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[Weekender] Dansaekhwa, force behind globalization of Korean art
Popularity of monochrome paintings ramps up strong HK sales of Korean auction housesBy 이우영
Published : April 1, 2016 - 13:21
At K Auction’s Hong Kong sale on March 25, Korean monochrome paintings, dubbed Dansaekhwa, led strong sales, proving its steady popularity among international collectors.
A 1975 abstract painting by Kim Whan-ki fetched 2.2 billion won ($1.8 million). All six paintings of Park Seo-bo were sold. A white monochrome painting by Chung Sang-hwa sold for 710 million won, higher than its highest estimate of 473 million won.
“We could see that the Dansaekhwa boom was continuing. They attracted attention from major collectors not only from Korea, but also from Malaysia, Singapore and European countries,” said Sohn Yee-chun, auctioneer at K Auction.
The auction was held in time for Art Basel Hong Kong, held from March 23-25.
K Auction’s local rival Seoul Auction plans to hold their spring Hong Kong sale on April 4. Dansaekhwa works are also highlights of the auction.
On the block are a 1970 abstract painting and four other paintings from different periods by Kim Whan-ki that offer an insight into the artist’s style transition. Other works by Dansaekhwa artists are also being auctioned, including Lee U-fan, Park Seo-bo, Chung Chang-sup, Yun Hyong-keun, Ha Chong-hyun and Kwon Young-woo.
Roots of Dansaekhwa boom
Dansaekhwa is a genre of painting that emerged among postwar modern Korean artists in the 1960s. They developed a distinctive painting style defined by monotonous colors and simple and meditative imagery. Major Dansaekhwa artists such as Lee U-fan, Park Seo-bo, Kwon Young-woo, Ha Chong-hyun developed different methods for simple expressions.
Its market boom can be traced back to Seoul-based Kukje Gallery’s 2014 group exhibition of major Dansaekhwa artists such as Lee U-fan, Ha Chong-hyun, Chung Chang-sup and Park Seo-bo, held to rediscover Korean modern art.
Shortly afterward, LA-based Blum & Poe presented an exhibition of six Korean Dansaekhwa masters, curated by Joan Kee, art history professor of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and author of “Contemporary Korean Art: Tansaekhwa and the Urgency of Method.”
“I think people really appreciate the simplicity of Dansaekhwa and also Western collectors are more and more interested in art history outside America and Europe,” said Ashley Rawlings, director of Blum and Poe gallery in Tokyo, at Art Basel in Switzerland in June.
Consequently, Dansaekhwa paintings have been showcased at major art fairs such as Art Basel, Frieze and Fiac.
At the same time, blue-chip galleries have hosted solo exhibitions of Dansaekhwa masters. Paris-based Galerie Perrotin featured Park Seo-bo in 2014. LA-based Blum & Poe and New York-based Tina Kim gallery featured works of Ha Chong-hyun in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Blum and Poe presented the first posthumous U.S. solo exhibition of Yun Hyong-keun in November last year and will host the first solo exhibition of the late Kwon Young-woo in May this year.
International auction houses responded quickly to the growing demand for Dansaekhwa paintings among global art collectors. Dansaekhwa paintings have been included in major Asian contemporary art sales of Christie’s and Sotheby’s and in their curated exhibitions in Hong Kong.
Boosting growth of auction houses
Driven by the sudden attention to Korean Dansaekhwa, Korean art auction houses have enjoyed robust growth over the last few years. They have attracted a growing number of international art collectors in their Hong Kong sales.
It pushed the once sidelined Korean art market to advance in the list of top 10 countries by art auction turnover between 2014 and 2015 by the art market information provider Artprice.com. South Korea ranked 10th on the list, followed by Austria and Australia.
Seoul Auction and K Auction are the forces behind the remarkable Korean auction market growth.
The combined hammer prices made by Korea’s two major auction houses -- Seoul Auction and K Auction -- jumped twofold from 97 billion won in 2014 to 188 billion won in 2015. The two are dominant in the market, taking about 93 percent of auction sales in Korea.
Seoul Auction saw its sales soar from 45.6 billion won in 2014 to 108.1 billion won in 2015 thanks to its increased in the share of foreign sales made in Hong Kong from 34 percent to 60 percent.
In 2015, K Auction realized 60 billion won in combined hammer price, up from 27 billion won in 2014. Foreign sales made up 49 percent of the total hammer price.
Both auction houses hold Hong Kong sales in time for Art Basel Hong Kong.
“The successful sales records are underpinned by strong sales of Dansaekhwa,” said Seo Jin-su, professor of Kangnam University and of the Art Market Research Institute.
Kim Yoon-sub, director of the Korean Arts Management Institute, who offers art investment advice to collectors, said the Dansaekhwa boom would continue for the next four to five years as there would be continuous demand from international art collectors.
“The prospects for Dansaekhwa market are positive as it is not limited to the local Korean art market anymore. As long as there are more foreign collectors trying to include Dansaekhwa in their collections, it will remain one of the most sought-after genres of painting in the global market,” said Kim.
By Lee Woo-young (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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