Frieze debuts in Seoul, With big-name galleries and a hometown spectacle
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Frieze debuts in Seoul, With big-name galleries and a hometown spectacle
An undated handout photo shows “untitled 2022 (tomorrow is the question, rénmín rìbào, march 24, 2022)” by Rirkrit Tiravanija, 2022. The Frieze art fair takes on a whole new continent this fall, showcasing more than 110 galleries in the South Korean capital. Rirkrit Tiravanija/Gladstone Gallery, photo by Yang Hao via The New York Times.

by Ted Loos

SEOUL.- High-end art fairs have been giving themselves global brand extensions for years, and the latest one, Frieze Seoul, is among the more ambitious.

Frieze — which staged its first fair in London and then proliferated to New York and Los Angeles — takes on a whole new continent with the Seoul fair, running Saturday through Monday at the Coex and featuring more than 110 galleries.

“Frieze has been looking at Asia for a while,” said Patrick Lee, the fair’s director.

It can be seen as Frieze’s answer to Art Basel Hong Kong — and not to be outdone as far as expansions go, Art Basel is extending its reach to Paris, with a new fair debuting in October. (Launched in Basel, Switzerland, in 1970, the fair expanded to Miami Beach in 2002 and then to Hong Kong in 2013.)

Lee, formerly the executive director of Gallery Hyundai and once a partner in One and J. Gallery, both in Seoul, said that collectors will be impressed with the local offerings.

“When people come here, they are surprised at the level of development of the art infrastructure — museums, galleries, nonprofit spaces,” he said. “The city is really going to shine.” Some 19 galleries either based in Seoul or with a branch there will be participating in Frieze.

The size of the fair — while smaller than some prestige fairs, which can include more than 200 galleries — is a plus, Lee said.

“It allows for real exploration,” he said. “You can go through, take your time and meet people.”

Around 10 Japanese galleries are participating, including Anomaly and Maho Kubota, both of Tokyo.

Many of the art world’s biggest gallery names will be on hand, including New York’s Gladstone Gallery.

In its booth, Gladstone will show works by various artists, including Rirkrit Tiravanija’s mixed-media piece, “Untitled 2022 (tomorrow is the question, rénmín rìbào, march 24, 2022)”; Tiravanija is also the solo artist on view in its local gallery.

Pace Gallery, with branches in nine cities worldwide, is expanding its Seoul space to coincide with Frieze, adding an outdoor sculpture courtyard and a teahouse. Pace’s booth at the fair will feature a late-career painting by Agnes Martin, “Untitled #2” (1992), as well as works by Virginia Jaramillo, Adam Pendleton and Lynda Benglis.

Perrotin, which already has one gallery in Seoul (as well as in six other cities), is adding a second space — Perrotin Dosan Park, in the Gangnam district — also timed to debut with Frieze. Perrotin’s booth at the fair will be a solo presentation of the New York artist Tavares Strachan.

For collectors, the Coex exhibition center will provide a two-for-one experience: the veteran Korean fair Kiaf will take place in the same building from Saturday through Tuesday, overlapping with Frieze and featuring more than 160 galleries.

“We’re not trying to be each other’s fairs,” Lee said. “Both have their own identity.”

The two fairs are cooperating extensively, with programming collaborations and even a dual-entry ticket.

“It’s unusual, but it’s smart,” said Rachel Lehmann, a co-founder of Lehmann Maupin, which opened a Seoul branch in 2017 and is headquartered in New York. The gallery’s Frieze booth will show a large painting by McArthur Binion, along with work by several other artists.

A dozen dealers are doing both fairs, including Kukje Gallery, Galleria Continua, Axel Vervoordt and Gallery Hyundai, one of Seoul’s oldest and most prestigious names.

“There are a lot of sophisticated private collectors here,” said Young Kwon, a director of Hyundai. “People can check out both fairs and make their choice.”

Kwon said that the gallery is forced to do most of its setup for the fairs on one day. “It’s challenging for us, but it’s worth it,” she said.

Hyundai specializes in modern and contemporary Korean art, and its booth is in the Frieze Masters section, for works made before 2000, featuring 18 galleries.

The booth has a signature material: Large stones, as utilized by artists Park Hyunki, Quac Insik and Lee Seung-taek. The works include Park’s “Untitled (1988/2001),” made of video monitors and stones.

“It’s a common material among them, but their approaches and methodologies are very different,” Kwon said. There will be around 30 works total in the presentation.

Shipping the weighty works to a far-flung locale would have presented challenges, so Kwon thought they were more appropriate as a hometown spectacle.

“We’re trying to show something crazy that we can’t bring to London or New York,” she said. “These rocks are really heavy.”

Some dealers are using Frieze Seoul as a chance to expand their horizons. It marks the first Asian fair for New York’s Bortolami gallery.

“I went to Hong Kong a few years back to explore doing a fair, but then the pandemic happened,” said Stefania Bortolami, the gallery’s founder. “When Seoul came up, I thought, ‘That’s the perfect fit.’ We have good clients in Korea, and it’s so vibrant culturally.”

Her presentation, in a booth shared by New York’s Andrew Kreps Gallery, will feature work by Caitlin Keogh, Ella Kruglyanskaya, Richard Aldrich and Daniel Buren. The several paintings on hand by Sonia Gechtoff will include “Goya’s Ghost” (1988).

Bortolami gallery is also renting space at the Songwon Art Center for a separate show, “The Cumulative Effect,” a collaboration with Kreps and Tina Kim Gallery that will run concurrently with Frieze, but Bortolami said she was trying to be prudent about which fairs to do.

“We shouldn’t do too many of them, for the environment,” she said of the carbon footprint involved in sending people and artworks around the world. “But you have to do enough so that people don’t forget about you.”

Bortolami added that if she tried to do all of the fairs upcoming this fall, which include two Art Basels and another Frieze, “my staff will kill me.”

The fair features a special section called Focus Asia, with 10 solo presentations by Asian galleries that opened in 2010 or after. The special section was curated by Christopher Y. Lew, chief artistic director of the Horizon Art Foundation in Los Angeles, and Hyejung Jang, an independent curator who works with Seoul’s Doosan Gallery.

Focus Asia ranges broadly, with Dastan gallery of Tehran mixing with Yeo Workshop of Singapore and Jhaveri Contemporary of Mumbai.

“We weren’t trying to make a thematic link, but to show the range,” Lew said. “The continent is so large. But it’s an exciting way to show a wide range of practices.”

One commonality emerged: artists grappling with technology and employing it creatively, “but not as a novelty,” Lew said.

One example is the work of the Singapore-based artist Fyerool Darma, presented by Yeo Workshop; Darma shows textiles that mimic the pixilated look of digitized works.

“It evokes the screens we have all experienced during the pandemic,” Lew said.

Sokyo Gallery of Kyoto, Tokyo and Lisbon will show Kimiyo Mishima, a Japanese ceramist. She is famous for trompe-l’oeil works that appear to be something other than ceramics, like a bundle of newspapers. In the case of the Sokyo booth, the artworks appear to be discarded items.

“Creating artworks that are breakable but depicting trash highlights the danger and precarity of the material,” Lew said. “But it also connects to the environment, and the climate change we’re dealing with now.”

Lew, a former curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, has been to Seoul several times, including recently to serve on the jury for a Korean art prize.

“It’s really exciting for Seoul,” Lew said of Frieze’s new outpost. “It’s a marker of the city and how it’s developed.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times

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