It's a buyer's market this weekend at Korea International Art Fair 2012

It's a buyer's market this weekend at Korea International Art Fair 2012

A stagnant art market means lower price ranges at Korea's largest annual art fair
The annual art fair is pretty approachable for a usually snooty crowd (Photo: KIAF 2011).

Given how lackluster the art market in Korea these days, the industry is hoping that the Korea International Art Fair (KIAF) this weekend will be the start of a comeback.

“It’s true that the big savings bank failings and the recent economic slowdown has affected the domestic art market a great deal,” says a KIAF organizer who declined to give her name, “but we’re quite confident that this weekend will mark a turning point.”

This year, 181 galleries from 20 countries are participating in Korea’s largest annual art fair, which runs from Thursday September 13-Monday September 17 at COEX in Samseong-dong, Seoul.

The time is right? 

KIAFHow much would you pay for this Kohei Nawa piece? “Because the art market is not doing so well, it’s actually the perfect time for the collector,” says Park Mi-kyung, the head of participating Korean gallery Moon Fine Arts.

“Prices have not risen, and they will certainly not fall,” says Park.

Although the high prices for works by the most well-known names (Damien Hirst, Fang Lijun etc.) are to be expected, the price range for this year’s art fair is projected to be lower than previous years due to the relatively stagnant market. 

“There are a lot of prints priced around ₩300,000 (US$266), so even though we have works that cost 1 billion there are many affordable works for all ranges of buyers,” says the KIAF organizer.

In correlation to the shifting price range, many domestic galleries are working more with relative newcomers whose works are more affordable.

“We are pushing works by younger Korean artists such as Ahn Yunmo, who paints these wonderful colorful paintings depicting owls and other animals,” says Park.

"Gallery owners have to be smart with what they bring over," says May Chung, director of AndrewShire Gallery from L.A. and Singapore. "It can't be too expensive, but it has to be good. For example this year I brought over some nice pieces by Eva Armisén. Her pieces aren't too expensive -- around US$5000-10,000."

The buyers are also noticing a difference -- not only in price, but also in display -- from previous years. 

"This year's KIAF seems to be a lot more subdued than previous years," says one local private collector at the VIP preview.  

From diplomacy to art 

KIAF Samurai Tree by Gabriel Orozco is the second "biggest" (read: expensive) selection at KIAF 2012.
Interestingly, the theme for this year’s KIAF is Latin American art. Galleries from Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela and the United States are showing work by 84 contemporary Latin American artists.

Although the reason behind this selection had nothing to do with art -- this year is the 50th anniversary of Korea’s diplomatic ties with 12 Latin American countries -- the theme may work out well for buyers.

“Latin American art is undervalued and is on the rise,” says the KIAF organizer. “The industry is predicting that the value will go up at least 25 percent." 

On the flip side, the galleries from Latin America are in town to get to know the Seoul market and perhaps establish a base here. 

"Worldwide, there's a lot of interest in Asia at the moment," says Luis Guillermo Moreno, the director of LGM Art Internacional Gallery from Bogotá, Colombia. 

"I'm very impressed with the Seoul art market; I've been active in the Shanghai art scene for five years now and I think Seoul is superior." 

By the numbers 

KIAF Fang Lijun is one of the biggest names at KIAF. Last year, 80,000 people visited the fair, and ₩13 billion worth of art was sold, according to the Korea Times.

Special exhibitions for KIAF 2012 “Art Flash” -- a media art and installation exhibition which showcases 11 artists in their early 30s, and a photography exhibition artist of Sungsoo Koo’s works in collaboration with Leica.

Samonsite is also sponsoring an exhibition titled “A Unique Travel” showing work by four contemporary Korean artists who were given the theme of “bag.”

Korea International Art Fair, COEX Hall A, B; Samseong-dong, Seoul, Korea; September 13-17; hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday; visitors must enter at least one hour before closing time; ₩15,000 regular admission; ₩10,000 student admission; +82 2 766 3702; 

More on CNNGo: The upsides and downsides of a hotel art fair 

Frances Cha is a Digital Producer at CNN Travel. 


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