Six Korean artists to look out for at Frieze Seoul
We’re setting out our stall at this year’s art fair with a programme of Soho House events. Committee member Mark Tetto spotlights the talent you need to know
Friday 25 August 2023 By Soho House
September in South Korean capital is set to be a big month for art, as Frieze returns to the city after the success of its inaugural outing last year. For four non-stop days from 6 September, Frieze Seoul will once again run alongside local art fair and partner Kiaf SEOUL at the city’s COEX exhibition centre. There, more than 120 international galleries will gather to showcase the region’s top talent, with a focus on local exhibitors, the wider Korean creative landscape and across Asia as a whole.
The event serves as a fitting occasion to mark Seoul’s stellar rise as a centre of creativity as, over the past few years, the Korean cultural wave has made its mark across the world. To celebrate both the art fair and the city itself, Soho House will be there across the week as part of our Cities Without Houses programming, where we’ll be hosting a special series of events, including an opening reception, cocktails and the after-party for Tavares Strachan’s Do and Be exhibition at Perrotin Dosan Park, the Frieze VIP Preview and – to round off the week – The Moon Party. Visiting members will have plenty of opportunities to mix, mingle, explore the art scene and party.
To get us all up to speed ahead of the fair, we asked Soho House committee member Mark Tetto to introduce us to some of the city’s notable talents on its art scene. US-born Tetto has lived in Seoul 13 years. Having first moved to the capital for work, it wasn’t long before he was drawn to its bourgeoning art scene and began to give his support to galleries and museums philanthropically.
One of the many strings to his bow is the monthly interview series he developed with Korean artists for LivingSense magazine, which, he notes, ‘has turned out to be one of the highlights of my time living in Korea. I've learned so much and been profoundly changed by the conversations I have with these amazing artists each month.’
Originally launched as a one-off series Tetto would interview 12 artists over the course of a year in which, its success was such that ‘We decided to keep going with it,’ he says. ‘I have now interviewed more than 60 Korean artists over five years.’ And while the primary vehicle for the interviews is the magazine, ‘I've also tried to document the journey on Instagram and other social media,’ he notes, ‘to share these artists with a more global, English-speaking audience who may be less familiar with them.’
This exchange of cultural knowledge and conversation has always been crucial for Tetto: ‘It's a tremendously dynamic time for Korean art, with an increased global interest in Korean artists, and the global art scene increasingly converging on Seoul as a new global art hub. While Korea has always had a vibrant local gallery scene, the past few years have seen top global galleries open in Seoul, and also start to represent Korean artists,’ he explains. ‘This wave is just beginning, and offers an exciting two-way dialogue, bringing global art to Korea and introducing Korean artists to the world.’
Who better, then, to help us delve deeper into the role art plays in contemporary Seoul? Whether you're able to visit Seoul for KIAF and Frieze or just interested to get to know Korean contemporary artists, here are five local artists to watch, as recommended by Tetto.
Lee’s colourful, mixed-media works capture his experiences and memories of urban spaces in paint, photography and collage. While the spaces themselves tend to be grounded in a specific building or location – perhaps in Korea, perhaps not – his photographs of the original environment and the lines and geometric shapes he paints over them point to a universal language of space and memory that can resonate with anyone.
Chang’s practice lies somewhere between painting and sculpture; she layers materials – such as plaster and sand – on top of the canvas to create a bold, textural finish in which the traces of her strokes and hand gestures are deliberately left to be read. Her Spring series, which combines textures with vibrant colours to reflect her memories and emotions of that season, is a recent example.
Lee’s exploration into the nature of materials, and the inherent possibilities they offer spans a variety of materials, such as copper, styrofoam, and nylon rope. It is the artist’s woven or ‘knitted’ works, however, that have become his signature. Objects depicted range in size from smaller pieces – a sneaker or a human heart – which are knitted together from cords, to large armchairs and life-size furniture. Their unique forms and bright colours have made them a hit at galleries and art fairs.
With their clashing colour combinations, flattened perspective and a free-ranging approach subject matter which has been deliberately deconstructed and decontextualized, Baik's bold, colourful pieces are hard to pass by without stopping. In his hands, these elements come together to form paintings with universal appeal, regardless of cultural context.
At first glance, Choi's works seem to blur the line between photography and painting – the fine art photographer has honed his craft. and understanding of light and colour to a degree that allows him to bend the medium to give the air of anything from a Renaissance painting to a piece of modern pop art. In his figures and spaces, Choi’s work has an impressive ability to evoke various times, memories, moods and ideas.
Hwang started out working in New York’s garment district with a view to go into fashion, but quickly gravitated towards visual arts. One aspect of her previous career, however, stuck. Today, Hwang’s her work is characterised by simple, beautiful forms comprised of thousands of buttons arranged meticulously on the canvas that captivate viewers in both their grand scale and intricacy. The plum blossom trees, Korean palaces and large swooping eagles she depicts are symbols that express both her Korean and American identities, as well as her identity as a female artist. Arresting is not the word.
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