I wonder whether the world outside of the art community is as busy today as the one inside of it. The one thing I know for sure is that inside the art world everything is extremely hectic. September used to be the busiest month in the Korean contemporary art calendar, but the year 2022 seems to be taking this to a new level. Major institutions and galleries have opened new exhibitions, while auction houses offered particularly noteworthy programs alongside the launch of both KIAF and Frieze Seoul. Even global enterprises have joined this national arena, and have presented their own visions regarding marketing art. This has created an atmosphere of ‘all-star’ games across the sector. However, this also makes it more difficult to read the trends of contemporary art today or to predict the immediate future.
‘Circuit Seoul #2: Omnipresent’ opened on August 24th at the Loop Station Ikseon, Seoul. Circuit Seoul was first launched in 2021 to present visual arts utilizing a fashion week-inspired system. It was a ground-breaking fair consisting of two parts – the artists’ selection show and the season-selected show. The organizer, Oaah Agency, launched its second edition titled ‘omnipresent’, meaning: present everywhere at the same time. This title addresses their intention to showcase both real and virtual works, both of which have emerged as important contemporary agenda items, and to catalyze discussions about perception, experience, and the collection of different forms of existence. Hipsters flocked to the event without hesitation, and made it clear that they wanted to own 'art that only I know', rather than 'art that everyone likes'. In this way, new art can be discovered, and eventually one form rises to the top to lead the newest trend.
Whenever a blockbuster event is run by institutions and organization, alternatives always also make their presence known elsewhere. In retrospect, one can observe a constant stream of alternative art fairs going against the mainstream to confront standard vested interests. This phenomenon is not limited to Korea, but occurs in many other parts of the world. The emergence and growth of these alternatives in fact reflects contemporary social aspects. This begs the question of whether such ‘mainstreaming of the non-mainstream’ – or perhaps the ‘representative of alternatives’ – can offer accurate readings of the flow and trend of the Korean contemporary art market today?
'The Preview Seongsu' aims to be the leading venue to most quickly introduce the latest trends in the Korean art scene. As befits the name ‘preview’, the venue presents not only emerging new artists who have not participated in art fairs, but also previously unseen works by established artists. The event, hosted by Shinhan Card, was held in S Factory, D building from April 28th to May 1st this year. Many of the young galleries targeted for participation experienced difficulties with booth displays and organizing exhibitions, due to lack of experience in fairs. However, the unique composition of each gallery nonetheless stood, and these growing pains were recognized as a somewhat charming characteristic of the event. 'The Preview' continues to strengthen online and offline contents through two successful offline outcomes, as well as the online application 'My Art Flex'. It aims to connect new generation of collectors who love young galleries with young artists, to maintain its identity, and finally to analyze the needs of both suppliers and consumers who live the artistic life.
Dedicated to pursuing harmony between subculture and artistry, 'Urban Break’s’ third event was successfully held last July at COEX, Seoul. As imagined as an ‘art playground’, the 2020 event was curated under the three keywords of expansion, digital media, and subculture. It was meant to show how the culture of the MZ generation can be combined with others, and expanded. This art platform encompasses the artistic energy of both new exhibition spaces in the city, such as street cultures, galleries, and new people - creators, artists, and start-ups - and is expanding its business under the auspices of introducing these various new elements.
‘Urban Break’, ‘The Preview’, and ‘Circuit Seoul’ each play a significant role in leading trends, and operate outside the mainstream KIAF. Coincidentally, these three fairs were launched around 2020, when the art market was not as heated as it is now. In contrast to the vibrant energy seen today, art producers and dealers were exhausted in the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. However, over the course of the long pandemic artwork became an investment piece, and auctions for works by specific artists were disproportionately highlighted. When asked what conditions were required to create a new fair and proceed appropriately, Youngbin Yoon, the Director of 'Circuit Seoul' answered: "The work approaches the audience like a model on a runway show. That is, the artists’ collection is presented and circulates the audience on the catwalk. When this idea came up, we simply had to put it into action. This affected activities such as, attending a show, watching a show, ordering a piece and selecting a piece from the showroom. The interest of the younger generation is the most important for the fair, and the key is to stimulate their interest.” The artist’s collection in 'Circuit Seoul' is produced together with fashion brand items. Bespoke lookbooks – photographed with fashion items and artwork collections – are archived and distributed online and offline. The event introduces a new artist every time, and aims to provide momentum for continuous evocation and circulation to art producers, practitioners, and audiences.
Woncheol Jang, the CEO of Urban Break, explained: “Urban Break 2022 will challenge and expand the boundary of art. We present new works by the most noteworthy artists in urban art and street culture, including art cars, webtoons, tattoos, and art toys. It particularly focuses on the three values and practices of: ‘green’, ‘digital’ and ‘equality’. Above all, the conditions for success depend on how the participants' lifestyles and the event can coexist. Thus we want to develop interesting and accessible contents and transform the exhibition space into the hippest playground.” He also emphasized: “we want the fair to be a creators’ collaboration platform, where the artists can grow and the art market’s ecosystem can expand.”
What we call an ‘art market’ is comprised of galleries that sell the artworks themselves, numerous domestic and international art fairs that run during certain periods, as well as the auction houses. It is true that art fairs are taking the initiative to lead specific trends, but they are also producing new topics of discussion in the art market. For the mutual growth and coexistence of fairs and markets, what should the role of alternative art fairs be? This is especially relevant those up against blockbuster fairs, like a small David against the mighty Goliath. In 2009, BlueDot Asia advocated an art sale exhibition featuring prominent, emerging young artists in Asia. Korea Tomorrow has led alternative art fairs throughout the 2010s, showcasing the original characteristics of Korean artists every year. The CEO of H Zone, Daehyung Lee, who curated both series commented: “An alternative form of art fair, combined with a special exhibition, has the net function of enriching the narrative by giving the work a meaningful context. As a result, conditions are created to discuss more sustainable ‘value’ rather than ‘short-term price on market indicators’. For this reason, numerous art fairs are operating various special exhibitions. It has been confirmed time and again that the attractiveness of symbolic indicators, such as the story, history, and philosophical discourse surrounding a work, are directly related to the sale of the work. Therefore, the formal experiment of combining the art fair with the special exhibition will continue.”
Jung Iljoo is the chief editor of Public Art, Korea’s leading monthly art magazine. Her formal training is in industrial design – from initiate to doctorate - at Ewha Woman’s University. As a journalist, Jung penned through the pages of daily, weekly, and biweekly publications and found her greatest passion and pursuit on the page of monthly art magazines. When Jung found time away from the editor’s desk, she directed the Public Art New Hero exhibition over 4 iterations, published a monograph Culture Letter - Remarks on the Korean Art Scene (2020), and planned the art section of the Hyundai Motor Company’s ZER01NE creator platform from 2017 to 2020.