Tuesday, September 23, 2008

KIAF 2008

After China (2002), Japan (2003), Korea (2004), Germany (2005), France (2006), and Spain (2007), the Korea International Art Fair welcomes Switzerland as its star country : 19 galleries, a Swiss Modern Art Exhibition, and a "What You Get Is What You Want" special exhibition for emerging Swiss talents (none of the 9 young artists selected for KIAF Finds Hidden Treasure comes from the guest country).

But KIAF 2009 goes beyond the partnership between the Gallery Association of Korea and Art Galleries Switzerland (AGS) : 20 countries are represented, and 102 of the 218 galleries are foreign. Korea boasts 116 galleries, Europe 65 (Germany 27), Asia 29 (16 from Japan), Americas 7 (USA 5), and Australia 1. Overall, about 1,500 artists and 6,000 works exhibited.

OK. Enough figures. Except maybe the entrance fee : KRW 15,000. Expensive, but the show is worth it.

I was positively impressed by the quality of the selection, much more exciting than what you could find in - say - a FIAC a couple of years ago. Of course, Chinese artists remain quite popular, and Japanese pop art as well (ie Yoshitomo Nara), but there was a definitely European / auteur flavor, and not just because of the guest country. And a refreshing variety.

Pros seemed to be touching wood : in spite of the economic downturn, the contemporary art bubble remains, and this show appears to be a success so let's enjoy it, you never know how things will fare next year...

Korea enjoys a powerful contemporary art ecosystem along the whole chain from creative design schools to wealthy art lovers, galleries hubs across the capital city, Gyeonggi-do and many other regions, regional exhibitions and fairs with an international reach, new landmarks (ie Leeum)... and as the Korean won takes the plunge, foreign buyers can shop at bargain prices.

But offer is exceeding demand, and quantity often comes before quality, the shell before the pearl. Like in Paju : I remember visiting Heyri Art Village in its maiden year, and it looked more like an architectural contest for hipsters than a genuine artistic proposition. Still, Korea has a knack for forcing success in this field.

Like everywhere else, many galleries will fold, though. Or devote more space to their cafes and boutiques to make ends meet. Young talents will face tougher times to reach their publics, but there's still the ASYAAF...

KIAF plays an important role to position the country globally, and this edition surely confirms Korea as a major player. KIAF 2009 will be an interesting test. Unless another art bubble inflates by then, matching 2008 will be difficult. And each exhibitor will be tempted to take little risk. But some may remember that uncertain times tend to spur creativity and the hunger for it.

Seoul Village 2008


KIAF 2008 / Korea International Art Fair
Guest Country-Switzerland
September 19-23, 2008
Pacific Hall and Indian Hall, COEX, World Trade Center
Samsung-dong, Seoul, ROK 135-731

Visitors can also enjoy synergies with Busan Biennale (until november).

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