Words by Valentina Buzzi
This year marked the 21st anniversary of Kiaf, a historical international art fair in Korea, coinciding with the arrival of the first edition of Frieze Seoul, both held at COEX – a large-scale mall & convention center in Gangnam, the business district of the city. Anticipated by the kickoff of the art week, which saw the city buzzing with events since August 27th, this edition of the fair saw unmatched inbound of international visitors – contributing to the fervent atmosphere of local art professionals and aficionados.
This year, the fair brought together over 164 galleries, between the main fair and the satellite event, Kiaf PLUS – dedicated to uprising talents and experimental work and held at Setec. The fair saw the participation of primarily local galleries and powerhouses alongside the presence of international galleries who historically have been taking part in Kiaf, such as Perrotin, Esther Schipper, Peres Projects, and Carl Kostyal, among others.
The VIP preview, opening at 2 pm this Friday, saw a calmer atmosphere compared to last year’s “hungry” edition, with visitors dividing between the two fairs and taking their time for a slower appreciation. Yet, collectors remained very enthusiastic about the overall proposals; leaning towards local masters and rising talents without leaving behind “hot” international names such as Da Anna Oak (Perrotin), Paolo Salvador (Peres Project), and a solo participatory presentation of Roman Ondak (Esther Schipper). Other rising talents to continue to watch and present at the fair include Rusudan Khizanishvili (Kornfeld Galerie), Jaeseok Lee (Gallery2), Bo Kim (Galerie Bhak), and Larissa De Jesús Negrón (Cassina Projects).
1. Gallery Shilla – El Grupo X (Booth B07)
Founded in 1992 and representing some of the most interesting artists from the Korean AG group and the Japanese Mono-ha movements, Daegu-based Gallery Shilla has never been one to shy away from more experimental projects. In 2021, they brought to Kiaf the first “closed booth” project of artist Robert Barry as a commentary on the hyper-commercial boom of the Korean art market. This year, the gallery comes back with a reflection on the value we confer on art. With a direct ohmage to Maurizio Cattelan’s, Shilla displays a series of bananas taped to the wall, all purchasable from the price of $35 up, all coming with a certificate of authenticity. A welcoming reflection on the prices we confer on art and our ways to calibrate them (market demand? Aesthetic Value?) is then offered to the audience, which can fill out the anonymous questionnaire that will then be taped to the wall. At the end of the day, many contrasting opinions were formed, and some bananas were sold, all under $40.
2. Axel Vervoordt Gallery – Kimsooja (Booth B18)
The Antwerp-based gallery brings a fantastic solo presentation of Korean multi-disciplinary artist Kimsooja, bringing an exploration of her most representative work, spanning from a new large-scale installation, Deductive Object (2022), to her landmark Bottari series (1980-1990). Known for raising formalistic questions as well as navigating sensitive issues of the human condition, such as migration, poverty, violence, and the displaced self. Kimsooja works across video, installations, performance, and photography — she has been one of the leading Korean female artists active in the 80s and onwards and able to bring into the table revolutionary practices and ideas – forming a legacy and opening doors for female artists alongside some of her peers such as Haegue Yang and Lee Bul. As Korea becomes present at the forefront of the international art market, a wider representation of Korean female artists becomes pivotal and necessary, bravo!
For those who, like us, remain enchanted by the booth, a visit to Leeum Museum is recommended, where Kimsooja’s site-specific light work To Breathe (2021) embraces the iconic rotunda built by Swiss architect Mario Botta.
3. Johyun Gallery – Jin Meyerson (Booth A27)
Busan-based and local powerhouse Johyun Gallery brings one of the most recent works of Jin Meyerson, a 250x300cm oil painting titled NIGHTWATCH (2022). Korean-born and American adoptees, Jin’s practice combines the mastery of painterly technique with profound research on the ghosts and totems of our existence. Born out of a personal need, Jin Meyerson’s work can profoundly resonate with those that perceive art as redeeming, cathartic, and perhaps eschatological, becoming thus universal. Describing it to us with his own words during a casual conversation at the fair, the artist said, “There is this intuitive internal space, where from time to time paintings come to me in epiphanous flashes of clarity. NIGHTWATCH came to me almost perfectly articulated as I was thinking of my work late one night.”
Amid a chaotic afternoon spent hopping from booth to booth, we recommend taking your time in front of Jin Meyerson’s work for a moment of slow appreciation and a reminder that there can be a profound connection happening even in most commercial settings (and then perhaps go upstairs, and see its complementary work titled “Last Night I traded my Therapist for a Shaman.”)
4. Make Room – Guimi You (Booth S08)
A dreamlike setting surrounds us when arriving in Make Room’s booth, which features a solo presentation of Korean artist Guimi You. Interestingly trained both in Korean traditional and Western painting, You’s practice combines lucidity and richness of both techniques, resulting in canvases revealing the beauty of natural environments and the communication of joy through pigment. Class 1985, the participation at the fair marks the first presentation of the artist in Korea, championing the work of Make Room’s founder and dealer Emilia Yin in supporting women artists and Asian artists across continents. You recently moved to Seoul from California, where she started working with Yin. Being already featured in several institutional representations in the US, Guimi You is one to watch.
When asked about her opinions on the fair, Yin shared her excitement about being in Seoul – a city where she has built many solid relationships with collectors, sharing the general enthusiasm surrounding this whole art week. This circles back to a conversation with Jaeho Jung, director of Gallery2, which might be a perfect concluding remark: “I think it is a great plan to open Kiaf and Frieze simultaneously. Some people think it might saturate the market here, but I don’t think it is true as I have never seen this much energy, people, and excitement. And I think it is very successful and positive.”
To find more information: kiaf.org