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[From the Scene] Korean galleries put domestic artists forefront at Hong Kong Art Basel

March 23, 2023 - 00:54 By Park Yuna
Visitors look at artwork by Korean painter Lee Bae presented by Johyun Gallery at Art Basel Hong Kong on Tuesday at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

HONG KONG -- South Korea’s homegrown galleries have brought contemporary Korean artists to Art Basel Hong Kong, Asia’s largest art fair, as it made a full return after four years this week at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

“We had a smooth start. I see as many people as before the pandemic. All of the paintings by Joung Young-ju were sold out to collectors from outside South Korea, including those from the US,” said Woo Chan-kyu, president of Hakgojae, one of the leading galleries based in Seoul.

Hakgojae is among 12 Korean galleries presenting works in person at the art fair, which includes 177 galleries from 32 countries. It began Tuesday and runs to Saturday. Johyun Gallery has presented charcoal paintings by Lee Bae, whose works on display at the fair have all found new collectors on the first day of the fair.

A visitor looks at paintings by Korean artist Joung Young-ju presented by Hakgojae at Art Basel Hong Kong on Tuesday at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

“Coming back to the fair after four years in person, I once again realized the purchasing power of Chinese collectors and their scale compared to our local collectors,” said a Korean gallerist based in Seoul, speaking anonymously. Greater China is the second-largest regional art market, accounting for some 20 percent of worldwide sales by value, according to UBS Global's latest art market report.

Kukje Gallery, a prominent gallery based in Seoul and Busan, sold eight works, including from two of Korea’s dansaekhwa masters, Park Seo-bo and Ha Chong-hyun, as well as from emerging painters Lee Hee-joon and Moon Sung-sic.

“We will continue to introduce Korea’s talented artists at global art fairs like Art Basel Hong Kong,” Lee Hyun-sook, founder of Kukje Gallery, told The Korea Herald. Lee was listed as one of the top 100 influential figures in the contemporary art scene by British magazine ArtReview last year.

“It seems collectors do not really care where the artists are from, really. A collector from the US came straight to our booth as soon as it opened to see the painting (by a Korean artist) in person that we shared online, and it was sold right away. Most collectors who visited our booth were from mainland China or Hong Kong,” another gallerist said on condition of anonymity.

Fairgoers look at paintings by Moka Lee presented by Jason Haam on Tuesday at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Some of the country’s emerging and fast-growing galleries -- Jason Haam, Whistle and Gallery 2 -- joined the Discoveries section at the art fair, introducing Korean artists Moka Lee, Ram Ham and Jeon Hyun-sun.

“We are participating in Art Basel Hong Kong for the second time, but last year we were here as an online presentation. So it is our first time participating offline. People are incredibly impressed, and the museums are already responding,” said gallerist Jason Haam, who was showing paintings by Korean painter Moka Lee.

“We wanted to show what the gallery is really about, and show Korean artists whose messages and imageries are relevant to understanding Asian contemporary society.”