While art fairs vanished from most of the world amid the pandemic, that was not the case in South Korea, where relatively successful mitigation measures allowed events like Art Busan and the Galleries Art Fair to proceed. However, the brightest star in the market firmament here, the Korea International Art Fair (KIAF), was canceled last year amid an uptick in cases. Now it has finally returned.
On Wednesday, people streamed into the Coex convention center in the Gangnam section of Seoul for a VVIP preview of KIAF, which features 170 dealers, the vast majority of them based in South Korea. (The VIP preview, for the record, is Thursday.) The event comes during the annual Korea Art Week, which has seen the opening of a Thaddaeus Ropac branch (the Austrian gallery’s first outpost in Asia) and the reopening of Samsung’s vaunted Leeum museum, which closed its doors at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. It has been elegantly renovated, and reservation slots have quickly filled up.
The excitement for KIAF is also high—and competition among dealers is fierce. Frieze will alight with a new iteration next year, with a planned 100 exhibitors, that will be concurrent and in partnership with KIAF. The joint fairs will take place in September, so as not to overlap with Frieze London, which is also running this week. This year, some galleries, like Gallery Hyundai and Various Small Fires, have made the impressive decision to participate in both events.
Below are 10 highlights from the aisles in the Korean capital city. (Not included here: the most satisfying affogato I’ve ever had, courtesy of the boutique Korean chain Baekmidang.)