Frieze Seoul settles in for its sophomore edition
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Frieze Seoul settles in for its sophomore edition
An untitled 2023 work in gold leaf and newspaper by Rirkrit Tiravanija. In its second edition, the art fair Frieze Seoul will celebrate art from around Asia. (Rirkrit Tiravanija/Kurimanzutto via The New York Times)

by Ted Loos

SEOUL.- After a buzzed-about debut in 2022 that even attracted K-pop stars, art fair Frieze Seoul will be back at the Coex center in the South Korean capital for its sophomore outing, running from Thursday to Sept. 9 and featuring 121 galleries.

“It was explosive,” Seoul-based contemporary dealer Jason Haam said of the inaugural edition, which came as pandemic restrictions and collectors’ travel habits were loosening up.

“It came at just the right time. We had this prestigious international fair,” Haam added, “and it gave us a lot of pride.”

A prestigious showcase is important for dealers, but given the cost of showing at fairs — especially to travel from far away — they expect to see results.

“We sold out our presentation,” said Kurt Mueller, a senior director of David Kordansky Gallery of Los Angeles and New York. “It could not have gone better.”

Frieze, which is owned by sports and entertainment conglomerate Endeavor, has been on an expansion tear. Over the summer, it announced that, beyond its four marquee fairs — in London, New York, Los Angeles and Seoul — it had also purchased the Armory Show in New York, which runs from Sept. 8-10 at the Javits Center, as well as Expo Chicago, a spring event.

The Seoul event will be slightly bigger in its second outing, with three more dealers than there were last year. (For comparison, the overall size is similar to Frieze’s Los Angeles fair and around twice as big as the New York one.)

As it did last year, Frieze Seoul will overlap with art fair Kiaf, which focuses on Korean art and takes place on a different floor of Coex. The fairs will again collaborate on some programming, and offer dual-entry tickets.

According to Frieze Seoul’s director Patrick Lee, more than half of the dealers are based in Asia or are international galleries with outposts on the continent, an increase from last year.

For the second year, the fair will feature a section called Focus Asia, with 10 galleries hailing from Bangkok; Singapore; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and other cities.

Lee said such efforts gave the fair a distinct flavor that was part of its appeal. “It can’t be cookie-cutter,” he said, noting the competition from dozens of art fairs globally.

“We’re continuing to tap into the potential of Asia,” Lee added. “It’s a big place. Frieze Seoul is a Pan-Asian fair; that’s how I see it. It’s a foothold for the whole continent.”

Lee emphasized that this round, the fair has features that go beyond dealer booths. The beefed-up programming slate includes an expanded edition of Frieze Film, which will show works by 14 Korea-based artists specializing in moving images, with screenings at several nonprofit art spaces around Seoul.

There will also be an installation by the inaugural winner of the Artist Award at Frieze Seoul, Hannah Woo. Her work “The Great Ballroom,” made of draped fabrics, will hang from the ceiling of Coex.

Fairs only thrive if the right buyers show up, though, and New York-based collector Miyoung Lee will be among those attending again this year.

“It blew my mind how sophisticated the Korean market was,” Lee, who is Korean American, said of last year’s fair. “The Western galleries brought their A-game, too. People brought things they could have sold over the phone.”

She added, “Now, I know the word is out, and I think even more people will be coming.”

Miyoung Lee, a trustee of the Whitney Museum of American Art, said that at last year’s fair she purchased a piece by multidisciplinary artist Candice Lin from dealer François Ghebaly, who has galleries in New York and Los Angeles.

Returning galleries at the fair will be offering slates of works chosen partly based on the experience of 2022. David Kordansky did well with a solo booth, and so it is presenting another, this time featuring Los Angeles artist Mary Weatherford. Her swirling, colorful paintings on linen include “Night of the Thumpasorus” (2023). Some of the works incorporate neon lights.

“We’ve shown her at Art Basel Hong Kong, and there’s been strong interest in her work, but we’ve never had a chance to do a full presentation in Asia,” Mueller, senior director of David Kordansky, said of Weatherford. “This is an opportunity to bring a new body of work to Asian collectors and institutions.”

For his part, Haam, the Seoul-based contemporary dealer, is showing some younger artists, including 27-year-old figurative painter Moka Lee, based in Seoul. The dealer will be showing her 2022 oil “Ego Function Error.”

“We’re trying to develop the next generation of Korean artists,” Haam said.

But he also represents some well-known international names, including British sculptor Sarah Lucas and Swiss-born installation maestro Urs Fischer. Fischer’s 2015 sculpture “UF” — made of Aqua-Resin, steel, wax, pigment, nails and adhesive — will be in Haam’s booth.

“There’s a gravity to his works,” the dealer said of Fischer, referring to a force that brings collectors toward pieces by lesser-known makers. “Having that means people take the gallery more seriously.”

Frieze Masters, the fair’s specialty section for older art, will also return

“Last year was our first Masters outside London,” said Nathan Clements-Gillespie, director of Masters. (In London, it has its own separate tent.)

“It was an incredible success,” Clements-Gillespie said. “We had queues of people lined up to look at medieval manuscripts. It’s exciting and energizing to have these works juxtaposed with contemporary art.”

One of the dealers in the section is Gray of Chicago and New York.

“The collectors are independent-minded and idiosyncratic,” Paul Gray, a co-owner of the gallery, said of the Seoul crowd. “They don’t follow trends.”

Gray will show work by well-known 20th-century artists including Jean Arp and Pablo Picasso. One of the booth’s star attractions will be a large painting by Joan Mitchell, “Untitled (Canada)” (1975).

The gallery also deals in contemporary works by living artists, and to that end it will also show newer paintings in its booth, including Alex Katz’s “Saturday” (2002) and Torkwase Dyson’s “Transverse-Black Lake_2 (Elevation)” (2023).

Some galleries opt to have a roommate of sorts, electing to share a booth. That is the case for Whistle of Seoul and ROH of Jakarta, Indonesia.

“It’s our first joint booth,” said Kyungmin Lee, director of Whistle. “It’s an experiment.” She said that each gallery would show the work of four artists.

“It’s our home fair, and we have a solo show in the gallery at the same time,” Lee said, referring to an exhibition of Seoul-based painter Eimei Kaneyama in the gallery’s space in the Itaewon neighborhood. “This expands our platform in another way.”

Whistle’s Frieze offerings include “Extructed Mountain (Single Peak)” (2020), a sculpture in resin, cement and polystyrene by Hyun Nahm, an artist based in Goyang, South Korea.

Last year, Whistle showed in the Focus Asia section, but this time its booth is in the main fair, a move that puts the gallery in powerful company.

Kurimanzutto of Mexico City and New York will again show in the main section this year. Mónica Manzutto, a co-founder of the gallery, said last year’s Seoul fair had been a hit.

“During the pandemic, we had not met with our Asian collectors, and it was a great moment to catch up,” Manzutto said.

The Kurimanzutto booth will include the oil “untitled (news)” (2021-22) by Colombian-born painter Óscar Murillo, and an untitled work in gold leaf and newspaper by Rirkrit Tiravanija.

Tiravanija — a multimedia artist who lives and works in Berlin; New York; and Chiang Mai, Thailand — has his largest museum survey to date coming up in October at MoMA PS1 in New York.

A beaded sonic sculpture by the Seoul- and Berlin-based artist Haegue Yang, essentially a curtain of stainless-steel bells, will lead into a separate booth area containing other pieces by Yang, including collagelike works on paper.

Manzutto said the pieces in her gallery's booth were selected not only with sales in mind. An art fair booth is also a billboard of sorts meant to attract the eyes of the curators, museum directors and other art-world influencers in attendance.

“We want to place the works, but we also want to expand their careers,” she said. “To me, that’s the real power of an art fair, and why it’s worth the investment.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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