Korea’s largest art fair is back -- and there are more art lovers than ever
Published : Oct 14, 2021 - 18:40
Updated : Oct 14, 2021 - 18:44
A visitor takes a look at artworks at the Arario Gallery booth. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

As the opening of KIAF Seoul 2021 at 3 p.m. on Wednesday drew near, there was already a long line of avid art lovers of various ages waiting to check in at Coex in southern Seoul.

Korea’s largest annual international art fair is being held physically for the first time after it went online on its viewing room platform after the global COVID-19 pandemic hit early last year.

Nearly 5,000 people visited the fair on the first day, which was open to VVIPs and the press, proving that people had a thirst to see art in person and interact with artists, gallerists and collectors, Korean celebrities including V from BTS, fashion guru Chang Myung-sook, who is also known as Milanonna, entertainer Noh Hong-chul and other well-known faces were seen during the day. 

An installation view of the Park Ryu Sook Gallery booth (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

“I actually feel people’s enthusiasm for art here. It seems people have more desire to buy works as they see the artworks before their eyes,” said Park Ryu-sook, owner of Park Ryu Sook Gallery in Yongsang-gu, Seoul. The gallery is presenting artist Lee Jin-yong’s hyper-realistic paintings of books.

“I heard most works were sold out even before the opening, especially at the large galleries,” Choi Woong-chul, owner of Gallery Woong, told The Korea Herald. The gallery is presenting paintings by Korean modern artist Ha In-doo.

Some of the art fair’s participants have expressed mixed feelings ahead of KIAF’s joint fair with Frieze next year, with some galleries bracing for unprecedented changes and inflow of international art entities into the country. 

“Korean galleries should strengthen their own identities, differentiating ourselves from other international galleries. We have so many great Korean artists here such as Yang Hye-gue, Kang Seok-yeong and Lee Kwang-ho. We will promote good Korean painters as well,” said Lee Hyun-sook, founder of Kukje Gallery, adding that the joint hosting with Frieze will ultimately elevate the quality of the art market in Korea. 

People come to see artworks at KIAF Seoul 2021 at Coex in Seoul. (Galleries Association of Korea)

The gallery is presenting masterpieces by Park Seo-bo, Ha Chong-hyun, Yang Hae-gue, Jenny Holzer, Ugo Rondinone and Julian Opie, which were sold out immediately, according to the gallery.

“There are definitely two sides (when it comes to the influx of international art). Some galleries are worried that their presence will be threatened if foreign artists and galleries are introduced here. But as an artist, I see it as a great change and we don’t have to worry too much. Korean artists’ works are never inferior to some of the famous international artists,” said Suh Seung-won, master of Korean geometrical abstraction, who has explored simultaneity throughout his career.

“Well, let’s bring it on,” he said jokingly. Suh recently had a solo exhibition at PKM Gallery in Seoul. 

Visitors to KIAF Seoul 2021 view works by David Gerstein. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Strolling around the exhibition hall, one may see an empty booth for Gallery Shilla with a sign displaying the message: “During the art fair, Gallery Shilla booth will be closed.”

It is part of a collaboration project with American conceptual artist Robert Barry who pursued nonmaterial works of art. 

An empty Gallery Shilla booth with a sign that reads, “During the art fair, Gallery Shilla booth will be closed.” (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

“I definitely see the growth of KIAF over the past few years and collectors have become diverse. Among noticeable changes is galleries presenting their own unique artists,” said Kathleen Kim, a lawyer specializing in art at Liwu Law Group.

The art fair, with some 170 galleries from home and abroad participating, runs through Sunday.

By Park Yuna (