This week in the Back Room: Seoul’s international gallery scene, the culture sector’s post-COVID building boom, and Caroline Walker heats up the auction houses—all in a 6-minute read (1,774 words).
Top of the Market
The Next Big Thing
It’s mid-July, which means we’re just seven weeks away from the international art-world circuit lighting up Seoul like never before: the inaugural Frieze Seoul, the long-running homegrown fair Kiaf Seoul, and its new tech-focused sister fair, Kiaf Plus, will all welcome visitors from across the map the first weekend in September.
So too will a slate of new spaces and architectural expansions by some of the most prestigious Western galleries in the biz. In preparation for Seoul’s star turn, Andy St. Louis retraced how buy-in from global dealers has helped bring South Korea’s capital to center stage.
How Did Seoul’s Rise Begin?
“The Korean contemporary art scene has long remained relatively insular and its market largely untapped,” St. Louis writes. This situation stands in stark contrast to mainland China and Hong Kong, where Western galleries began flocking in the early 2000s.
Then, in 2016, Perrotin opened a modest showroom in Seoul, followed shortly thereafter by powerhouse galleries Pace and Lehmann Maupin. The trio found “a market ripe for growth and a broad-based audience with an increasing appetite for works by foreign artists.”
Since then, the three galleries have all found success in Seoul through differing approaches…
- Pace’s program has centered on blue-chip U.S. artists: Alexander Calder, Mary Corse, the late Sam Gilliam, and Joel Shapiro have all had solo shows there within the past year.
- Lehmann Maupin has featured somewhat younger, more global artists: three of its past six shows in Seoul have been one-person affairs by Mandy El-Sayegh, Catherine Opie, and Billie Zangewa.
- Perrotin’s offerings have skewed towards an up-and-coming generation of Gothamites: of its six most recent exhibitions, four spotlighted a New York-based artist who had never before had a solo show in either South Korea or Asia overall.
This trio of dealers has doubled down in Seoul, too. Lehmann Maupin opened more spacious facilities in the museum-rich Hannam-dong neighborhood this March. Pace recently announced that an expansion of its South Korean compound will debut in sync with Frieze Seoul—just as Perrotin will inaugurate its second space in the Gangnam district.
What Led the Next Crop of Galleries to Seoul?
Teamwork there and turmoil elsewhere played a role.
Various Small Fires, the buzzy Los Angeles-based gallery founded by Korean-American dealer Esther Kim Varet, expanded to Seoul in 2019. The city’s admirable public-health response allowed businesses to keep operating safely even after COVID struck. Varet used some of her space to enable Karma, Night Gallery, Jessica Silverman, and other dealers in locked-down nations to engage Korean audiences with works by their own artists.
Galleries that popped up in Seoul also discovered business-friendly tax breaks on art sales that rivaled those in Hong Kong—just as the Chinese Communist Party imposed a new national-security law endangering creative expression and internationalism in the latter city.
These variables helped convince more heavyweight Western galleries to choose Seoul as their first permanent Asian exhibition site, most notably…
- Thaddaeus Ropac, whose program there has leaned into blue-chip Euro and American artists (see: Georg Baselitz, Alex Katz, Tom Sachs) since opening in the fall of 2021.
- Gladstone, which expanded from a local sales office run by Kukje Gallery veteran HeeJin Park since 2020 to a gleaming gallery in the Gangnam district this spring (christened by back-to-back solo shows of Philippe Parreno and Anicka Yi).
Is a Third Wave of Seoul Expansions Underway?
Yes, mainly by dealers taking over spaces in unusual commercial contexts…
- Johann König’s Seoul gallery (opened in 2021) occupies a once-vacant floor in the flagship building of Korean-owned luxury brand MCM. “Crucial to this symbiotic relationship are the favorable terms of König’s lease” which “significantly” reduce the Berlin-headquartered gallery’s financial exposure, St. Louis writes.
- Peres Projects has also operated an outpost in the underground shopping arcade of the Shilla, “one of Seoul’s ritziest five-star hotels,” since this spring.
Do these moves position König and Peres Projects more as luxury shopping destinations than traditional white-cube galleries? Maybe so—and maybe that’s a strength, not a weakness, in Seoul.
The Bottom Line
Barring a meltdown caused by forces beyond the arts, the first edition of any new top-tier art fair tends to tell us relatively little about a promising market hub’s long-term viability. Too many players with skin in the game have too much time to ensure an event roars out of the gate with strong sales across the board. (They’re always “strong” somehow!)
Frieze Seoul should be no different this September. In this sense, we’re likely to learn more about the city’s true market potential by watching how the international gallery landscape continues to develop there (or not) in the months before and after the expo.
Right now, the narrative and the new leases both heavily favor Seoul becoming the global industry’s Next Big Destination. But let’s see if the momentum keeps up for the next six to eight months, not just the seven weeks ahead.
The latest Wet Paint will appear later today. Here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…
- Art Basel revealed the 156 galleries taking part in the inaugural Paris+, and it appears to have made good on its promise to keep the proportion of French galleries (more than one-third) the same as in past editions of the ousted FIAC. (Artnet News)
- The debut of Bordeaux-based art and design fair BAD+ hosted 5,000 visitors and a bevy of reported sales, led by a €50,000 work by Chinese artist Ma Desheng (sold by A2Z Gallery). ()
- A new fair dedicated to still and moving images, Offscreen, will debut in Paris October 20-23 (coinciding with Paris+) at the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild. ()
- Veteran auction exec David Norman has left Phillips to launch an eponymous advisory focused on his specialty in Impressionist and modern art. (Artnet News Pro)
- Christie’s reported $4.1 billion in total sales in the first half of the year, an 18 percent increase over the first half of 2021. (Artnet News)
- Sotheby’s scraped just £7.1 million ($8.5 million) from its 20-lot Old Masters sale in London, a far cry from the £56.1 million ($66.3 million) rung up by the equivalent 37-lot sale last year. ()
- After parting ways with David Zwirner earlier this year, in-demand painter Harold Ancart has joined Gagosian, where he will have a solo show in New York next year. ()
- Rising-star artist Chase Hall is now repped by David Kordansky and will have his first solo exhibition at the gallery’s New York space in fall 2023. Galerie Eva Presenhuber, whom Hall joined in February, will continue on as the artist’s dealer in Europe. ()
- Jessica Silverman now jointly represents Loie Hollowell with Pace Gallery, which has represented the artist since 2017. ()
- Documenta 15 was dealt a double blow this week: interdisciplinary heavyweight Hito Steyerl withdrew from the exhibition over the organization’s failure to address allegations of antisemitism, and New Delhi-based art collective Party Office canceled its public programming after one of its members was attacked in an anti-LGBTQ+ and racist incident. (Artnet News / Artnet News)
- The team at Houston’s Project Row Houses is inviting proposals from artists in the American South for its new Southern Survey Biennial, which opens in October. The deadline is today, July 15. ()
- James D. Thornton, managing director of Thorwood Real Estate Group LLC, will serve as the 26th chair of the Baltimore Museum of Art. He succeeds seven-year veteran Clair Zamoiski Segal. ()
NFTs and More
- The Italian government instructed museums to hold off on NFT partnerships after a tech company called Cinello swallowed the majority of proceeds from an NFT project with Florence‘s Uffizi Gallery. (Artnet News)
- Three Arrows Capital, a major crypto-focused hedge fund recently forced into liquidation proceedings, moved an estimated $3 billion worth of NFTs and other assets to a single crypto wallet, prompting fears it could sell off its holdings before they are frozen by a bankruptcy court. (Artnet News)
- A French court dismissed a lawsuit brought against Maurizio Cattelan by a fabricator asserting authorship of work done for the superstar artist, while another artist sued Cattelan in Miami for alleged copyright infringement over his infamous duct-taped banana. (Artnet News / Artnet News)
Building Back Better
Last Friday saw the release of the latest Cultural Infrastructure Index, an annual report by AEA Consulting that tracks investment in the construction of new or expanded museums, performing-arts centers, multifunction arts venues, and cultural hubs worldwide. The results capture a historic bounceback in building after the COVID shutdowns of 2020, with one caveat…
- Last year, 211 projects of $10 million or more were completed, and 174 new ones were announced. Both figures were the highest posted since the study’s first edition in 2016.
- The number of projects finished in 2021 more than doubled compared to 2020; announced projects were up more than one-third year-over-year.
- Spending told a slightly different story, however. While investment in projects completed last year reached a record $11.2 billion, funding pledged for new projects reached only $6.5 billion, the second lowest total in six years.
For more takeaways from the report, click through below.
“I would have probably designed something that was low maintenance, one color, one material, bronze, and boring… I had just expected it all to be easier.”
—Artist Pamela Council, on how they would have re-conceived their intricate yet monumental public commission for Times Square Arts had they understood the organization would only cover the work’s $5,000 monthly storage and insurance costs for five months after its deinstallation. Council must now find a permanent home for the piece or destroy it. ()
Work of the Week
Estimate: £60,000 to £80,000 ($72,306 to $96,408)
Sold for: £428,400 ($516,268)
Sold at: Christie’s London
Sale Date: July 1
This canvas from Caroline Walker’s acclaimed series on the service industry brought more than 5X its high estimate at Christie’s postwar and contemporary day sale in London earlier this month. The result set a new record for the Scottish millennial artist, bringing more attention to her months-long runup across the dealer and auction sectors.
A cinematic depiction of a hotel housekeeper changing sheets, displaced Walker’s (2011) as her top result under the hammer. The latter sold for £327,600 (almost $433,000) at Phillips London in March.
Since March, 16 works by Walker have reached the auction block—nine of them during London’s summer sales cycle. Of those 16 lots, all have found buyers, and only two have failed to beat their high estimate. Combine that trend with the artist’s inaugural solo show at Stephen Friedman gallery this past April, and Walker is yet another artist to watch under age 40.