Korea International Art Fair hopes to revive depressed market

SEOUL - Korea's biggest art fair opens on Thursday amid the high expectations of local galleries that hope to attract potential collectors and give exposure to their artists in a depressed art market.

The Korea International Art Fair kicks off a five-day art market in which 180 local and international galleries will showcase works of their artists at Coex in Samseong-dong, Seoul.

This year's art fair drew 130 Korean galleries and 53 overseas galleries from China, Japan, the US, the UK and Germany, this year's guest country.

"The economy has not recovered yet, but we are seeing galleries register for the art fair," said Pyo Mi-sun, chairman of the Galleries Association of Korea and director of Pyo Gallery in Seoul, at the press conference last week.

In its 12th year, the art fair has grown in size and popularity with the total sales growing from 730 million won ($854,000) in 2002 to 14 billion won ($13 million) last year. The number of visitors has also continued to grow, from 50,000 in 2006 to 85,000 last year.

"However, the focus of this year's fair is preventing a fall in sales despite the growing number of visitors," said So Jin-su, economics professor at Kangnam University and director of the Art Market Research Institute.

The number of key collectors at the art fair accounts for less than 1 per cent of total visitors. "The number of those who actually buy artworks ranges from 200-300 out of 85,000 visitors," said Yoo Hae-sun, president of Chung Art Gallery and managing director of the Galleries Association of Korea.

But So raised hopes that the art fair may lead to a revival of the Korean art market.

"We have seen more art fairs opening in Korea in the last couple of years. Before 2005, it was galleries that led the art market. From 2005-2008, auctions led the rise of the Korean art market. Now it's a heyday for art fairs," So explained.

He stressed that the KIAF should become a leading art fair that serves as a channel for local artists to the international art world.

"We will start with Nam June Paik, whose artworks are undervalued in the international art market. We are going to address the problem that Korean artists don't get many opportunities to be shown in the global art market and receive what they deserve," KIAF chairman Pyo said.

A special exhibition devoted to Nam June Paik will be held throughout the fair under the programme titled "Art Flash," featuring 30 of Paik's works including sculptures, installations and video works. Nam June Paik Art Center director Park Man-woo and art critic Yoo Jin-sang will hold open lectures on the internationally acclaimed artist on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

More lectures by artists and art experts are planned, including Central Academy of Fine Arts professor Zhao Li, director of British arts centre and gallery Arnolfini Tom Trevor and Korean artists Moon Kyung-won and Jeon Joon-ho, who are well known in the experimental contemporary art scene.

Admission is 15,000 won for the general public, and 10,000 won for members of the Korean Fine Arts Association, those over 65 and the disabled. For more information, visit www.kiaf.org or call (02) 766-3702~4.