Frieze art fair returns to South Korea, offering boost to Asia’s art market

Frieze art fair returns to South Korea, offering boost to Asia’s art market
  • PublishedSeptember 15, 2023

The Frieze art fair returned to South Korea for a second year on Wednesday, with dealers hoping the event would provide a boost for the burgeoning local art market, after economic woes triggered a slump in sales this year.

Art buyers flocked to Seoul’s COEX convention center to see cutting-edge works by emerging artists, antiquity art through the 20th century and offerings from established galleries, such as Gallery Hyundai, Kukje and Gana.

The fair, run by Endeavor Group-owned Frieze, made its Asia debut in South Korea last year, drawing over 70,000 visitors.

South Korea’s art market reached 1 trillion won ($750.85 million) in revenue for the first time in 2022, according to data from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

However, the market shrank in the first half of this year, with the volume of art sales by major South Korean auction houses dropping 44.8% from a year ago, according to the Korea Arts Management Service.

Visitors take a look around at the Frieze art fair in Seoul, South Korea September 6, 2023.  REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Visitors take a look around at the Frieze art fair in Seoul, South Korea.Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

Despite this backdrop, the South Korean and the Asian art market remain resilient, Patrick Lee, Director of Frieze Seoul, told Reuters.

“I think it is sort of a natural evolution as collectors get a little more sophisticated and discerning.”

With Covid travel restrictions gone, Lee is optimistic about hosting more international visitors during this year’s four-day fair.

Over 120 galleries from 30 countries are taking part, with more than half of them operating spaces in Asia, the organizers have said.

“We have a great contingent of visitors from China coming, Japan, all throughout the region. We’ve done a lot of outreach,” Lee said.

Seungjin Chung, founder and director of G Gallery, said South Korea’s art market has enjoyed growth in recent years led in part by Millennial and Gen Z collectors.

Visitors look at an artwork named "Weave Magenta, 2023" (R) by artist Sean Scully during the Frieze Seoul 2023 art fair in Seoul on September 6, 2023. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

“Weave Magenta, 2023” (right), by artist Sean Scully, on show at Frieze Seoul 2023.Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

“From around three years ago, young collectors started to show interest in the market. Celebrities and influential people also began collecting (artwork), which I think has had an impact.”

Some South Korean celebrities, such as RM, a member of K-pop group BTS, have shown off their art collection and shared images of them visiting art galleries on social media, fueling an interest in art among young people.

Jungmin Cho who directs Seoul-based White Noise said taking part in Frieze Seoul has been a new experience as her gallery has been more of an “independent, project space” instead of actively pursuing buyers.

“It is a great opportunity to promote the artists we support internationally and build relationships,” she said.


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