The ninth Korean International Art Fair (KIAF) closed its doors at COEX, southern Seoul, Monday, after five days of dealers, curators and curious passersby weighed the contents within.
Though the art market has considerably slowed since the economic recession in 2008, aesthetes are hopeful for a slow rise back to pre-crash figures, with KIAF to be one such indicator for the Korean industry. This year’s fair was Asia’s largest yet, surpassing the 2010 Hong Kong Art Fair in May, with 193 galleries from 16 countries, although many sales sheets were still left wanting.
“Compared with last year, there were about 20,000 more people this year and in terms of sales about 3 billion won ($2.54 million) higher,’’ said Pyo Mi-sun, the president of Pyo Gallery and head of the Galleries Association of Korea. “Although the economy isn’t that great yet _ and whether it’s because of the expectation that the economy will get better or because people just have a big appetite for buying artwork right now and appreciate it ― I think that the recovery of the art industry isn’t far.’’
France’s Maria Lund, director of her eponymous gallery and a regular at KIAF, was also satisfied with this year’s showcase.
“We’ve been selling smaller pieces this year, which I believe is due to the economy,’’ Lund said, although she feels that the 2010 event has been more successful, with higher-quality work. “You could say things are looking up.’’
The event seemed to close optimistically for some, though a few directors could be seen wrapping up their artwork in bubble wrap more than an hour to closing, the desirable red dots markedly sparse. Some curators noted the lack of key collectors, which contributed to an overall show of poor sales, and the final day saw a largely student-crowd, walking through exhibition-like and snapping photos of their favorite works when director’s backs were turned.
The greatest concentration of sold stickers could be found in the U.K. corridor ― this year’s guest country ― and within that, at Other Criteria, Damien Hirst’s publishing company that works with a selection of artists to output limited edition art.
“He has probably one of the highest profiles of any contemporary artist in the world,’’ said manager Keinton Butler. “And I think that he has had a fair amount of exposure here in Korea.
“I think that Korean buyers, particularly in this market, feel that he’s a good investment.’’
Eager as domestic buyers were to snatch up the young British artist’s work, it did seem that economic factors were inevitably a deciding issue. Though several booths showcased Hirst ― including Pyo Gallery, though the original “Spin’’ did not sell ― the selection of prints at his official publishing booth were most popular.
Tellingly of the art atmosphere was the inclusion of Liverpool-based Static Gallery, an alternative artists’ organization whose booth ― humorously and educationally ― displayed a large blueprint of the KIAF exhibition hall, with red dots marking sales in a relatively live-time view of each gallery’s progress.
“We’re looking at the hierarchy of the art fair,’’ said Paul Sullivan, director of Static, explaining that he hypothesized the most dots would centralize around the fair’s main corridor of booths.
The only entrant invited by the British Embassy (as opposed to fair organizers), Static sought participation between attending galleries, inviting directors to apply the red stickers themselves as works were sold. Sullivan noted that it was intriguing to see how much information galleries revealed ― surprisingly, some even disclosed the cost of each work.
Fittingly, the issue of selling work was not the main mission of Static: “The currency of what we do is not always money.”