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Korean art market peaked in third quarter last year: report

Dec. 24, 2022 - 16:01 By Park Yuna
People visit the inaugural Frieze Seoul during a VIP opening on Sept. 2 at Coex, southern Seoul. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Amid increasing global attention on the South Korean art market, where trade volume surpassed the trillion won ($784 million) mark this year for the first time, a recent report showed that the art boom in South Korea peaked in the third quarter of last year with a slowed-down phase ahead.

Seoul National University recently published its first English-language report on the country’s art market, in conjunction with the Paradise Cultural Foundation and the support of the Korea Art Management Service. The country’s art market grew rapidly during the pandemic, with gross sales revenue generated by art trade in the country last year reaching 922.3 billion won -- 2.8 times that of the preceding year, according to the report.

“Seoul is now a must-go on the itinerary of directors at major art museums and art professionals from around the world, and the consensus is that Seoul will soon distinguish itself as a new hub for contemporary art in Asia,” Kim Sang-hoon, a professor at Seoul National University, wrote in the editor’s letter.

The report noted, however, that the market will undergo adjustment in the coming years, as a result of the global recession looming ahead. This will be the case in the art markets in different countries as well.

"An analysis of the quarterly gross amounts of winning bids on artworks suggests that the post-pandemic art boom in South Korea peaked in the third quarter of 2021," the report said.

The signs of adjustment in the art market can be a "good thing as they inhibit excessive competition and help burst price bubbles," the report added.

While galleries have been dominant players in the art market, art fairs began to increase their share with their combined revenue, rising 95 percent from 2019 to 2021. The report showed galleries, auctions and art fairs accounted for 48 percent, 35 percent, and 15 percent of total art market sales revenue, respectively, in 2021.

“The combined sales of this year’s Kiaf and Frieze is estimated to be almost half the size of the Korean art market in the first half of 2022. In other words, the success of Frieze Seoul will determine the extent of the progress made by the Korean art market, which underwent an explosive growth spurt during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report said.

The 114-page report can be viewed online at the Korea Art Management Service website.

The English-language report will be released annually, providing an overall review of the Korean art market and Korean artists, according to Seoul National University.