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[From the Scene] Frieze Seoul cementing presence as Asian art hub

Sept. 6, 2023 - 18:36 By Park Yuna By Hwang Joo-young

Visitors to Frieze Seoul 2023 look at artwork at Coex, southern Seoul, as part of a VIP day on Wednesday. The fair runs through Saturday. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Frieze Seoul 2023 and Kiaf Seoul 2023 opened Wednesday in a calmer mood compared to last year when Frieze Seoul first launched, nonetheless attracting more collectors from Asia than before, showing signs that the city is cementing its position as an art hub in Asia.

Unlike last year, a meters-long line was not seen on the first day of Frieze Seoul 2023 at Coex, southern Seoul, on Wednesday, as the organizer divided up the time slots for visitors to enter. The fair, together with Kiaf Seoul, last year attracted more than 70,000 people.

“This is calmer than last year, but I wonder if that will change when it opens to the public (tomorrow). Last year, the entire fair was so busy,” said Sara Oberg Stradal from Dr. Joern Guenther Rare Books AG, a Basel, Switzerland-based gallery. The gallery has brought to Seoul centuries-old western manuscripts worth $80 million in total.

As Frieze’s sole art fair in Asia, the second edition returned with a strong lineup of galleries in Asia. The portion of galleries from Asia has increased to 41 percent from 31 percent last year, according to Frieze Seoul in June.

In fact, different Asian languages could be heard at the fair although the majority of the visitors were Korean.

“We see a lot of interesting works and actually the focus is for us to learn more about the local galleries and the galleries that we don't cover in Hong Kong and London,” said Evan Chow, deputy chair of the Hong Kong Arts Center.

Tomio Koyama Gallery is a Japanese gallery that has joined the fair for the second time, hoping to attract Korean collectors.

“Last year it was the first edition so everybody was new to the art fair. But this year it seems Korean people already know the world’s masterpieces. Korean audiences are very active compared to Japanese collectors. In Japan, people don’t invest in art that much if we compare them to collectors in Korea,” said the gallery’s director, Tomio Koyama.

Visitors to Kiaf Seoul 2023 look at artwork at Coex, southern Seoul, as part of a VIP day on Wednesday. The fair runs through Sunday. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Asian collectors were likewise seen at Kiaf Seoul 2023, which is also being held at Coex. Collectors from Hong Kong and Singapore who declined to be named, visiting the Seoul fair for the first time, said they are hoping to see more local artists.

“Kiaf Seoul has more local galleries and their works are more affordable than those at Frieze Seoul,” said a collector from Hong Kong surnamed Chen. He was viewing works at the booth of Seoul-based K.O.N.G Gallery at Kiaf Seoul.

Many galleries were careful about mentioning their sales results on the first day, saying the fair has just begun. Gallery Hyundai, a leading gallery based in Seoul, introduced paintings by Korea’s pioneering female artist, Seundja Rhee, looking to show her work to the international audience.

“Many museums showed interest in her art, asking for information on her works and the artist,” said Do Hyung-the, president of Gallery Hyundai, at Frieze Seoul.

Gallery Hyundai's booth shows paintings by Korean artist Seundja Rhee at Frieze Seoul 2023 on Wednesday at Coex in Seoul. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

"It’s great to be back in Seoul. Following last year’s successes, the energy around the fair and the city’s art week this year is sustained and further matured," said Elaine Kwok, managing partner of Asia at Hauser & Wirth.

Frieze Seoul 2023 runs through Saturday and Kiaf Seoul 2023 closes on Sunday. The two fairs have brought together nearly 350 galleries from around the world.