Different perspectives on appreciating art: how the public enjoys art fairs
Sep 20, 2023
After the conclusion of Frieze Seoul and the integration of The Armory Show into the Frieze Art Fair family, both events garnered attention for their remarkable visitor numbers. Frieze Seoul had over 70,000 visitors, and The Armory Show counted 51,000 attendees, including exhibitors, curators, artists, and collectors. When dissecting these numbers, one can't help but wonder about the proportion of attendees categorized as guests – those who are not directly tied to the art world but are driven by curiosity and a love for art fairs, independently purchasing tickets to explore these events.
A surge of art-related news invariably floods the scene once fairs wrap up. These reports typically spotlight the fairs' achievements, such as sales performance, attendance figures, innovative sponsorship initiatives, and the intricate composition of event programs. However, what strikes eazel as particularly noteworthy is the absence of perspectives from the general public — the very guests who significantly contribute to the vitality of art fairs. It's an ironic situation where, despite the undeniable importance of these guests, insiders of the art world have often failed to heed their voices.
In light of this, eazel proactively engaged with five such individuals, all based in South Korea. While not firmly entrenched in the art world, they represent potential future ambassadors, capable of bridging the gap between the art world and the wider public. Our approach was straightforward: we encouraged them to attend both Frieze Seoul and Kiaf SEOUL, and openly share their unique experiences. For most of them, this was their first time venturing into the world of art fairs. Nevertheless, they enthusiastically dedicated their leisure time to diverse cultural events. Some sought personal enrichment, others found solace from the demands of daily life, and a few simply reveled in the captivating ambience.
Based on interviews with these five participants, the eazel team has crafted and edited their insights into a roundtable discussion. In this dialogue, the responses illuminate how art and culture intersect with their lives. Sharing their firsthand experiences at art fairs, they contemplate future possibilities, including deeper involvement in the art world and the prospect of art collecting.
Before we dive in, please meet the five participants who will provide insight into art fairs from their unique perspective.
Cheolyong Kim (Cheolyong), an architect residing in Seoul, immerses himself in art exhibitions approximately twice a month. His preference is to explore various museums and galleries, all in pursuit of broadening his overall perspective.
James Kim (James), a journalist specializing in films, makes time for art exhibitions primarily held in museums. He manages about five to six visits a year, focusing on his favorite artists, especially those who are internationally renowned and not readily accessible locally.
Holly Koo (Holly), the trainer at TIMBERMODULAR based in Seoul, takes full advantage of her proximity to the Samcheong area, frequently visiting museums and galleries during her leisure time. Her motivation is to seek novelty and fresh experiences, offering a delightful escape from the monotony of daily life.
Eunbee Kwak (Eunbee), a lawyer in Seoul, occasionally explores art exhibitions in her neighborhood. She savors leisurely strolls and the ambience of these exhibitions, paying great attention to their intricate details.
Habin Yang (Habin), an art lover working in finance with a demanding schedule, consistently allocates time for art exhibitions. She attends approximately one exhibition every two weeks from her favored galleries and museums. She seeks artistic inspiration as a respite from her numbers-focused work.
Tell us about your general art experiences before discussing your art fair experiences in detail.
eazel: Do you often visit art exhibitions in your free time? We are curious about the type of art exhibitions or artists you usually prefer to see.
Cheolyong: I visit art exhibitions roughly twice a month, maintaining an open-minded approach to various artists and their creations. When I encounter artworks that resonate with my taste, I consistently seize the opportunity to explore the preferences that surface within those specific genres.
James: I typically visit art exhibitions around five to six times a year. I have a preference for venues like the Seoul Arts Center, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, and the Leeum Museum of Art. However, I'm also willing to travel to art museums in Gyeonggi Province, which is within reasonable reach from Seoul. One of them is the Hoam Museum of Art, especially when they feature renowned artists or large-scale curated exhibitions.
Holly: I visit art exhibitions frequently, often favoring galleries like Kukje Gallery, Barakat Contemporary, Galerie Perrotin, and PKM Gallery, conveniently located near my home in Seoul. While not having a specific genre preference, I lean towards painting and sculpture, avoiding political or overly intellectual art. Art is my personal escape to heightened emotions and unique aesthetics.
Eunbee: Like Holly, I often visit art exhibitions in my neighborhood, particularly the Bukchon area of Seoul. My art preferences are flexible: whatever appears beautiful and touching in that moment, with a special fondness for simplified contemporary paintings.
Habin: I actively follow ongoing exhibitions, averaging a visit every two weeks. I have several go-to galleries and art spaces that I choose based on my schedule. For instance, when I'm in the Hannam area, my top choices include well-known galleries and museums such as Pace Gallery, Leeum Museum of Art, Lehmann Maupin, Various Small Fires, Gallery Baton, and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. I have a preference for contemporary art that addresses current issues, particularly enjoying artworks with bold and vibrant colors.
eazel: Among the art exhibition venues you've visited, are there any that left a strong positive impression? If so, can you share why?
Eunbee: I find great enjoyment in visiting Barakat Contemporary, mainly because of their highly selective approach due to the limited space. It's apparent that each exhibition is thoughtfully curated to maximize the unique structure of the gallery, with half of the space divided into two floors.
Habin: My example is a commercial gallery, too. I always enjoy going to Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. I like this space for a slightly different reason than Eunbee’s as I came to realize most of the exhibition spaces I like are spacious with good lighting.
James: I also had a good experience at a museum this year while visiting the Hoam Museum of Art for a dot, a sky_kim whanki (May 18 - Sep 10, 2023), which offered a comprehensive exploration of the artist's evolving styles. That exhibition was stunning. Beyond Korea, my encounters at MoMA in New York and Belvedere in Vienna were also remarkable. Especially at Belvedere, I was in awe of masterpieces by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele within a splendid palace. It felt as if I became one with the artworks during that unforgettable visit.
eazel: Besides visual art, are there other cultural or artistic fields that you enjoy or are interested in?
Cheolyong: I have a diverse range of interests that encompass architecture, literature, photography, music, and film, among other fields.
James: I predominantly engage in watching films, averaging more than six movies per month. For me, film is the most densely packed and accessible form of art, encompassing acting, visual aesthetics, music, cinematography, and editing.
Holly: Writing. I've contributed to a series of pieces on love for an art project called Erase Everything But Love (EEBL), which was led by Nahyun Maeng, then-curator of Platform-L and now a curator at Daelim Museum. Additionally, I have a deep interest in theater, although I prefer reading playscripts over attending live performances. I particularly enjoy off-Broadway hits like Dinner with Friends and Six Degrees of Separation.
Eunbee: I take pleasure in listening to music and have an appreciation for photography. Additionally, I'm a fan of well-crafted video entertainment, including TV series and films, as well as well-written books.
Habin: I love theater, art house movies, and concerts.
eazel: Does your engagement with cultural and artistic activities, including visual arts, have any impact on your work, activities, or overall life?
Cheolyong: The appreciation of culture and the arts plays a pivotal role in ensuring that my life remains well-rounded, rather than leaning too heavily in one direction. It serves as a vital element in maintaining a sense of stability, even in the face of challenges. The knowledge and happiness I derive from diverse fields serve as continuous motivation, driving me towards higher aspirations and steady progress.
James: I have a deep passion for gastronomy, fine dining, and collecting wines. It's a pursuit that brings joy and wonder to my life. I believe in working hard today to savor these moments tomorrow. Fine dining and the appreciation of art and film share a fundamental connection. They enrich our lives and breathe new vitality into our routines. I wholeheartedly embrace the opportunity to discover extraordinary films and unseen masterpieces.
Holly: Engaging with culture and the arts is essential to prevent life from becoming monotonous. It's crucial to deepen our lives and maintain a sense of fulfillment. Whether in solitude or in the company of others, the pursuit of culture and the arts kindles a creative spark that keeps our enjoyment of life vibrant and fulfilling.
Then, please share your Frieze Seoul/Kiaf SEOUL 2023 experience.
eazel: Have you previously attended an art fair? If this is your first time at Frieze Seoul/Kiaf SEOUL, what are your initial impressions of what an art fair is like? Please share your overall experience.
James: This experience marked my inaugural experience at an art fair, and initially, I perceived it as merely a marketplace for the exchange of expensive artworks. However, it turned out to be a diverse cultural playground, featuring a wide range of art spanning eras, styles, and values. It shifted my perception of art fairs from marketplaces to vibrant hubs of culture and the arts.
Holly: This is my first experience attending an art fair, too. I've previously perceived art fairs as large art festivals, but upon visiting, it appears that they are more akin to conventions, not too different from other events held at COEX. I fully immersed myself in the entire Frieze Week experience, including various late-night viewings and gatherings at different locations. Surprisingly, these independent gatherings, beyond the main Frieze event, provided the most enjoyable moments.
Eunbee: This also marked my first experience attending an art fair. Initially, I had a rather vague notion that it would be a large-scale exhibition featuring individual artists and local galleries. However, I have since come to realize that the participants in the art fair are primarily commercial galleries.
Cheolyong: Like James, Holly, and Eunbee, it was my first visit to an art fair. I couldn't help but ponder the difference between the academic and commercial facets of artworks, along with the motivations underlying art appreciation and acquisition. The experience is highly valuable to me, as it allowed me to develop insights into the intricate dynamics of the art world and gain practical knowledge in navigating this captivating juncture.
Habin: I've had the opportunity to attend Frieze Seoul last year as well as other art fairs, including Frieze New York and The Armory Show in New York. Having a few art fair experiences under my belt, I've noticed similarities in how they operate and differences in the size of the fairs and the range of artworks they showcase.
eazel: In your opinion, what are the most significant differences between a regular art exhibition and an art fair?
Cheolyong: I think the key distinction between a typical art exhibition and an art fair lies in the intention behind the act of collecting artworks. Given the participation of galleries, it struck me that the strategies and vision of galleries, who aim to make artworks stand out amidst numerous galleries, are of paramount importance.
Habin: One of the biggest differences between art fairs and general art exhibitions is that you can make a purchase right away at the art fair. If what you want is still available, of course! Galleries are enthusiastic about explaining information about the artworks and artists to collectors and art enthusiasts. It feels like a vibrant night market in broad daylight.
James: Adding to Habin’s point, the most fascinating aspect of the art fair was its lack of predetermination. From attributing credit to artworks, to the explanations provided by docents, and even the path I took while viewing, all was influenced by the will and curiosity of the visitors. This dynamic experience differed significantly from typical art exhibitions. It was an opportunity to discover new tastes and preferences, especially works by artists whom I had never experienced before.
Holly: Galleries primarily aim to showcase their affiliated artists' works in one place at the art fair. This differs from exhibitions at general art venues, where the curatorial role can be more prominent. This difference also affects the physical presentation of artworks, as they are densely packed into limited spaces at art fairs, potentially diminishing the impact of each individual piece.
eazel: Which gallery booth at Frieze Seoul/Kiaf SEOUL made the most memorable impression on you, and what aspects were particularly striking?
Habin: I loved Jessica Silverman’s booth (Frieze Seoul, A3) at Frieze Seoul, featuring a solo presentation of Woody De Othello. Not only because it presented great artworks, but I loved the color of the walls, which went perfectly with the sculptures and paintings.
Eunbee: I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the programs presented by Ben Brown Fine Arts (Frieze Seoul, M12) and Eric Firestone Gallery (Frieze Seoul, M22) in the Masters section at Frieze Seoul. Their curated selection of artworks struck a remarkable balance between consistency and individuality. Some booths leaned heavily towards consistency, while others appeared a bit random in their choices. In my view, the mentioned galleries managed to find a perfect balance between these two extremes.
Holly: My pick is more to do with the relationship between the viewer and the space and how we navigate around artworks. In most exhibitions, it's typically either impossible to touch the artwork, or if it is allowed, it's done under strict supervision. However, I was particularly impressed by one gallery – I'm not entirely sure, but I believe it was at the kurimanzutto booth (Frieze Seoul, B16) – where visitors were given the freedom to touch the artwork by Korean artist Haegue Yang without any restrictions. That was truly remarkable.
James: Robilant+Voena (Frieze Masters, M17) and Stephen Ongpin Fine Art (Frieze Masters, M6) in the Masters section at Frieze Seoul left a lasting impression. These galleries showcased masterpieces by iconic artists such as Picasso, Klimt, Koons, Léger, Chagall, Cézanne, and Schiele, which transcend time and continue to capture the hearts of the public. What truly stood out was the seemingly endless line of art enthusiasts waiting eagerly to witness the overwhelming interest, love, and curiosity that the public had for art.
Cheolyong: I was impressed by ATELIER AKI's booth (Kiaf SEOUL, A68). The domestic artists showcased there displayed a creative and daring spirit, blending elements of Pop Art with contemporary societal themes. Their unfiltered and authentic expression created a strong connection between the artist, the audience, and society. I personally found the artworks easy to intuitively appreciate, and I plan to visit this gallery in person for a deeper exploration in the future.
eazel: Were there any particular scenes, moments, or experiences during this year's Frieze Seoul/Kiaf SEOUL that left a lasting impact on you?
James: At Frieze, there was a striking scene with a long line of people at Perrotin’s booth (A1), waiting to photograph Junho (2023), an installation by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, representing the homeless. It made me ponder how the public's perception of someone's existence can change based on location and circumstances. This experience made contemporary art feel more accessible and relatable, bridging the gap with the mainstream.
Holly: Also at Frieze, I came across one of my all-time favorite pieces by Wook-kyung Choi at Kukje Gallery's booth (A29). The joy of this unexpected encounter was like bumping into a friend on a random street. However, it also brought a touch of sadness, knowing that I might not see this artwork again once it's sold and placed in a private collector's home or storage.
eazel: Did you have any preconceived expectations about Frieze Seoul/Kiaf SEOUL before your visit? Were there any aspects that exceeded your expectations or left you feeling disappointed?
Eunbee: Before attending the art fair, I wasn't sure what to expect. However, once I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and diversity of the artworks available at Frieze. On the flip side, I was less thrilled about how crowded the fair was. I visited on a Saturday afternoon, and it was nearly impossible to secure enough time and space to fully appreciate the artworks.
Habin: Having attended last year's Frieze Seoul, I can draw a comparison. In the previous edition, there appeared to be a more prominent emphasis on European and American galleries. This year, I was eager to witness an increased presence of Asian galleries at Frieze, and while I did come across several, I believe there's room for even more representation from this region. Perhaps next year!
eazel: Did you make any art purchases during your visit to Frieze Seoul/Kiaf SEOUL this year? If you refrained from purchasing artwork at this art fair, did the experience make you more inclined to consider buying art in the future?
Habin: No. But, the more I visit the art fair, the more I want to make a purchase, even though I haven’t yet found the perfect one to start my collecting journey.
Eunbee: No, but it's always been a desire of mine. Affordability is the primary hurdle, not a lack of interest or intent.
Holly: I agree. Art can be quite expensive, and it's crucial to plan your finances when considering a purchase. However, determining the price of artwork can be challenging because galleries often don't publicly list prices. They may provide limited information, like checklists that may or may not include pricing details. I wonder if there is room for improvement in transparency of pricing so the information is more accessible.
Cheolyong: No, but when I find an artwork that matches my taste and meets the criteria for a sensible purchase, I'm enthusiastic about making an acquisition. Collecting art is a truly fulfilling endeavor in my perspective.
James: I didn't make any purchases at the art fair this time either, but it has sparked a newfound desire to acquire artwork in the future. This experience served as a reminder that there are beautiful and captivating pieces available, which are not necessarily by well-known artists. If the opportunity presents itself, I eagerly anticipate adding more artwork to my collection regardless of who the artists are, as long as it resonates with me.
eazel: Do you anticipate attending the next edition of Frieze Seoul/Kiaf SEOUL, or do you wish to explore any other art fairs?
James: Yes, of course.
Cheolyong: My experience at this art fair has reignited my determination to attend similar events in the future. Furthermore, my curiosity about other art fairs has intensified, so I am fully inclined to seek out different experiences whenever the opportunity arises.
Holly: I do plan to attend the next Frieze and Kiaf in Seoul, although I would pick a less crowded day to fully savor the art fair experience. Before attending the fair this year, I had a vague idea that preview tickets for art fairs could be quite expensive. However, when you consider that they are typically priced around $200-300, which is comparable to the cost of concert tickets, and taking into account the opportunity to view high-quality artworks in what I imagine to be a peaceful setting, it seems like a reasonable investment.
Eunbee: Absolutely, and I agree with Holly's idea of selecting a less crowded day to fully savor the artworks.
Habin: I agree with everyone that it is a perfect occasion to ignite further interest in not just other art fairs but also art in general. I understand that the crowded environment can be off-putting and can definitely diminish the experience, especially if your aim is to see the artworks more closely. I was a little taken aback by the sheer volume of people in my first few art fairs, but now I tend to put it down as one of their characteristics. One thing I would do for my next art fair, though, is get more information in advance in order to help me recognize more cues while walking around.
This article's objective was to gather diverse perspectives from individuals who attended two significant art fairs, Frieze Seoul and Kiaf SEOUL, both held in Seoul in September of 2023. By sharing these voices, eazel aims to inspire and gain insights with the ultimate goal of extending the art world's influence to a wider audience. This discussion also has the potential to broaden the horizons of art insiders and enable the art industry as a whole to explore new territory by embracing diverse perspectives.