs along with his companion, Jinho Lim, is very essential within the latter category.

Kim, an artist, reworked his basement workspace in filled with life Daehangno into Out_Sight in 2016, and has staged intrepid reveals by untested artists. Proceeds from Kim’s own art in most cases glide in opposition to the gallery. “Yeah, we raze the cash on this jam,”


he acknowledged, laughing.

Public funding covers a piece of the finances. An Out_Sight display veil earlier this year by Dew Kim (who moreover goes by HornyHoneydew) featured comparatively graphic videos and sculptures product of bondage toys.

Because the Korean art world grows, its denizens face the identical challenges that their colleagues are facing someplace else on this planet: easy the system to defend it. Mega-galleries can generate buzz and get cash flowing by the system, however long-term properly being requires a sizable disagreeable of gamers. Asked about the general dealers who were landing in metropolis, Kim acknowledged topic-of-factly, “Even supposing they’re in Seoul, for most younger artists, that’s a particular world.”

The same may maybe maybe maybe well be acknowledged of the Lees, the excessive-flying Samsung household that embodies so essential of the glory and tumult of most up-to-date Korean ancient previous. Seoul-based mostly art critic Dong-Yeon Koh called them “pioneers of art gathering in South Korea.” They are moreover notoriously secretive, even by the conceal-and-dagger requirements of the chaebol, the household-bustle conglomerates that dominate many industries within the country. The Nationwide Museum and the MMCA agree with launched that they’re readying reveals dedicated to Lee Kun-hee’s collections. There is no longer the form of thing as a telling who may maybe maybe maybe well consult with those exhibitions, select to turn into a collector, and defend Seoul’s momentum going.

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