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Thursday, May 20, 2021, 10:38
Dive into South Korean kool
By Rebecca Lo
Thursday, May 20, 2021, 10:38 By Rebecca Lo

A piece from Sang-sun Bae’s Chandelier series, presented by Gallery LEE & BAE at Art Central. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

South Korea seems to be the flavor of the season at both Art Central and Art Basel Hong Kong this year.  

While ABHK features Lee Bul presented by Lehmann Maupin Gallery; the dreamy images of Youjin Yi brought to the fair by Wooson Gallery; photographer Heeseung Chung at Gallery Baton; installation artist Kimsooja at Axel Vervoordt Gallery; sculptor Haneyl Choi at P21; and Korean silk painter Hun Kyu Kim at High Art, Art Central is not too far behind. 

Painting from Kim Keun-tai’s Discussion series, presented by Soluna Fine Art at Art Central. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

“Hong Kong has developed as an outstanding global hub for the art market in the past decades,” said Soluna Fine Art founder, Seoul native Rachel Lee. “We believe Art Central is a great platform to showcase our artists and the gallery’s vision to collectors, other artists and the general public.” 

Gallery LEE & BAE, which has branches in Seoul and Busan, believes South Korean art has international appeal. It is exhibiting works by Jin-wook Yeom and You-mee Lee at Art Central this year, along with an installation by Michael Whittle.

You-mee Lee’s The Priceless — It’s All Right, presented by Gallery LEE & BAE at Art Central. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

“Works by Korean contemporary artists are original and unique in various art mediums including painting, sculpture and installation,” explained Mi-ae Bae, president, Gallery LEE & BAE. She noted that interest in Korean art, both from collectors and art administrators is on the rise worldwide. “Korean artists themselves are constantly being re-examined conceptually, both overseas and domestically.” 

Bae views participation in Art Central as a way of bringing Korean artists to a wider audience, as she said she believes that Hong Kong is the regional center for Asian art. “Jin-Wook Yeom and You-mee Lee received fantastic responses from Abu Dhabi Art 2019 for their paintings, paper sculptures and installation works and I want their works to be evaluated in Hong Kong as well,” Bae noted. “Michael Whittle’s installation work combines science and art, and is expected to play an important role in bringing a more academic element to the fair.” 

Soluna Fine Art founder Rachel Lee says works by Korean artists are going through continuous reevaluation both at home and overseas. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Lee acknowledged that while contemporary art in South Korea has been well received domestically for some time, global audiences are just beginning to understand its appeal. “Koreans have a deep appreciation of art,” she stated. “During the modernization of the country in the 20th century, there have been many enthusiastic young artists who have integrated art with sociopolitical progress. Their agenda was to find their own voice.

“Many educated and well-trained Korean artists have been able to combine our rich historical and cultural background with Asian techniques. Their unique pieces appeal to both Asian and Western collectors. As a result, the Korean art ecosystem has evolved and is becoming more recognized and acknowledged globally.” 

Kim Woo Young’s Stewart Ave 1, presented by Soluna Fine Art at Art Central. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Mi-ae Bae, president, Gallery LEE & BAE, stands against Memory of Mountain by Jin-wook Yeom, showing at Art Central. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Bae said Korean works that depict universal life philosophies often attract international interest. “These creative artists put a lot of time and effort into often delicate works, something that collectors are attracted to,” she said. “The age of Korean collectors is getting younger, and we see a rise in them between the ages of 30 and 40. While many collectors base their choices on investment value, it does contribute greatly to the revitalization of the art market.” 

Having participated in successful art fairs in Seoul and Busan during the pandemic, Bae is optimistic about Hong Kong. “I think the desire to appreciate and collect works of art cannot be deterred by the pandemic,” she stated. “If social distancing and a thorough quarantine system are maintained, a successful offline art fair can be mounted.” 

Michael Whittle’s installation combining science and art is on show at Art Central, presented by Gallery LEE & BAE. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Lee said she believes that digitalization impacted the art market long before the pandemic moved fairs online. “Digital platforms have given us an opportunity to explore convenient ways to enjoy art, and more exposure to different demographics,” she said. “However, it will never be able to replace the joy and sensational experience through physical exhibitions.”

For anyone in Hong Kong looking to get an eyeful of South Korean art, this week offers a deep dive into the country’s offerings, to be enjoyed either in person or online. 

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