When the world’s largest art gallery Gagosian newly appointed Lee Ji-young to lead the gallery’s operations in South Korea, just ahead of Frieze Seoul that ended on Saturday, the art community's attention quickly turned to what plan may be behind the gallery's move.
Lee, a gallerist with some 15 years of experience, was most recently the director for Sprueth Margers in Seoul.
“Korea obviously is a place where we have been active for many years. I came here 16 years ago and had started coming to Korea already at that time. But there is no substitute to having somebody who is from the region, speaks the language and knows many more institutions, museums and collectors than I could ever know,” said Nick Simunovic, Gagosian’s senior director in Asia, during the interview with The Korea Herald on Sept. 5 in Seoul.
Responding to speculations that a gallery space is in the pipeline, especially since Lee's appointment, Simunovic said the gallery -- which operates 19 spaces worldwide -- has been “always deliberate” on what it does, aware of the recent international attention on the city with many international galleries coming to the city, as a potential new art hub in Asia.
“We don’t feel like there is a need for a stampede to open a big gallery immediately. But of course, we are evaluating all options,” he said.
Lee hinted she may work some projects in Korea, such as a pop-up exhibition, gradually approaching audiences and collectors.
“We really want to go step by step. We have to really make a tight plan for what we can do in Seoul,” Lee said.
Simunovic said he sees Seoul as having great potential as an art city, comparing the capital city’s Samcheong-dong, Hannam-dong and Cheongdam-dong to New York’s multiple art clusters.
“Seoul is such a vast city that is a bit like New York. There are clusters of galleries in the Upper East Side, Chelsea and in Tribeca in New York. Seoul is a bigger city than New York in terms of population and geography, so it is easy to imagine a city like Seoul having a multipolar art community,” he said.
As a gallery that represents the estate of Korean-born pioneering video artist Paik Nam-june, the gallery brought works by Paik to both the first and second editions of Frieze Seoul. Paik’s video art work “TV Buddha” was on display at the second Frieze Seoul, attracting interest from Korean audiences. At the moment, Paik is the sole Korean artist that the gallery represents.
“Any artist today who is working with moving images, video and installation-based practice is somehow indebted to Nam-june. I think his message continues to resonate today and is as vital and as important today as ever before,” he added.
When the gallery held an exhibition of Paik’s works in New York from May to June of last year, most of the works shown were bought by museums.
“Museums want to acquire the work and contextualize it. They understand the impact (of Paik). I think the influence of his work cannot be overstated,” he said.
Simunovic and Lee said the gallery is always open to working with Korean artists.
“I think one of my responsibilities is to discover great Korean artists,” Lee said.
When asked about the perception that the gallery is associated more with established artists than young, emerging ones, Simunovic cited the gallery's work with Jordan Wolfson -- a provocative young artist.
“We're always trying to hire the best people, and we're always looking to attract the greatest artists as well to our program no matter which stage of their career they may be at. So we have lots of work to do in Korea,” he said.