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[Weekender] What to expect in the Korean art scene next year

 Visitors view works at KIAF Seoul 2021. (Galleries Association of Korea)
 Visitors view works at KIAF Seoul 2021. (Galleries Association of Korea)
South Korea’s art scene has enjoyed an unprecedented booming year in 2021 with art fairs and auction houses seeing record-breaking sales. This trend was backed by emerging younger collectors who are increasingly embracing the arts as part of their culture.

The late Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee’s art collection donated to the country also triggered an interest in art, with people lining up to see the artworks given to two national museums. On top of that, internationally renowned galleries have also turned their eyes to Seoul, either looking to open a new gallery or expand gallery space in the city, which is rising as an important art market in Asia.

The buoyed atmosphere in the Korean art scene is expected to continue next year with a variety of art events to take place throughout the year, including Frieze Seoul, the two major art fairs -- Art Busan 2022 and KIAF Seoul, Busan Biennale 2022, and the 59th Venice Biennale. Next year also marks the 90th anniversary of Korean video art pioneer Paik Nam-june’s birth.

Frieze Seoul will take place on Sept. 2 for four days at Coex in Gangnam-gu, southern Seoul, as the first fair in Asia by Frieze, the 20-year-old leading global contemporary art fair based in London. The much-anticipated art fair will be held alongside KIAF Seoul, South Korea’s largest art fair held by the Galleries Association of Korea. Some 260 galleries are expected to show up at the fair -- 100 for Frieze Seoul and 160 for KIAF Seoul.

“Together (the Galleries Association of Korea and Frieze) will create an unmissable week in Seoul that brings together galleries from all over the world and celebrates the city’s vibrant art scene,” Victoria Siddall, board director of Frieze said in a statement, adding that Seoul has “extraordinary artists, galleries, museums and collections.”

Busan is expected to draw many art lovers for Art Busan, a major art fair in the country slated for May 13, and the Busan Biennale 2022 in August. Art Busan has grown into one of the two must-see art fairs along with KIAF Seoul, becoming the largest art fair in the country’s southern region.

Ten-year old Art Busan was visited by a record 80,000 visitors this year who snapped up billions of won worth of artworks. The organizing committee of Art Busan is gearing up for the next year’s art fair which will be held a few months ahead of Frieze Seoul and KIAF Seoul, offering a VVIP preview session for the first time, according to the organizing committee.

The Busan Biennale 2022 will be led by Kim Hae-ju, a former deputy director of Art Sonje Center, who participated in the Busan Biennale 2006. She will introduce the history, culture and identity of Busan based on research and deep understanding of the city. Inaugurated in 1982 as Busan Youth Biennale formed by young Korean artists, Busan Biennale is a leading art biennale in the country, along with the Gwangju Biennale which is to take place next year. 

Paik Nam-june’s “The More the Better” (MMCA)
Paik Nam-june’s “The More the Better” (MMCA)
Korea’s video art founder Paik Nam-june’s largest artwork, “The More the Better,” will be unveiled next year after a three-year restoration that started in 2020. The video tower was installed in 1988 at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea’s Gwacheon venue in Gyeonggi Province, becoming Paik’s largest art work. Comprised of 1,003 CRT monitors, it was shut down in 2018 due to technical problems.

The museum announced the three-year restoration plan in 2019, saying it would maintain the prototype of the masterpiece, repairing or replacing CRT monitors, rather than using LCD monitors. MMCA will have a special exhibition next year in commemoration of unveiling the 18.5-meter-tall work, which also coincides with the 90th anniversary of the artist’s birth.

After Leeum Museum of Art reopens in October after renovation, it will be ready to showcase three major exhibitions in the first half of next year -- “Art Spectrum 2022” in March that features works by South Korean young artists and two solo exhibitions of Korean artist Suki Seokyeong Kang in March and American artist Ian Cheng in April. 

An installation view of “Suki Seokyeong Kang Prix Baloise” in 2019 at the Contemporary Art Museum of Luxembourg (Studio Suki Seokyeong Kang)
An installation view of “Suki Seokyeong Kang Prix Baloise” in 2019 at the Contemporary Art Museum of Luxembourg (Studio Suki Seokyeong Kang)
Kang has been an active artist in the international art scene exploring interdisciplinary art. Her works were shown at the Korean Pavilion during the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019 under the theme of “History Has Failed Us, But No Matter.” The exhibition at the Leeum Museum of Art will be the artist’s first major museum exhibition, according to the museum. Kang is currently a professor of Korean painting at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. 

Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (Arts Council Korea)
Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (Arts Council Korea)
The 59th Venice Biennale 2022 will be held from April 23 to Nov. 27 with the theme “The Milk of Dreams.” The Korean Pavilion will showcase works directed by Lee Young-chul, an art professor at Kaywon University, and those by installation artist Kim Yun-chul who is also an electroacoustic music composer and has explored magnetohydrodynamics, the study of the dynamics of electrically conducting fluids. An event dedicated to Paik Nam-june’s 90th birthday will be held at the pavilion, Lee hinted during an earlier interview with The Korea Herald in October.

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)
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