Frieze Art Fair returns to South Korea, offering boost to Asia’s art market

By Hyunsu Yim

SEOUL (Reuters) – The Frieze Art Fair returned to South Korea for a second year on Wednesday, with dealers hoping the event would provide a boost for the burgeoning local art market, after economic woes triggered a slump in sales this year.

Art buyers flocked to Seoul’s COEX convention centre to see cutting-edge works by emerging artists, antiquity art through the 20th century, and offerings from established galleries, such as Gallery Hyundai, Kukje and Gana.

The fair, run by Endeavor Group-owned Frieze, made its Asia debut in South Korea last year, drawing over 70,000 visitors.

South Korea’s art market reached 1 trillion won ($750.85 million) in revenue for the first time in 2022, according to data from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

However, the market shrank in the first half of this year, with the volume of art sales by major South Korean auction houses dropping 44.8% from a year ago, according to the Korea Arts Management Service.

Despite this backdrop, the South Korean and the Asian art market remain resilient, Patrick Lee, Director of Frieze Seoul, told Reuters.

“I think it is sort of a natural evolution as collectors get a little more sophisticated and discerning.”

With COVID travel restrictions gone, Lee is optimistic about hosting more international visitors during this year’s four-day fair.

Over 120 galleries from 30 countries are taking part, with more than half of them operating spaces in Asia, the organisers have said.

“We have a great contingent of visitors from China coming, Japan, all throughout the region. We’ve done a lot of outreach,” Lee said.

Seungjin Chung, founder and director of G Gallery, said South Korea’s art market has enjoyed growth in recent years led in part by Millennial and Gen Z collectors.

“From around three years ago, young collectors started to show interest in the market. Celebrities and influential people also began collecting (artwork), which I think has had an impact.”

Some South Korean celebrities, such as RM, a member of K-pop group BTS, have shown off their art collection and shared images of them visiting art galleries on social media, fuelling an interest in art among young people.

Jungmin Cho who directs Seoul-based White Noise said taking part in Frieze Seoul has been a new experience as her gallery has been more of an “independent, project space” instead of actively pursuing buyers.

“It is a great opportunity to promote the artists we support internationally and build relationships,” she said.

($1 = 1,331.8200 won)

(Reporting by Hyunsu Yim; Additional Reporting by Hyun Young Yi; Editing by Sharon Singleton)