Korean galleries bet again on Chinese art market

Korean galleries bet again on Chinese art market
Visitors look at artwork at Hakgojae Gallery in Shanghai.

SHANGHAI - It was ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics when the Korean galleries' ambitions for entering the Chinese art market were at their highest. From 2005, major Korean galleries flocked to China in search of big spenders and potential buyers in the booming art market.

The reality was different. Galleries struggled to make ends meet with skyrocketing rent, complex shipping processes and different art-market dynamics.

Now Pyo Gallery 798 remains the sole Korean gallery in Beijing, once a hopeful place for some of the top galleries such as Gallery Hyundai, Arario Gallery and Artside Gallery.

"It's harder to enter the Chinese art market than expected. Launching a gallery requires a lot of preparation because it is about doing business in a different culture," said Kim Yu-rim, director of Pyo Gallery 798, located in the 798 art district of Beijing. The gallery opened in 2008.

There were many challenges ahead of the Korean galleries. Getting through customs took so long that paintings were held at customs for weeks. Tax imposed on gallery profits exceeded 30 per cent. Rent and prices skyrocketed.

"Many gallery owners thought running a gallery in China would cost less. It turned out to be a difficult task. We struggled with running the first Pyo gallery space in Beijing for six years. Rent was usually the same or higher than in Seoul. Customs laws were so complicated and taxes were heavy," Kim explained. Pyo Gallery closed its first gallery space in Beijing in 2011.

Things were not much different for other foreign galleries.

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