Kiaf SEOUL 2023: Coming into the Spotlight
Kiaf SEOUL 2023's entrance
Established in 2002, Kiaf SEOUL is South Korea's oldest international art fair, and this year's fair kicked off with a VIP opening on September 6 and public admissions from September 7 to September 10. Of course, Whitestone Gallery participated in Kiaf SEOUL, and Gallerist Kate McDowell shares her honest impressions of Autumn art week in Seoul.
Kiaf SEOUL and Frieze Are Back for a Second Round
A photo spot at Kiaf 2023
For the second year in a row, Kiaf, held in exhibition halls on Coex convention center's ground floor, was joined by Frieze art fair, which was held above. The event was abundant with both local and visiting galleries–a total of 210 galleries exhibited at Kiaf this year, and 120 at Frieze. Well-known Korean galleries numbered among those at Kiaf, along with several high-profile international galleries, including Whitestone Gallery.
Kiaf Emphasizes the "K"
Metaverse MOKA booth installation view, The HYUNDAI at the art fair
Kiaf SEOUL 2023 featured a variety of interesting public exhibitions. The interactive "Highlights'' program showcased a selection of promising artists around the fair, and viewers could vote for the artist they liked best before September 9. Guests could also see special screenings of video and digital artworks on a wide range of thought-provoking topics in a space called the "Gray Box Area."
Amongst the facilities available to the public were several talks by leading artists, curators, and scholars from South Korea and around the world. Interestingly, the talks were not dominated by now overblown and overhyped topics like technology, AI, or the future of art. Instead, they were of a more refreshing nature because they emphasized Korean art; speakers gave talks on subjects like K-art and Korean experimental art. So, even under Frieze's very large shadow, Kiaf managed to excite audiences through a more distinctly Korean flavor.
A Vibrant Fair with a Special Visit
Seoul Culture Minister and the Mayor of Seoul visit Kiaf 2023 at Whitestone Gallery's booth, ©Courtesy of Hongsuk Kim
In terms of turnout, Kiaf had a slow start, with visitors dispersed throughout the expansive array of galleries in the early hours of the VIP opening. However, there was a spark of excitement which drew in the crowds when both the Mayor of Seoul and the Seoul Culture Minister paid a visit to the fair. Following this visit, collectors and art lovers milled about the booths, many of them buying the hottest artworks. Crowds remained steady throughout the fair, although gallerists and curators noted many guests came to view rather than to buy. The final day of the fair, September 10, saw an uptick in activity and sales, as collectors sought their last chances to buy up remaining attractive artworks.
Aside from the fair itself, several galleries held exhibitions during what is informally known as "art week," including Whitestone Gallery Seoul, which opened with its exhibition "We Love Korea." Kiaf visitors were guided to many concurrent exhibitions through the "Kiaf Insights" page on the fair's website. Galleries also hosted glamorous parties across the city, from Dongdaemun Design Plaza to Gangnam. Whitestone Gallery Seoul hosted its own party in partnership with online art marketplace Artsy, which was visited by over 200 guests.
Kiaf and Frieze: a Mostly Symbiotic Relationship
Whitestone Gallery's booth at Kiaf 2023, ©Courtesy of Hongsuk Kim
Now into the second year of their partnership, Kiaf and Frieze turned up the volume this year with more booths, events, and, in turn, visitors. However, some visitors and exhibitors questioned whether Frieze, a world-renowned art fair which started in London, to Kiaf overshadowed the Korean fair, and also some complained about the amount of energy required to view both art fairs in one day.
In spite of these drawbacks, each art fair brought its own value to art week. Kiaf was a wider, more spread out space, where art enthusiasts could wander at their own pace through the two main halls and grand ballroom. Frieze, on the other hand, was more compact and densely packed with visitors and artworks, but this atmosphere had its own air of excitement that was different Kiaf's atmosphere.
Some guests commented that, while for international art enthusiasts, the showing at Frieze was a mix of galleries that often appear at prestigious art fairs, but for locals, it was a rare opportunity to see heavy hitting international galleries. Mirroring this point, spectators attracted to Frieze also made their way down to Kiaf and saw the local art scene, alternative galleries, and Asia-focused galleries. All in all, it was a unique sight to see the mingling of different types of artists, galleries, and clientele through the collaboration between Kiaf and Frieze.
Whitestone Builds Its Korean Following
A viewer admires Ronald Ventura's artworks at Kiaf, ©Courtesy of Hongsuk Kim
Among the galleries that firmly grabbed the attention of fair goers was none other than Whitestone Gallery. Particularly during the VIP opening on September 6 and during the weekend, the booth was bustling with activity as onlookers gazed at the art pieces and collectors inquired about prices.
Many guests were surprised by the diversity of nationalities among the exhibiting artists, and they were intrigued by the meanings behind pieces by international artists such as Ronald Ventura from the Philippines, Wu Shuang, Wang Yi, and Jiang Miao from China, Kohei Kyomori, Ahhi Choi, Masayuki Tsubota, and Etsu Egami from Japan, and Sebastian Chaumeton from the United Kingdom.
From Whitestone Gallery's booth at Kiaf 2023, Wang Yi’s artwork with Etsu Egami’s artwork in the background ©Courtesy of Hongsuk Kim
Korean guests felt an affinity for works by fellow Korean artists, like Soonik Kwon and Hai Yun Jung, whose visual languages and aesthetic sensibilities they understood well. Along with international artists, there were many international guests from such places as Hong Kong, Japan, Italy, and Germany. The pieces included in the booth evoked a wide range of emotions and reactions–viewers of Sebastian Chaumeton's cheerful works smiled while Soonik Kwon's pieces caused more contemplative reactions. Korean audiences learned about new artists they were previously unfamiliar with since, for some artists, like Wu Shuang, Ronald Ventura, and Wang Yi, it was their Kiaf debut, and gained an interest in Whitestone Gallery.
From Whitestone Gallery's booth at Kiaf 2023, Hai Yun Jung’s artwork ©Courtesy of Hongsuk Kim
From Whitestone Gallery's booth at Kiaf 2023, Masayuki Tsubota’s artwork ©Courtesy of Hongsuk Kim
Whitestone Gallery's booth at Kiaf 2023, ©Courtesy of Hongsuk Kim