‘Art Market in Doldrums as Auction Bids Plunge’ shouts the title of a story in Chosun.
The Korean art market is reeling from the economic crisis, with the highest bid prices at domestic art auctions plunging 38.2 percent last year. So Jin-su, professor at Kangnam University and manager at an art market researcher, on Monday released a report on Korea’s art market in 2008, which said the sum of the highest bids at domestic art auctions was W119.1 billion (US$1=W1,314) last year, down 38.2 percent from W192.6 billion in 2007.
The art market has seen a downward trend since the end of 2007 after two years of a boom. The financial crisis is a major cause but the Korean art world has stumbled through a series of setbacks in 2008.
Fire and forgeries hit Korean art
- Flames swallowed Namdaemun, Korea’s 600-year-old National Treasure No. 1, on Feb. 10, breaking the hearts of Koreans.
- Shin Jeong-ah, a former art professor and curator who forged her academic credentials and embezzled gallery money, was sentenced to a year and six months in prison in April.
- Park Soo-keun’s painting “A Wash Place.” was sold for a record 4.52 billion won ($3.4 million) last May but was soon entangled in forgery controversies.
- Other pieces by famous artists such as Kwon Ok-yeon and Do Sang-bok were put up at auction but were exposed as fake by the artists themselves or their surviving family. The auctions were canceled at the last minute.
Vacancies and misuse of budgets in art institutions
Important instutions and galleries were left with gaping holes in their ranks and budgets.
Hong Ra-hee, the former head of the Samsung Museum of Art, Leeum and who was selected as the most powerful figure in Korean art industry, announced that she would no longer participate in any of Leeum’s business when she resigned earlier this year. Her resignation was the result of the accusation that she used some of Samsung’s slush funds to supplement her collection of paintings. Roy Lichtenstein’s painting, “Happy Tears,” was at the center of the controversy.
Kim Yun-su, the former director of the National Museum of Contemporary Arts, was dismissed in November, accused of buying Marcel Duchamp’s installation art “La Boite en Valise” for an inappropriately high 600 million won without going through proper purchasing procedures.
Kim Jeong-heon, former chairman of the Arts Council Korea, was also released from the office in December for a similar reason, the misuse of the council’s budget. He was blamed for an investment loss of 5.4 billion won, which allegedly came in the form of regulations violations.
Gallery, fair and auction sales at home down
According to the Korean Herald gallery insiders say ‘with a big sigh that this year was the worst in sales ever’.
The art auction market, which was worth over 192.6 billion won last year, dropped over 40 percent, to 114.9 billion won. More than 80 percent of the bid was successful last year but this year, only 50 percent managed to sell. New auction companies such as D auction and Open auction are delaying the opening of their businesses.
It is the same situation with biennales and art fairs. Many opened this year, including Gwangju Biennale, Busan Biennale, Daegu Photo Biennale and Korea International Art Fair.
In size and quality, they left nothing to be desired. Most of them succeeded in attracting their most visitors ever, as 360 thousand visited Gwangju and 160 visited Busan during the period.The fairs, however, did not result in good sales. More than 61 thousand visitors entered the KIAF this year, but the sales dropped from 17.5 billion won last year to 14 billion won.
New tax on art introduced
Starting from 2011, art pieces that cost more than 60 million won will be taxable. Works of Korean artists are excluded but
galleries worry that the real-name dealings system will make the art market shrink even more, considering how art collectors usually do not open to the public the specifics of the dealings. They also question how exactly the government will be able to estimate the prices of each art piece.
Opportunities in the gloom: Koreans move into world market
A light of hope does shine on the troubled art industry, though. Some auction companies and art galleries are paving their way into the world market, trying to survive through the depression.
Seoul Auction and K auction, the top two auction companies in Korea advanced into Hong Kong and Macao this year and are putting up a good fight. Seoul Auction sold Lichtenstein’s “Still Life with Stretcher, Mirror, Bowl of Fruit” at 9.3 billion won in Hong Kong.
Arario Gallery, Gallery Hyundai, and PKM gallery opened in China, Arario Gallery and Gana Art Gallery in New York, and Pyo Gallery in Los Angeles in the United States.
And it seems as if the strategy of going global might just have a chance. At Art Basel Miami in December 2008, Korean art sold strongly and conceptualist and sculptor Hyungkoo Lee was a big hit says New York Magazine
- Thirteen Korean artists at Singapore museum until March 2009 – review IHT a useful summary of the main movements in recent contemporary Korean art
- Korean art’s spread through Asia threatened by meltdown September 2008