2023 Frieze Seoul: Results and Sustainable Progress
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.
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.
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.
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.