For more than four decades, the Korea Gallery Association has been instrumental in creating an art infrastructure in South Korea that has propelled Seoul to become one of the world’s leading art capitals.
Western art galleries have steadily opened outposts there over the past few years, and now this week Frieze will launch its first Asian fair in the capital. But it is the country’s homegrown talent, with blue-chip manufacturing powerhouses such as Kukje, Hyundai and PKM, as well as cutting-edge enterprises such as P21 and Whistle, that has undoubtedly played a role in raising South Korea’s profile internationally.
Now comprising more than 160 galleries, GAK was founded in 1976 by five local galleries “with the ambition to foster a healthy art market, promote public access to and engagement with art, and contribute to the global advancement of culture and arts,” Do Hyung. – said the vice president of the operational committee of Kiaf ARTnews.
He continued, “Kiaf represents a gateway for cultural exchange between local and international audiences. With over 20 years of history, the fair serves as a unique meeting point that connects the Korean art scene and the global art market.”
This bridge has been truly instrumental, according to experts on the local and international scene. “Although there are many galleries in Seoul, there are only a handful of galleries that are profitable and internationally known,” said Tina Kim, who runs an eponymous gallery in New York that is affiliated with Kukje. “That’s why the Gallery Association offers support for these galleries to survive. For many years, the gallery association has played a leading role in supporting the gallery ecosystem in Korea.”
One of GAK’s most important support systems is now the most closely watched. In 2002, GAK started the Korea International Art Fair, which has seen over 1,000 international galleries participate over the past two decades. In that time, its exhibitors and the artists they show have become more diverse. (GAK also cooperates with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to support the participation of Korean galleries in international art fairs.)
“As Korea’s international art fair, Kiaf has expanded the boundaries of the domestic art scene and market,” said Bo Young Song, vice president of Kukje Gallery, which first participated in the second edition of Kiaf. “This has also helped our gallery build relationships with various collectors and art enthusiasts both from Korea and abroad. Growing diversity represents the development of Kiaf.”
For the 2022 edition, Kiaf has made two major changes to the way it operates. First, it chose to partner with Frieze to launch its fair in Seoul, which Kiaf sees as a strategic move. “Our partnership with Frieze Seoul will create great synergy with Kiaf and add even more international dimension to the city’s vibrant art scene,” said Do. “For the past decade or so, we have seen an increase in blue-chip galleries from abroad opening exhibition spaces in Seoul, many of which will also be participating in Frieze Seoul. These galleries have made a significant contribution to the strength and quality of the Korean art market. We are confident that Frieze Seoul will continue to contribute to this positive and dynamic change.”
Kim agreed that the influx of Western dealers only strengthens the Korean art market. “There are some members who are threatened by foreign dealers opening spaces in Korea and some art fairs taking place in Seoul, but in the long run, this will only benefit the Korean art market,” she said. “The market can only be strong when it is open to compete in an international market.”
Both fairs start on the same day and take place on different levels of the Coex Convention and Exhibition Center—and they’ll share a common admission ticket. This means that visitors to the fair will be able to see work from around 350 local and international galleries, making the fairs combined bigger than their two main competitors in Asia, the long-established Art Basel Hong Kong (137 galleries in March 2022) and the upcoming ART SG (more than 150 galleries in January 2023). “This year’s edition of Kiaf Seoul reinforces the fair’s role as Korea’s first and longest-running international art fair,” said Do.
In addition, Kiaf is also launching its first satellite fair, Kiaf Plus, which will focus primarily on galleries that have been in business for less than five years. This is a sign of the fair’s growing importance, as many major art fairs have satellite editions that run concurrently with a more blue-chip main one. A highlight of Kiaf Plus will be the debut of an NFT exhibition titled “Bored Apes Golf Club Korea (BAGC Korea),” presented by metaverse company Altava Group and NFT platform Etnah.
“We are committed to meeting the ever-changing needs and trends of the international art market,” said Do. “This new satellite fair was conceived to provide younger artists and galleries with a platform to present their work within the context of Seoul Art Week and showcase artworks across a wider range of genres and practices experimental.”
For many traders, Seoul’s rise has been a long time coming. Song added, “We have spent many years promoting Korean and international art by participating in international art fairs abroad, so I am truly grateful and excited that our ‘hometown’, Seoul, is growing as a global hub. for contemporary art. “