The upsides and downsides of a hotel art fair

The upsides and downsides of a hotel art fair

Lower rent, no white paint and the buyer gets to see what that painting actually looks like over the toilet
Not quite how we would arrange the pieces if we lived there, but we'll leave it to the experts. (Image from Nine Gallery AHAF 2011)

“While there are certainly limitations -- especially in terms of space -- the advantages of having an art fair in a hotel are numerous and interesting,” says Eunice Jung, the general manager of Asia Top Gallery Hotel Art Fair (AHAF).

This weekend, 60 guestrooms at the Westin Chosun in Seoul are being converted into miniature art galleries for the eighth AHAF.

Some 50 galleries from around Asia are showing more than 3,000 works by around 400 artists on the seventh and eighth floors of the hotel. Highlighted special exhibitions include DILLUSION by Lee Lee-Nam and Flower from Fareast by Cho Young-Nam and works by AHAF Young Artists. 

While the concept of the hotel art show has been around for a few decades -- the first Armory Show, the largest contemporary art fair in New York, was held in the rooms of the Gramercy Hotel in 1994 --  the concept has become popular in Asia in recent years.


AHAF Hotel bathrooms do have flattering lighting. (AHAF 2012)
“First, there is a lot of money saved on accommodations as the participating galleries can take advantage of a special rate given by the participating hotel,” says Jung.

Rent is also significantly less than that of a white-cubed exhibition. There is also the claim that a hotel art fair is far more environmentally friendly. 

“It’s actually quite environmentally detrimental and wasteful to paint a huge exhibition space completely white for an art fair," says Jung. "Everything then gets thrown out after the exhibition period,” says Jung.

Match the carpet 

The other advantage is that buyers can get a better idea of how the art they are buying will look at home.

“This is how art is meant to look,” says Jean Luc Virard, 50, an artist from Paris whose work is being displayed at the Boun gallery room.

In addition to the art on the walls and over the bed, sculptures have been set up on the coffee table and on the windowsill, and even in the bathroom over the toilet.

“I like this particular hotel fair because they gave us a suite so there’s more space to showcase the work,” says Virard. “Last year’s rooms were too small.”

AHAF "Meeting the peacock couple,” Kwak Su-yeon, Special Exhibition. (AHAF 2012)
The hotels themselves also have the incentive of hosting such events to boost their image as a cultural space.

“After our recent renovation, we wanted to change our image from that of a business hotel to a more vibrant cultural space,” says Westin Chosun’s public relations coordinator Hyun Geun Joo.

“In addition to holding our first concert and this art fair, we also recently signed a MOU with the Seoul Arts Center and are offering hotel packages for guests who want to see special exhibitions or concerts while they’re here.”


Hotel guests who are staying over the weekend automatically get invitations for the fair, and due to the full occupancy of the seventh and eighth floors, might get a sweet upgrade as well.

To take advantage of such inadvertent travel-oriented guests wandering down to the fair, an enterprising tourism board has also booked a gallery room. 

“Since New Caledonia is more of a luxury travel destination, we thought such an exhibition would be relevant to the patrons of this art fair and the hotel guests,” says Eom Yoon-ju, representative for the New Caledonia Tourism Board. The Board's room showcases photography of New Caledonia by Korean artists who were in residence there.

AHAF"Birdblossom," Kim Ji-hye, Special Exhibition. (AHAF 2012)


Then there are the downsides of showcasing in a hotel room.

"It is quite limiting in terms of space and display compared to a white-cubed exhibition space, where there are systems and lights that show the work beautifully," says Sun Moon, curator for Dongsanbang Gallery in Insadong.

"Also many of the guests are staying at the hotel so they are not necessarily interested in art and just wander in, so the level of interest is quite varied," says Sun. 

In order to monitor such guests, and to restrict the sometimes overwhelming foot traffic, the decision was made to make the art fair invite-only this year. 

"Until last year, we sold tickets at the door, but 10,000 people came and it was just too much," says Jung. This year the invites were capped at 8,000.

New features 

So how about those unaffiliated with the art world who want to go see some amazing art over the weekend? 

"We issued invites to people who called the committee in advance," says Jung. Meanwhile, the only way to get in if you already don't have an invite? Book a room at the Westin Chosun and wander down after checking in. 

Dongsanbang gallery room. Dongsanbang gallery room. (AHAF 2012)Another new feature at this year’s AHAF is the addition of an antiques gallery.

“In Seoul we’re predicting a growth in interest for antiques,” says Jung. “While the interest in antiques has been high in other Asian markets like Hong Kong, for example, there hasn’t really been a significant market in Seoul so far.”

However, while the type of gallery may have become more diverse, the actual number of participating galleries has shrunk, allegedly due to concerns about the economic slowdown in Seoul. The number of galleries decreased from 69 to 52 this year. 

So if Seoul is cooling off, then where is the new hotspot for contemporary art in Asia right now?

“Hong Kong,” says Jung. “Art HK showed that.” 

More on CNN: Hong Kong: An art hub minus grassroots buzz 

Frances Cha is a Digital Producer at CNN Travel. 


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