by Vatsala SethiSep 08, 2022
Kiaf or the Korea International Art Fair, which is organised by the Galleries Association of Korea, has done a great deal towards putting Seoul on the map as a major arts destination. The art fair is relatively young, as major arts events go, with its primary aim thus far having been to bridge the gap between contemporary Korean artistry and wider, international audiences. Since its inception, the Galleries Association has worked tirelessly to study trends in the art world, and broaden Kiaf’s horizons through the introduction of new galleries and participants. However, 2022 was an especially important year for the art festival, as it marked the introduction of ‘Kiaf PLUS’. As Kiaf’s website explains, “with the rapid growth of Seoul as a global art city, Kiaf Seoul is also evolving quickly to exceed the market standards. As a result, Kiaf Seoul is expanding the fair as of 2022.”
Through the newly launched Kiaf PLUS, the fair showcased not only contemporary art, but also works of various genres including NFT art and new media art. Kiaf SEOUL and Kiaf PLUS aim to lead the global art market beyond Asia and host a festival full of art. Dal-Seung Hwang, the President of the Galleries Association, adds to this, “Kiaf was founded in 2002 by the Galleries Association of Korea, which has a long history of adapting to the changing global market trends and contributing to the development of the Korean art market, such as launching a workshop series for millennial and Gen Z collectors, collaborating with academic institutions to develop arts management curricula, hosting the Gallerist Academyfor emerging gallerists and art professionals, and more. We are always looking for ways to grow and innovate within the context of how the global art world evolves, and Kiaf PLUS is the latest of such endeavours by us. This new satellite fair was created to allow more younger artists and galleries to have a platform to be a part of Seoul Art Week, and to showcase artworks across a broader range of genres such as art NFTs.”
The latest edition of Kiaf, along with Kiaf PLUS, was also joined by the inaugural Frieze Seoul, another first for the city. Over 100 galleries participated in Frieze Seoul, and nearly 350 such participants were spread between the three events in total. The inaugural edition of Frieze Seoul was organised according to three key sections: the first was a main section that featured just under 100 galleries, including regional, international and even small-scale DIY popups. The next was Frieze Masters section, which placed front and centre offerings by 18 galleries that cater to collectors of classic works by the greats, ranging right from the Old Masters to the late 20th century. The third and final section, titled Focus Asia, contained 10 solo artist presentations by Asian galleries.
Hwang discusses his journey within the arts world: "I have always held a deep appreciation of art, and started out as a collector many years ago. Over time, I recognised the important role galleries play in discovering and nurturing new artists, and decided to open such a space of my own.” Gradually, his relationship with the arts world would deepen, and Hwang would eventually find himself in his current position; one that has enabled him, in a sense, to enable others: the incredible practitioners that make up the growing South Korean art scene. With regards to this year’s Kiaf, Hwang took particular note of NFT artists. He tells STIR, “NFT-based art has stimulated new possibilities for artists to create, present, and market their works. It has also impacted the way we understand the concept of ownership and reproduction in the art world.”
Kiaf 2022 turned out to be as important an event as it has been in the past, if not even more so. A large number of creative entities deepened their relationship with international markets and art enthusiasts, as a result of the fair, and many others hope to build critical bridges through the exposure they received. While the fair may not currently command quite the same fame as other, much older arts events, it leaves little to be desired with regards to questions of scale and variety. Be it folks who are looking to immerse themselves within classical paintings, or the tech crowd that is occupied with questions of NFTs and their future, there was truly something for everyone at Kiaf 2022. Collectors undoubtedly thrived in the environment, and savvy minds shared ideas and processes. The fair indicated that the art world well and truly is back in full-swing post pandemic.
While it remains to be seen what direction Korean arts will develop in, its current juncture presents fertile ground for multiple possibilities to exist simultaneously: perhaps Seoul will grow into a chief hub for wider Asian arts practices, coming to occupy a position not unlike New York. On the other hand, the city might lean further towards tech, becoming a major centre in the growing TechArt movement, with a potentially thriving NFT community. What the future may hold for Seoul within the wider arts ecosphere is an exciting question, but for now, Hwang leaves us with this: “Korea has been growing rapidly as a cultural powerhouse, not only in the field of fine arts but also within music, entertainment, film, food, and more. At the basis of this is our thousands of years of history of appreciating creativity and beauty. Today, the country is home to some of the most prominent contemporary artists of our time, and hosts established institutions and leading galleries that contribute to positioning Korea on the global contemporary art map. In addition, blue-chip western galleries opening new branches and expanding their footprint in Seoul made headlines recently. These factors, paired with a solid domestic art market, favourable tax policy on art, and a fast-growing new generation of collectors, has led to worldwide attention for contemporary Korean art. We hope to build upon this momentum and continue a healthy and balanced long-term growth of the local art ecosystem.”