Frieze Seoul 2023: what you need to know
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The Frieze art fair returns to Seoul following last year’s inaugural edition, bringing in-demand artists to Asian collectors while galleries seek to exploit the growing interest in contemporary art in Seoul, where an influx of millennial and Gen-Z collectors have sparked a market boom in recent years.
“Frieze Seoul not only introduces international galleries to local collectors, but also provides Asia-based galleries with the opportunity to gain international recognition,” says Patrick Lee, the fair’s director.
September 6-9, frieze.com
Diving for gold
Frieze Seoul presents a commissioned artwork by Korean visual research collective ikkibawiKrrr, in a collaboration with Getty leading up to the 2024 PST ART event in California, that introduces audiences to the marine ecosystem of Jeju island. Focusing on haenyeo (female divers who harvest seafood for a living), this video work spotlights the solidarity that empowers these women and explores their relationship to the waters that provide their livelihood. Complementing the video is an interactive performance titled “Flavors of the Sea” that takes place daily at the fair.
At Frieze Seoul, David Kordansky Gallery is presenting abstract paintings by Mary Weatherford, who incorporates neon tubes into her works to invite new perspectives on two-dimensional expression. Her paintings combine lush colour and texture, suggesting a wide range of spaces that evoke both the natural world and the inner functions of the mind and body. The pooled forms that punctuate these works generate dramatic contrasts that pay tribute to art historical precedents while emphasising the process-based, moment-to-moment intensity that defines her vision.
Magical but real
Woody De Othello, a California-based artist of Haitian descent, is the subject of a solo presentation by Jessica Silverman at the fair. The artist’s surreal sculptures implicate a sense of spirituality in everyday environments, combining household objects with anthropomorphic elements that evoke an aesthetic of magical realism. Othello also presents a series of sumptuous landscape paintings in which domestic sensibilities of order and composure collide with the rawness of the natural world.
the Art Market
Following an expansion between 2020 and 2022, the Korean art market has entered a correction, with auction sales falling 44 per cent to $62mn during the first half of 2023. This mirrors a global slowdown but also reflects a recalibration of collectors’ spending habits. In Korea, collector demographics have begun to skew younger as tastes expand from blue-chip stalwarts such as Yayoi Kusama or Lee Ufan towards more emerging artists such as Woo Kuk Won and Kim Sunwoo.
“Regardless of this cool-down,” says Youngjoo Lee, senior vice-president of Pace Gallery in Seoul, “I think the Korean art market proved to be surprisingly resilient, and I think we owe this to the great exhibition programmes that both local and international galleries have shown within Seoul, along with the back-to-normal sales schedules by the major auction houses, and of course the excitement of Frieze Seoul, allowing collectors to re-engage with the art market.”
New arrivals . . .
Seoul continues to be an attractive destination for international galleries seeking to consolidate their foothold in the region. Among the newest arrivals are White Cube, whose Seoul space is located in the city’s smart Gangnam district south of the Han River. Tokyo-based Whitestone Gallery has opened a striking new five-storey Kengo Kuma-designed building with three main exhibition galleries as well as a rooftop sculpture garden, the first Japanese gallery to open a permanent space in the city.
. . . and new locations
Other galleries have doubled down on their existing operations in Seoul, seen as a beachhead for sales in the region. Thaddaeus Ropac, which opened its Seoul flagship in 2021, has expanded its footprint in the city’s trendy Hannam-dong neighbourhood. Peres Projects has recently inaugurated a second location, in the vicinity of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in the Sagan-dong neighbourhood, while Duarte Sequeira has established a second space in the Jeong-dong neighbourhood.
Out of the ordinary
Galleries and museums across the city have aligned their schedules to present important exhibitions alongside Frieze Seoul. PKM Gallery unveils a solo presentation by conceptual artist Koo Jeong A, who will represent South Korea at next year’s Venice Biennale. Combining several bodies of work, Levitation develops Koo’s mantra that “nothing is ordinary”: a blackened boulder-like object that floats above a pedestal; paintings that can only be seen when the lights are turned off; and drawings that suggest alternate realities.
Photographer, filmmaker and installation artist Yeondoo Jung is the focus of the 2023 MMCA Hyundai Motor Series at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Jung explores narratives of Korean diaspora in Mexico during the early 20th century, foregrounding how a confluence of cultures can forge new understandings of ourselves. Jung’s multisensory installations shed light on hybrid approaches to tradition, language and ideology.
Art Sonje Center, an ardent champion of experimental art practices, presents a group exhibition of Korean artists who activate spaces throughout the museum that are typically off-limits to visitors. Off-site features site-specific installations by Jong Oh, Hyun Nahm, Jungyoon Hyen, Yona Lee, Choi Goen and artist collective GRAYCODE jiiiiin that propose shifting perceptions of public and private space. As visitors search for artworks in unexpected places throughout the museum, they become active participants in the exhibition’s inverted presentational logic.
To October 8, artsonje.org