Frieze International Art Fair debuts in Seoul, a First for Asia

South Korea hosted Frieze International’s first fair in Asia featuring over 110 participating galleries from 20 different countries, spotlighting both established and emerging artists. The fair was held in Seoul at the COEX Convention and Exhibition Center.

“No one really knows what the future will bring but I believe this major international art fair is a turning point for the Korean art culture and art market and will cement Korea’s position as one of the major global art destinations in coming years. Best is yet to come,” said renowned art collector and philanthropist Dow Kim after attending the fair.

Within the main exhibition, the Focus Asia section was dedicated to 10 up-and-coming solo artists from Asian galleries and aimed to celebrate Asia’s growing art scene. Another new development was that over 30 percent of participating galleries were from Asia, a welcome departure from a historical Western predominance in past Frieze Fairs.

Frieze Seoul Director Patrick Lee remarked on how excitement about for the city and the fair built on one another, “It has been truly exciting to work with all our participating galleries on our first fair in Asia. There is a powerful sense of anticipation that gives every indication of the strong appetite for Frieze Seoul, and we are really looking forward to welcoming everyone to celebrate the creative life of the city this September.”

Korea has long featured a dynamic art scene for galleries and individual collectors. Frieze Seoul acts as the inaugural Asia launch, speaking volumes about the region’s art market growth over the past few decades. Korea now accounts for over two percent of all contemporary art sales (2021), placing fifth after the United States, China, the United Kingdom, and France. According to the Korea Arts Management Service (KAMS) data, sales grew 180 percent in 2021, surpassing over $680 million in the art market. Korea’s tax-exempt policy for artworks under 60 million won has been an attractive aspect for international collectors. As such, major global galleries have expanded to locations in Seoul, including Thaddaeus Ropac, Lehmann Maupin, Perrotin, Pace, and Gladstone.

Source: Art Basel; UBS; Arts Economics; Artory (Statista 2022)

Amidst criticism that the debut of a major international art fair takes the spotlight away from the domestic art scene, Frieze Seoul joined together with the Galleries Association of Korea’s headline exhibition fair—Kiaf Art Seoul—to better engage with local artists and institutions. These two fairs were held jointly, with each exhibition happening on two separate floors. To this end, smaller domestic artists were given a platform to promote their work to an international audience and garner support from affluent buyers worldwide.

Notably, however, galleries participating in both fairs highlighted that their sales at Frieze were remarkably higher than at Kiaf, where most Kiaf sales took place on the last day after Frieze had already ended. Still, the partnership allowed Frieze to debut in Korea while maintaining the Kiaf as Korea’s primary artistic fair and brand.  Alfred Kornfeld, Director of Berlin-based gallery Galerie Kornfeld, stated, “It is not only about Frieze…it is important to say Frieze and Kiaf because it is a partnership…Koreans should be proud of how they are bringing things together. They should not hide behind any global brand.”

The exhibition was also accompanied by numerous night-time parties and exhibitions all around the city, allowing collectors from abroad experience the cultural hub Korea has become. Over the 3-day period, Frieze featured more than 70,000 visitors and reached hundreds of billions of won in sales. The most notable sales at Frieze Seoul included:

  • A new George Condo painting, Red Portrait Composition (2022), for $2.8 million
  • Mark Bradford’s new mixed-media painting, Overpass, for $1.8 million.
  • A new Surrender Painting by Rashid Johnson for $550,000 to a private museum in Japan.
  • Adam Pendleton’s painting, Untitled (WE ARE NOT) (2022), for $475,000 to a museum in Asia.
  • A mixed-media Nari Ward painting, Breathing Mosaic Dream-Air (2022), for $275,000 to a Korean private collector.
  • Korean artist Lee Bul’s painting, Perdu CXLIII (2022), for $260,000 to a Korean collector.
  • A painting by Tom Sachs, Fun Town (2021), for $300,000 by Thaddaeus Ropac.
  • A painting by McArthur Binion, DNA: Study/(Visual: Ear) (2022), to a U.S.-based collector for $225,000.

Here is a gallery of some of the artwork sold at Frieze Seoul:

Lee Jung-jae at Frieze Seoul Talks about Collecting Art

Michelle Lee is a recent UC Berkeley graduate with a BA in Political Science and Economics. She lives in the US but frequently travels to Korea to visit family. She is currently working as a paralegal at a law firm in LA and enjoys staying on top of Korean dramas and movies.

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