Seoul Artists

Artists You Will Know

Sungsil Ryu

Sungsil Ryu (b. 1993)

Having spent most of her life in Seoul, Ryu’s work across performative video works and sculpture installations offer an exaggerated mirror of contemporary Korea’s culture of trend-chasing and entrepreneurship. Last year, she became the youngest artist ever to receive the Hèrmes Foundation Missulsang, a prize awarded to a young Korean artist every two years with an accompanying solo exhibition at the Atelier Hèrmes in Gangnam. Now on view through Oct. 2, “The Burning Love Story” steps inside the bizarre fictional world of a self-aggrandizing businessman’s funeral home for dogs, featuring a large sculpture of a crematorium and three different characters played by Ryu on video screens. She is represented by P21 gallery (see our Itaewon/Hannam Neighborhood Guide).

Sungsil Ryu, The Burning Love Song, 2022, at Atelier Hèrmes, Seoul)

Sungsil Ryu, The Burning Love Song, 2022, at Atelier Hèrmes, Seoul

Hejum Bä

Hejum Bä (b. 1987)

’s paintings often hint at representations of origami, sliced fruit, fields of grass, or other landscapes, abstracting the subject through unexpected color interactions. She had three solo exhibitions in Seoul in 2021: “Combo” at Whistle Gallery, “Following Fyka Foretold…” at SeMA Storage, and “PLOTLESS” at the Kumho Museum. She was also included in the exhibition “Young Korean Artists 2021,” at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Gwacheon. She is represented by Whistle Gallery (see our Itaewon/Hannam Neighborhood Guide).

Hejum Bä, Architecture Before Construction, 2019

Hejum Bä, Architecture Before Construction, 2019

Mire Lee

Mire Lee (b. 1988)

Often resembling strange systems of digestive organs, Lee’s assemblages of silicone and hoses challenge familiar notions of beauty and cleanliness. As seen in the international pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale, many of her works seem to come to life by continuously dripping water from multiple connected hoses. Lee’s major solo exhibitions include “War is Won by Sentiment Not by Soldiers,” at Insa Art Space, in 2014, and “Carriers,” at Art Sonje Center in 2020. She was also included in a group exhibition at the Seoul Art Museum in 2016 and was shortlisted for the 2021 Future Generation Art Prize. As the 2022 recipient of the Pontopreis MMK prize, her work is currently on view through Sept. 4 at the Frankfurt MMK museum. She is represented by Tina Kim.

Mire Lee, Endless House-Holes and Drips, 2022, at the 59th Venice Biennale

Mire Lee, Endless House-Holes and Drips, 2022, at the 59th Venice Biennale

Cindy Ji Hye Kim

Cindy Ji Hye Kim (b. 1990)

Kim’s drawings and paintings depict a black-and-white cartoon world with subtle hints of horror. Invoking dreams or the eerie half-darkness of laying in bed late at night, they feature the recurring motifs of bedrooms, bones, and silhouetted figures of men with large top hats and women with voluminous hair. Recent solo exhibitions at her galleries include “Soliloquy for two,” at François Ghebaly in 2021 and “In despite of light” at Casey Kaplan in 2022. Though she shows primarily in the U.S., she was included in Various Small Fires’ Seoul group exhibition “Next of Kin” in 2020.

Cindy Ji Hye Kim, In Despite of Light, 2022, at Casey Kaplan

Cindy Ji Hye Kim, In Despite of Light, 2022, at Casey Kaplan

U-Ram Choe

U-Ram Choe (b. 1970)

Based in Seoul, Choe creates intricate kinetic sculptures that are inspired by natural forms and movements, resulting from extensive anatomical research. From 2016-17, his solo exhibition, “'Choe U-Ram:[Stil laif],” traveled from the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts in Taichung to Korea’s Daegu Art Museum. He is represented by Gallery Hyundai and was included in the gallery’s 50th-anniversary exhibition in 2020. This year, he was selected as the Seoul National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art’s Hyundai Motor Series artist, and his newly commissioned installation, “Paper Boat,” will be on view Sept.-Feb. 2023 as part of the associated exhibition.

U-Ram Choe, Song of the Sun, 2022

U-Ram Choe, Song of the Sun, 2022

Ayoung Kim

Ayoung Kim (b. 1973)

Kim’s practice focuses on speculative storytelling, weaving a diversity of narrative mediums together to blur the line between fiction and real-life issues including Korean history and geopolitics, migration, and the future of the human experience. She staged at least one major performance piece each year from 2013-2017, represented Korea in the 2015 Venice Biennale, had solo exhibitions at the Palais de Tokyo, and won the 2019 Korean Art Prize. Her new solo exhibition, “Syntax and Sorcery,” is on view at Gallery Hyundai through Sept. 13.

Ayoung Kim, Still from Syntax and Sorcery

Ayoung Kim, Still from Syntax and Sorcery

Artists You Should Already Know

Anicka Yi

Anicka Yi (b. 1971)

Born in Seoul and raised in the U.S., Anicka Yi frequently collaborates with scientists to create sculpture incorporating cutting-edge technology, scents, and references to biology, completing a residency at MIT in 2015. Her meditations on microbial life often cut into the relationship between odors, misogyny, and racism. Yi reached international familiarity with her inclusion in the 2017 Whitney Biennial and the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019. She is represented by 47 Canal and Gladstone Gallery, which presented a solo exhibition of her work in Seoul in June. Yi also received a retrospective, titled “Metaspore,” this summer at Milan’s Pirelli Hangarbicocca, and also just released a TED talk.

Anicka Yi, In Love With The World, 2021, at the Tate

Anicka Yi, In Love With The World, 2021, at the Tate

Haegue Yang

Haegue Yang (b. 1971)

Considered to be one of Korea’s contemporary breakout stars, Yang’s experiential environments incorporate recontextualizations of the everyday while capturing the ineffable. Her works are strange yet accessible, familiar yet intangible. Her work has rolled into international consciousness through the 2009 Venice Biennale, 2012 Documenta, and 2014 Taipei Biennial; and since she’s picked up representation with Kurimanzutto, Kukje, Greene Naftali, and Barbara Wien. Currently, she has shows at Kukje in Busan, the Statens Museum for Kunst in Denmark, and SFMoMA, and will be included in the upcoming Singapore Biennial (Oct. 16).

Haegue Yang, Lingering Nous, 2016, at the Centre Pompidou

Haegue Yang, Lingering Nous, 2016, at the Centre Pompidou

Suki Seokyeong Kang

Suki Seokyeong Kang (b. 1977)

Kang combines painting, sculpture, and architecture in her performance-based practice that’s both deeply personal and draws from traditional Korean dance and musical notation. At Art Basel 2018, she was awarded the Baloise Art Prize, and in the same year, presented her first U.S. museum performance and installation, “Black Mat Oriole” at the ICA in Philadelphia. In 2019, she had a solo exhibition at the Seoul Museum of Art and showed her geometric construction, “Grandmother Tower,” at the 58th Venice Biennale. She is represented by Tina Kim, Kukje, and Pace.

Suki Seokyeong Kang at the 58th Venice Biennale, 2019

Suki Seokyeong Kang at the 58th Venice Biennale, 2019

Ha Chong-Hyun

Ha Chong-Hyun (b. 1935)

A Dansaekhwa leader, Ha’s works are familiarly registered by his meditative gesture of pushing thick paint through plain hemp canvas from the backside. His Conjunction series ties both minimalist aesthetics and political commentary as the works’ meditative production are rendered in materials acquired from U.S. rations following the Korean War. Ha is represented by Kukje, the organizer behind an official collateral survey at this year’s Venice Biennale, as well as Almine Rech and Blum & Poe.

Ha Chong-Hyun, Conjunction 21-38, 2021

Ha Chong-Hyun, Conjunction 21-38, 2021

Park Seo-Bo

Park Seo-Bo (b. 1931)

Credited as the father of the Dansaekhwa movement, Park’s use of repeated strokes reflects a meditative practice, making room for deep introspection by emptying the mind. He first began his signature Écriture series of paintings in the 1960s, laying the groundwork for Dansaekhwa. Last spring, the Pompidou Center announced a major acquisition of his work, and he himself just opened his Gizi Foundation as an artist incubator, partnering with the Gwangju Biennial for a $100,000 prize. He is represented by Kukje, Tina Kim, White Cube, and Perrotin galleries.

Park Seo-Bo, Ecriture No.100915, 2010

Park Seo-Bo, Ecriture No.100915, 2010

Lee Kang-So

Lee Kang-So (b. 1943)

An iconic figure in the Korean art world working since the 1970s, Lee Kang-So is known for his abstract works that reflect the Korean philosophy of “pungryu,” or harmony between all things in the flow of nature, a practice separating himself apart from other painters of his generation. Since his MoMA PS1 residency in 1991-92, he has had nearly 30 solo exhibitions internationally. Recently, Hyundai staged a retrospective of his work as a collateral event to the Venice Biennale in 2019 and the solo exhibition, “From a Dream,” to coincide with last year’s Kiaf Seoul.

Lee Kang-So, Serenity-20092, 2020

Lee Kang-So, Serenity-20092, 2020

Lee Bul

Lee Bul (b. 1964)

Lee Bul works mainly in large-scale sculptural installations, often accompanied by performances. She uses metallic, futuristic constructions as a mirror for the aspirations and failures of contemporary society, especially critiquing misogyny and politics surrounding women’s bodies. For Lee Bul, technological obsessions tend to reveal the human desire to escape or modify the body in pursuit of immortality. She was included in the 1999 Venice Biennale and was honored with major solo exhibitions at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris in 2015 and at the Seoul Museum of Art in 2021. Lehman Maupin is showing her work at Frieze Seoul.

Lee Bull, Civitas Solis II, 2014, at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul

Lee Bull, Civitas Solis II, 2014, at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul

Lee Ufan

Lee Ufan (b. 1936)

Lee Ufan’s practice focuses not on creating something new, but revealing the hidden nature of the existing world. In his long-running “Relatum” series, he examines the relationship between art object, viewer, and space by placing large stones in relation to mirrors, iron plates, or monochrome canvases. His signature paintings, though seemingly simple rows of individual strokes, require meditative breathing to achieve the effect of smooth, consistent gestures. In April, Lee Ufan opened a museum dedicated to his art in the old quarter of Arles across three floors of the Hôtel Vernon, his third museum alongside those in Naoshima, Japan, and Busan, South Korea. Elsewhere in Arles, his “Requiem” of 13 “Relatum” stone installations at the Alyscamps Roman necropolis runs through Sept. 30. He is included in the group exhibition, “On my way to the museum,” at the Busan Museum through Oct. 16, and in Tokyo, a retrospective of his work opened this month to commemorate the National Art Center’s 15th anniversary. He is jointly represented by Pace and Lisson galleries.

Lee Ufan, Requiem, 2022, at Les Alyscamps, Arles

Lee Ufan, Requiem, 2022, at Les Alyscamps, Arles

Minjung Kim

Minjung Kim (b. 1962)

Kim is known for her delicate ink paintings that layer dozens if not hundreds of sheets of traditional mulberry Hanji paper. She often twists the paper or burns its edges to create a natural, jagged surface. Her work has featured in over 50 solo exhibitions since 1991 and in the Gwangju Biennale in 2004 and 2018. She is represented by Hyundai and Volker Diehl, and in 2021 the Hill Art Foundation presented her first career survey. Simon de Pury, too, just tapped Kim to submit a work of her choosing for inclusion in his inaugural online exhibition and auction.

Minjung Kim, Red Mountain, 2021

Minjung Kim, Red Mountain, 2021

Q&A Profiles

With so much attention on Seoul this week, we asked key players on the ground for the real scoop of what’s happening here. Same questions, different perspectives. We looked to the market makers from different corners of the commercial scene to give us the rundown.

Jason Haam

Jason Haam
Founder, Jason Haam Gallery

What makes Seoul an art city?

Jason Haam

Jason Haam

Speaking specifically about the market, Seoul has a comparatively large and important domestic art market, with an established gallery system (both home-grown and increasingly the presence of international galleries), multiple generations of collectors, and strong auction houses. There are also favorable tax systems for the commercial art world. Most importantly, we have some really great artists in this country.

Korea is home to some of the largest and most important companies on the planet, a history of corporate philanthropy and collecting, an affluent population, and a strong appetite for art, both from collectors and a well-educated general public, who have access to high-quality public and private museums, with world-class exhibitions and collections.

More broadly, Korea as a country has a history of more than 10,000 years and a culture of making art dating back thousands of years, we also have a culture of art appreciation and of viewing art as an important part of popular culture. There is also so much interest in the popular culture of Korea at the moment, whether that's K-Pop, Korean cinema/ TV, etc being consumed by a global public.

Regionally, we have the dual advantage of our geographic proximity to China, and an international mindset similar to that of the US, with English widely spoken as the language of business and commerce.

What does your gallery do that's unique in the Seoul gallery scene, and the international one?

Jason Haam Gallery

Jason Haam Gallery

In Seoul, we are unique because of our international outlook. I travel a lot internationally, including to Europe, the US, and much further afield (to places like Senegal). We have a stand­-alone, fully flexible gallery building and a space that is designed specifically for exhibitions.
We are unique in the international art world because we are an internationally focused Korean gallery. We bring top-quality works by the biggest international names—as evidenced by our upcoming Urs Fischer solo show (opened on the 25th of August), which will feature a completely new body of large-scale paintings. We are also looking to the global art world, whilst the majority of Korean galleries tend to focus mostly on the local market.

Some of the artists in our program are not (yet) famous often in their own countries and it is important to me to work with artists at an early stage in their careers and to judge them solely on the quality of their work and the message they have, working with them in the long-term to propagate their voices.

We have recently started working with young Korean artists, whose works will be exhibited at Frieze Seoul.

What's the mission of Jason Haam Gallery?

We have two!

Firstly, to work with the best global artists, and persuade them to work with us in Korea, thereby giving Koreans a taste of the best art in the world.

There are also no globally recognized young Korean artists right now and we want to change that. The next generation needs championing and support in becoming global stars and deeper engagement with the best global artists, galleries, and institutions.

With KIAF and now Frieze, do you think Seoul is becoming an (the?) art market hub of Asia?

Seoul is undoubtedly an art market hub, and there is certainly a huge opportunity here. We have the supply and we have the demand. The Asia art market is very broad (depending on your definition of Asia), and still maturing. It's also rapidly evolving particularly in Korea
We also have a sophisticated and well-established infrastructure, from artists and galleries to auction houses, museums, biennales, and institutions, as well as corporate and private collectors. There is also an embedded culture of art appreciation and collecting in Korea, which is common across all generations.

Is Seoul a global art power player? Why/not/when will it be?

Potential is there and the ingredients are all there. As I've said above, there is some way to go but there's a commitment from the scene and major players in terms of galleries and Frieze, who are continuing to invest and commit to Korea. Another important step is for artists to see Korea as an important place to present their works.

What is unique about Seoul's art gallery ecosystem?

We have a lot of galleries here but not a huge number of what the rest of the art world might recognize as major names. People will be familiar with the long-term established galleries like Kukje and Hyundai, but there are a lot of incredibly exciting younger galleries that are proving that it's possible to do something new and ambitious here.

What do collectors in Seoul want? Are tastes divided into Korean v lnt'I or modern v contemporary? Curious to hear a bit about this.

Amongst what I'd loosely describe as an older generation of collectors, the taste is relatively homogenous, with an emphasis placed on being able to secure significant works by top international blue-chip artists.

In terms of Korean artists, the Korean artists who do particularly are those who have established themselves outside of the country. The taste is also definitely moving towards international contemporary, with an increasing appetite for global names.

What does the scene here need more of and less of?

There's a huge amount of potential here, but the scene is still evolving.

An important next step is to make the city a year-round hub, and we are seeing this starting to happen. The arrival of Frieze Seoul, taking place alongside KIAF, is creating a lot of buzz, both here and internationally, and means, for the first time, Korea has a "moment" in the international art market; more and more major international galleries are coming to town, often for the first time, whilst others are doubling-down on their commitment to the city.

There are still some gaps, particularly in the professional services side of the art world, but we do expect that to change pretty rapidly. Whilst that energy, growth, and recognition are important, it's also important that we grow sustainably and create a long-term viable ecology and ecosystem. To do that, there are some key things we need to see in the art market.

We need to see more collectors from a younger generation, responsible collecting habits, and less speculative activities. We also need more collaboration across the sector, something which we're starting to see, and for more Koreans (artists and galleries) to break into the global art world. I want to even things out.

Artists you're currently into?

Urs Fischer!

Seeing him in action and being able to work with his works have been a great privilege. We have also recently started working with Amanda Baldwin, Poppy Jones, Mike Lee, Moka Lee, and Ricky Swallow and are excited present to present their works for the first time in our booth at FRIEZE Seoul.

In terms of art: the Kansong Art Museum. It’s the first private museum in the country. It’s very close to the gallery and has one of the main collections of ceramics and Korean national treasures. The founder was a 1920s landowner, who started collecting important historical artifacts to prevent them from going to Japan.

There’s also the National Museum of Korea - our equivalent of the Met, which gives the most beautiful and authentic experience of Korean artistic culture - you have to go.

What’s your best-kept Seoul (art) secret?

Amorepacific Museum of Art! The Andreas Gursky exhibition is to die for.

Bo Young Song

Bo Young Song,
Vice President, Kukje Gallery
Bo Young Song

Bo Young Song

What makes Seoul an art city?

Relative to other big cities in Asia, Seoul has seen an even development among different art spheres including institutions, collectorship, galleries, and artists. Even outside of Seoul, Gwangju Biennale is one of the most anticipated events on the international art fair calendar, and the general public’s interest in these art events is very strong.

Kukje pioneered the international gallery model in Korea. How has the Seoul gallery scene changed since Kukje began, and in the last 5 years as more international attention has arrived in Seoul?

When Kukje Gallery was founded, it was imperative to educate the local audience on art and its importance as the awareness, interest, and infrastructure for arts and culture were lacking. This is why we’ve been holding weekly Academy events for our clients at the gallery, and continue to do so even today. In terms of the gallery’s programming, during our earlier days, we were focused more on modern, or historical artists to provide essential context.

Our aim was to provide a broad overview of what had been going on in the art world in the past century in order to help our audience foster a keen eye and cultivate tastes prior to exploring contemporary art, and I daresay this was a vital learning experience for the gallery as well. Today, we work with a wide range of artists and estates ranging from Yoo Youngkuk, the pioneering Korean abstractionist who was born in 1916, to Korakrit Arunanondchai, the young Thai multimedia artist.

With KIAF and now Frieze, do you think Seoul is becoming an (the?) art market hub of Asia? Is Seoul a global art power player? Why/not/when will it be?

While it remains to be seen, at least until after the first edition of Frieze Seoul! I definitely think that Seoul is on its way to becoming an art market hub and global art power player. We’re hopeful that the international attention on the Korean art market will further stimulate and enlarge its scale.

We believe that this will bring further opportunities to the country’s local artists—not just for sales but also for international representation—and in turn that the western galleries will bring their diverse pool of artists into the Korean market, further acquainting Korean collectors with what the art world has to offer. While competition is inevitable, we hope that it will, in the end, turn out to be a healthy and mutually beneficial one.

But we also need to think about the sustainability of this situation—Korean galleries must continue to cultivate and promote the careers of local artists in order to not become overshadowed by the quickly growing international presence in the local market.

Kukje Gallery

Kukje Gallery

What does the scene here need more of and less of?

With international galleries opening outposts in Seoul, there’s definitely a need for these galleries to adapt to the local context and acquaint themselves with Korean artists. And in turn, I think it’s pertinent for institutions to keep in line with the rapid changes going on in the Korean art scene these days and strive to foster and maintain an international program and presence.

Favorite art spaces in Seoul?

A Room of Quiet Contemplation at the National Museum of Korea

While this presents a stark departure from any of the blockbuster works by blue-chip artists one will surely encounter at Frieze Seoul, it definitely provides a refuge from the prevailing hustle and bustle of the cosmopolitan capital. The exhibition consists of two pensive bodhisattva statues glimmering in a quiet, dimly lit room designed by the architect Choi Wook (101 Architects). Evoking an immaterial atmosphere which is a far cry from all the other art events taking place around the city throughout the fair week, the audience will find a much-needed moment of solitude and relief.

Korea Furniture Museum

For the scale and quality of its collection, the Korea Furniture Museum has remained one of the lesser visited museums in Korea--probably owing to its location in one of the most residential parts of the city and strictly by-reservation-only policy. Not only does this jewel of a museum house a vast collection of Korean traditional furniture, but also provides a beautiful landscape of traditional hanok architecture, altogether creating a unique setting where one will feel truly in Korea.

Korean artists who currently fascinate you?

Heejoon Lee is a young Korean artist we just began to work with—his paintings combine abstraction and photography that suggest a new dimension of space. He has a very instinctual practice in that he invests a lot of time in selecting the one image (out of many) that viscerally portrays his experience in a certain space, which I can relate to as I also have a keen interest in architecture. Lee just closed his first solo exhibition with us in Busan, and is looking forward to participating in a number of solo and group exhibitions in Korea this year and next.

What is unique about Seoul’s art gallery ecosystem?

Over these past few years, Korea has become truly global in many aspects. However, Korea has very strong ties to tradition which helps our contemporary art galleries adopt internationally viable characteristics (i.e.: it’s more difficult to find gallerists who are not fluent English speakers), yet at the same maintain a strong local presence (i.e.: a strong representation of Korean artists).

Patrick Lee

Patrick Lee
Director, Frieze Art Fair

Patrick Lee

Patrick Lee

What makes Seoul an art city?

Seoul is a dynamic place with a sophisticated and inquisitive collector base and art world infrastructure. The country boasts incredibly talented artists, world-class museums, corporate collections, non-profits, biennales, and galleries. Korean art lovers are so open to learning and educating themselves and engaging with the artists and galleries, but they also love to share information and thoughts. Right now, the speed of sharing these thoughts via social media or other ways is incredible and has particularly fostered a younger audience. The speed of this sharing of information has led to a growth in the appreciation of contemporary art

What does Seoul offer to Frieze (... and that wouldn’t be found elsewhere)?

Coex exhibition center, the home of Frieze Seoul

Coex exhibition center, the home of Frieze Seoul

Frieze looks to cities where there is a vast appreciation of culture; in Seoul, this is demonstrated not only in the art world but also in film, design, fashion, cuisine, and music. Korean culture has already gained recognition on a global scale, and this is fueling an interest in visiting the country and the growth in attention gained by everything coming out of Korea.

Does this fair further the case of Seoul becoming an (the?) art market hub in Asia?

It is definitely a validation of the city and its place within the arts ecosystem. Of course, we hope it will replicate the success of what we have achieved in other cities – the best fairs facilitate dialogue and lasting relationships. The art world has its own wonderful machinations and network. Korea is already an important part of this – as shown by the fact that Frieze Seoul has landed here – but the fair can play a leading role in extending this international reach and continuing the development of the art scene here in Asia.

Is Seoul a global art power player? Why/not/when will it be?

It’s certainly growing and becoming a more influential player – this trend for art appreciation and collecting is likely to continue at a rapid pace. Artists are continuing to receive greater recognition, with the support from galleries and institutions, curators who engage critically to help contextualize what is going on here and then in turn the support and patronage of collectors that continue to grow in numbers and sophistication.

How does the art market landscape here handle Korean tastes v International ones?

The local gallery scene is distinctive – we see a strong showing of both Korean and international artists and that really shapes tastes to be something unique to Korea. The collecting scene has been growing in Seoul since the 1980s and so now there is an incredibly sophisticated understanding of the arts landscape and people are hungry for knowledge – the more energy and activity that happens here, the more it will be rewarded.

What does the scene here need more of and less of?

Like everywhere, we need more and less of everything! There are arguments on both sides but as the art scene in Korea becomes increasingly international that continues to drive local knowledge of the wider and, in turn, that brings a global interest to the Korean art world – everything works both ways.

Seoul-based galleries that excite you?

There is such a huge number of galleries in Seoul it is difficult to choose, however I would absolutely direct people towards some of our major spaces such as Kukje and Gallery Hyundai along with stalwarts like Hakgojae, PKM and ONE AND J. Younger galleries that are having some interesting exhibitions include Baton and Jason Haam. If you travel to Busan I would visit Johyun Gallery. Also, everyone should absolutely check out some of the younger spaces that are showing in our Focus Asia section such as P21, and Whistle. I also visit the non-profit or artist-run spaces that are doing interesting work with emerging artists.

Artists you discovered in Korea who you’re currently into?

Contemporary Korean artists that have gained renown and are immensely talented include Do Ho Suh, Haegue Yang, Moon & Jeon, Lee Bul, Anicka Yi, and I continue to follow their practice. Some of the younger artists I like include Gala Porras-Kim, Ayoung Kim, Mire Lee, Seokyeong Suki Kang, Kang Seung Lee, and Christine Sun Kim just to name a few.

What is unique about Seoul’s art gallery ecosystem?

The Seoul gallery ecosystem grew up with a certain level of autonomy – of course, major spaces were able to exhibit at an international level, but that has been no means the case for the majority of galleries and so there has been a huge amount of activity in Korea that has its own identity. There are still so many major figures from Korean art history yet to be really understood on a wider cultural level and Korean galleries are developing and evolving at a fast clip to help raise their profile on the international scene.

What’s your best-kept Seoul (art) secret?

The fantastic non-profit and artist-run spaces in Seoul are very interesting. There is an area near the old Saeun Electronics Market that has wonderful character. The building itself houses some artists' studios and the roof offers a nice view of Seoul and you will find some small new cafes and bars in the building. Nearby you will see some impressive non-profits like Uljiro OF and N/A.

Javier Peres

Javier Peres
Founder, Peres Projects

Javier Peres

Javier Peres

What makes Seoul an art city?

Seoul is an incredible mega city with a large population—it’s larger than NYC—which makes it a city of endless possibilities and potential. The city has an array of cultural institutions presenting artworks from different periods, regions, etc., and is further enhanced by a number of leading Korean galleries. Most recently a number of international galleries have also opened branches here which has further enhanced the cultural offerings. The city has a robust art market which is comprised of a broad range of collectors as well as collecting private and public institutions. The city’s art press is also incredibly active and supportive of contemporary art.

What does your gallery do that’s unique in the Seoul gallery scene, and the international one?

Peres Projects has always focused on identifying, supporting, and championing artists that we felt could expand the canon of art history, irrespective of where they came from. The identity of the gallery, and what I think is special to our DNA, is that we primarily focus on showing artists at the beginning of their careers, giving audiences an early look at the artists that will shape art history, both in the immediate time and the future. Our ethos of discovering artists early in their careers has been one of our important advantages from the start, this has allowed us to showcase important artists from all parts of the world and share their visions as their careers develop. This continues to be the driving force for our growth and is very much a part of who we are as a gallery, but we have never limited ourselves in this way and having multiple locations working together allows us to further advance our way of working.

What was Peres Projects' motivation to open up in Seoul?

We are very interested in the Korean art scene, both the important historic artists and also the new generation of artists who we have been following with great interest. For us, it was a natural expansion to open in Seoul because we have a great deal of clients in the region. We had been thinking of opening here for several years in order to be closer to our clients on a prolonged and continued basis but of course, the pandemic delayed things a bit. Having a location in Korea for us is advantageous because we would like to have a long-term presence here and we see Seoul as having the possibility of becoming our primary base in Asia the way Berlin became our base in Europe.

With KIAF and now Frieze, do you think Seoul is becoming an (the?) art market hub of Asia?

We anticipate that Frieze will have a great impact. When a new art fair, or other cultural institutions, comes to a city it’s often a great thing for that city and the art scene there. Look at what happened with Miami Beach and Hong Kong with Art Basel or Bilbao with the Guggenheim. Seoul is a bit different from that of course because the city already has a very established fair, KIAF Seoul, so we anticipate that the additional attention coming from another international fair will result in a great deal of new possibilities for the Korean art scene.

Is Seoul a global art power player? Why/not/when will it be?

We see Seoul as a major player in the global art scene for us. It’s one of the regions in Asia that has become a major focus for us and we are planning exhibitions for many years to come and also organizing institutional exhibitions well into the future as well. What makes it such an important city for us is that it has a strong art market with many layers and an openness to contemporary art that for us creates an ideal climate for long-term growth for our program.

Peres Projects' Inaugural Seoul group exhibition this past spring

Peres Projects' Inaugural Seoul group exhibition this past spring

What is unique about Seoul’s art gallery ecosystem?

Seoul is home to some incredible galleries that have nurtured and supported Korean artists for decades while also showcasing international artists. In the past, we have collaborated with some of those incredible galleries, like PKM Gallery, Leeahn Gallery, Johyun Gallery, which has resulted in our artists gaining greater appreciation in Korea. Something that’s very special about the galleries here is that they are often founded by very keen and active collectors who appreciate quality and come from the perspective of collection building. Since the gallery’s grow from the collecting activities of their founders they give a great deal of support and confidence to the art market participants here.

What do collectors in Seoul want? Are tastes divided into Korean v Int’l or modern v contemporary? Curious to hear a bit about this.

Collectors here want the best works and they are very open to discovery. They appreciate learning and receiving a lot of information. Our gallery’s main focus is in presenting interesting artists that we believe have the potential to develop into historical artists. We provide a lot of information and context to our clients. Our exhibitions in Seoul sell primarily to collectors in Seoul but also from other major art centers in Korea like Busan and Daegu. Since our focus is the primary market of contemporary art, that’s the main component of our business here but we also do some secondary market of contemporary art. We don’t currently represent any contemporary Korean artists but this will be changing later this year when we introduce the work of a young Korean artist who will have their debut with us in Europe next year.

We do know from our colleagues here that there is a great deal of interest in modern art as well, both Korean and international.

What does the scene here need more of and less of?

The main thing that this scene needs more of, and it’s something that we think is needed pretty much in all the major art cities, are more institutions, both public and private, that focus on showing contemporary art. Institutional exhibitions supported by strong curatorial practices and critical writing are a vital component to the art ecosystem and is something that can add a great deal of support to the development of artists and the art market. The institutions that are already here are doing a fantastic job, and if there were more, it would further strengthen the city’s role as a leading global art center.