The rain this past week turned out to be fortuitous: Several days of drizzle and its subsequent humidity made the crisp air-conditioned aisles of the Coex Convention & Exhibition Center in the Gangnam-gu area of Seoul even more alluring. Taking over two levels of the massive building spanning several blocks, the 20th edition of Korea International Art Fair (KIAF) is co-presented alongside the debut of Frieze Seoul—the fair’s first iteration in Asia—both of which just opened to artgoers yesterday.
Appropriately, contemporary work from South Korea and Asian diasporic communities seem to generate the most excitement in the crowd of both fairs: Seoul gallery P21’s playful booth featured native artist Sungsil Ryu’s standing structures collaged traditional symbols of Korea, such as verdant hills, lush tropical flowers, and lily pads, with cheeky digital layers—inlaid TVs playing Korean shows and wavy vertical electronic waterfalls—alternately putting down layers of critical commentary about capitalism and familial norms racing through subdued images of natural serenity and snow-peaked concrete-colored mountains. (Last year, the artist, 29, became the youngest artist to win the Hermès Foundation Misulsang.) At Los Angeles space Commonwealth and Council’s space, Young Joon Kwak and Gala Porras-Kim collaborate on a diptych, where a meticulously researched pedagogical object library of objects is lovingly arranged on a shelving system to create a visual timeline and historical narrative. Titled Objects of Pleasure, Kwak queers Porras-Kim’s “Index” drawing series by organizing a taxonomy of sex objects and having Porras-Kim paint it in a palette of pink and mauve. Kwak also has a kinetic sculpture hanging in the center of the booth, where two femmes share a kiss inspired by Magritte’s The Lovers. One side of the sculpture is black, but as it turns slowly, another crystal-encrusted façade emerges, celebrating the figures without disclosing their identities, just as in the painting from the Surrealist master.
Speaking of—modern and historical works are also generating crowd swells and recommendations: Upper East Side New York gallery Acquavella offer works by Francis Bacon, Keith Haring, Giacometti, and Warhol for close admiration. In Frieze’s Masters section, London gallery Richard Nagy shares a major presentation dedicated to Egon Schiele, whose drawings of nude bodies still generate as much shock today as they likely did in 19th century-Austria. On the first level of the building, KIAF’s selection more heavily favors Korean galleries from cities outside the capital and presented a range of historical, mid-career, and emerging Korean artists. Modern Korean masters were also to be found throughout the fairs: Do Ho Suh’s transparent, soft buildings (at Lehmann Maupin), Haegue Yang’s dynamic wall sculptures (Kukje Gallery), and Nam June Paik’s glowing televisions (Moin Gallery), as sharp and compelling as when the artist first used the technology.
Further underlining connections between generations of artists in South Korea, Chanel's Now & Next video series also features studio visits pairing established artists with emerging ones, playing online and at the local Chanel store: Jina Park with Yaerim Ryu, Kelvin Kyung Kun Park with Eusung Lee, and Heeseung Chung with Kyoungtae Kim. Saint Laurent also has a special presentation of work by Korean artist Lee Bae at the fair and the house’s store nearby, where Bae's "Brushstrokes" series of immense, wall-sized gestures in charcoal ink on paper form a backdrop for his new bronze sculpture Issu du feu (“Out of the Fire”).
Galleries, museums, and collections also open highlight exhibitions and presentations across the city: Perrotin opened its second exhibition space in Seoul with an exhibition by Emma Webster entitled "Illuminarium." At the Leeum Museum of Art, the group show “Cloud Walkers” features artists who practice sustainability as a means of active protest against surrendering to a growing climate crisis, including work by AA Murakami, Tishan Hsu, and WKND Lab (Weekend Lab). Art Sonje Center presents two solo exhibitions: Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho’s “Seoul Weather Station” and Thai artist Korakrit Arunanondchai’s “Songs for dying and Songs for living.” The Amorepacific Museum of Art’s exhibition by Andreas Gursky has satellite images of coastlines taken from 35,000 kilometers high, at which point they nearly become abstract. In addition to local galleries including Kukje, PKM, and Whistle, the international community of galleries continues to expand: Lehmann Maupin, Pace, Perrotin, Thaddeus Ropac, and Various Small Fires have all set up permanent spaces in the city within the last several years.