2023 Frieze Seoul: Results and Sustainable Progress

Jonathan Feel
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The 2023 Frieze Seoul, which painted Seoul’s fall season with art in September, was held in a calmer atmosphere compared to last year. The 2022 event was noisy because it was the first time Frieze had come to the city, and the economic downturn was relatively light. Frieze Seoul, which involved 120 galleries this year, welcomed 70,000 people in four days. Participating galleries and visitors tended to calm the excitement around the global art fair and focus on art.

Visitors attending 2023 Frieze Seoul. Image ⓒ Auction Daily.

Frieze did not reveal the size of this year’s sales. Last year, Frieze Seoul was estimated to have sold about USD 480 million (KRW 650 billion). Art officials estimate that this year’s Frieze performance is similar to or slightly below that of last year. Officials note that the decrease could be attributed to the smaller number of ultra-high priced works by big-name artists and the fact that art lovers have become cautious about purchasing works for various reasons.

On the first day of Frieze Seoul, David Zwirner, one of New York’s top three galleries, sold Yayoi Kusama’s Red God Pumpkin to a Korean collector for $5.8 million. Kusama is a highly favored artist among Korean collectors. It was the most expensive work in this Frieze. 

Hauser & Wirth also sold works by Nicolas Party for $1.25 million and works by Rashid Johnson and George Condo for $975,000 and $800,000, respectively. In addition, there was a rumor that famous global galleries such as Gladstone, Pace, and Lehmann Maupin earned more than about $7.5 million in sales during Frieze Seoul..

With a calmer atmosphere, the overall favorability of the Korean art market seems to have increased. Gallery officials abroad mentioned the growth and dynamics of the Korean art market. There was also an atmosphere predicting the possibility of Seoul becoming a hub of the Asian art market. “I was able to check the trend of the contemporary art market through Frieze, and Seoul properly showed its potential as a hub of the Asian art market,” said a gallery representative in Korea. Notably, a group of Chinese visitors attended the 2023 Frieze Seoul. Collectors from other Asian countries, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and others, visited Seoul in time for Frieze.

Visitors waited in long lines to view masterworks that were not easily accessible, with art by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, and Auguste Renoir on display. The Frieze Masters, which featured works by ancient masters and masterpieces in the late 20th century, gave the impression of entering an empire of senses beyond the pleasure of one’s eyes.

Visitors waiting in a long line in front of the Robilant Voena gallery. Image ⓒ Auction Daily.
Visitors waiting in a long line in front of the Robilant Voena gallery. Image ⓒ Auction Daily.

Robilant Voena, a British gallery, was a representative example. It presented works that encompass Western art history. Jeff Koons’ three-meter-wide sculpture Gazing Ball in front of the booth stopped visitors. The work, worth $3.6 million (KRW 4.85 billion), was photographed. Judith Beheading Holofernes by Andrea Vaccaro, a 17th-century masterpiece in the booth, also overwhelmed visitors. In addition, 18th-century masters such as Antonio Canaletto and Gaspar van Wittel, and 20th-century masters such as Marc Chagall, Lucio Fontana, and Damien Hirst created a long line.

The 2023 edition of Frieze Seoul deserved more points in terms of diversity than last year. The number of ultra-high priced works was reduced compared to 2022. Since this was the second year of Frieze Seoul, there was less pressure to draw such extreme attention. Works at various price points, which project various worldviews, filled Frieze Seoul this year. The organizers prioritized the composition of the exhibition hall, including lighting, the arrangement and movement of the booths, and communication with visitors. The small details that can awaken the senses may have made Frieze shine even more in 2023.

Visitors look around at the work in 2023 Frieze Seoul. Image ⓒ Auction Daily.
Visitors look around at the work in 2023 Frieze Seoul. Image ⓒ Auction Daily.

Some say that Kiaf, Korea’s largest art fair, has also grown due to the influence of Frieze. Kiaf, which suffered from comparison last year because it was in a hurry to chase Frieze, showed greater independence this year. The youthful dynamism made Kiaf look forward to another advance.

Now, all eyes turn to 2024. Frieze Seoul was more than just an art fair and an event. It was the driving force behind the transformation of Seoul into an art city. Frieze has become an important event that makes us look forward to September in Seoul. We wait again for the third season of Frieze in Seoul, which dreams of becoming the hub of the Asian art market.

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Jonathan Feel
Jonathan Feel

Jonathan Feel is a reporter and editor for Auction Daily in Korea. He has been active in various fields such as the media, social economy, village community, and fair trade coffee industry and is writing. It is recognized that art is not far from society and the times, and that art can be a tool for the sustainability of the Earth and mankind. He hopes that good works and artists in Korea will meet with readers.

김이준수는 한국 주재 옥션데일리 필진이자 편집자이다. 언론, 사회적경제, 마을공동체, 공정무역 커피업계 등 다양한 분야에서 활동했고 글을 쓰고 있다. 예술이 사회·시대와 동떨어져 있지 않으며, 예술이 지구와 인류의 지속가능성을 위한 도구가 될 수 있음을 인식하고 있다. 한국의 좋은 작품과 아티스트를 많이 소개하고 싶다.

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