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Meet 5 Young South Korean Collectors Who Are Ushering in Seoul’s Emergence as a Global Art Market Hub
From an internationally renowned interior designer to a food and beverage entrepreneur, these are five collectors worth knowing.
In the past five years, the ascendent South Korean art market has earned Seoul a place alongside Hong Kong as a regional contemporary art hub. Seoul offers financial benefits on par with its Chinese counterpart—no import tax, VAT or transfer taxes—as well as a sales tax exemption for works below 60 million KRW (around $50,000), making it an exceedingly attractive business environment for art dealers and collectors alike.
Korea’s capital city has attracted a growing number of Western galleries in recent years, led by the likes of Perrotin, Pace and Lehmann Maupin; in 2022, Gladstone, Peres Projects and Esther Schipper are also set to open spaces in the city. But the art world’s biggest buy-in comes in the form of Frieze Seoul, which will debut its first fair in Asia here in fall 2022 and cement the city’s arrival as a bona fide global art capital that may someday rival Hong Kong.
In the face of increasing regulations aimed at neutralizing the country’s skyrocketing real estate market, many wealthy Koreans are turning to other means of diversifying their investment portfolios, including contemporary art. Driving this surge in the domestic art market is a burgeoning class of collectors eager to flex their financial wherewithal while also increasing their cultural capital. Below we shine a light on some of the most prominent young collectors in Seoul’s booming art scene.
Occupation: Education entrepreneur, operating academies offering children’s education.
What’s in the collection: Around 150 artworks, with a focus on figurative works of painting and sculpture by emerging and mid-career artists including David Altmejd, Paolo Salvador, Manuel Solano, Stanislava Kovalcikova, Julien Ceccaldi, Djordje Ozbolt, and Ekene Emecheta Stanley. Noh also collects young and emerging Korean artists such as Hyun Nahm, Jiwon Choi and Seungcheol Ok.
Distinguishing factor: Although he began collecting editioned works and art toys while still in high school, after marrying pianist SoHyun Park in 2018, Noh began to collect art together with his wife. Since then, the couple have actively expanded and diversified their collection, becoming two of the most talked-about young collectors in Seoul.
Where he shops: Noh is a frequent bidder and avid follower of major auctions, as well as a regular presence at Art Basel Miami and Art Basel Hong Kong. He counts Peres Projects (Berlin), Xavier Hufkens (Brussels), Villazan (Madrid) and KaiKai KiKi (Tokyo) among his favorite galleries.
Recent purchase: A Pam Evelyn painting from Peres Projects. Despite the artist still being in her 20s, Noh sees a compelling mix of skill and freshness in her work that he finds particularly attractive.
Occupation: Interior designer and principal at Teoyang Studio, which was selected as one of top 100 design studios worldwide in 2021 by Phaidon Books.
What’s in the collection: A diverse range of works from antiquities to contemporary art, with an affinity for works by Korean Dansaekhwa masters. Contemporary artists in his collection include Jean-Michel Othoniel, Kiki Smith, Elmgreen & Dragset, Haegue Yang, Georg Baselitz, Lee Bul, Lee Bae and Zhao Zhao.
Distinguishing factor: Yang lives and works in two traditional Korean hanok residences, built in 1917 and 1931, connected by a shared courtyard. Despite being more than a century old, his home embraces contemporary art in a very natural way and Yang hopes to convert it into a private gallery one day.
Where he shops: Kukje Gallery (Seoul), where he recently acquired a sculpture by Elmgreen & Dragset, as well as art fairs including Art Basel and KIAF.
Fun fact: When he was 13 years old, Yang purchased a 16th century Korean traditional gargoyle which now sits on the rooftop of his residence, overlooking his library.
So Young Lee
Occupation: Art educator and author of nearly a dozen books on art and collecting.
What’s in the collection: Around 200 artworks with a focus on female artists. In particular, Lee collects artists who may have been overlooked during their lifetimes, including painters Etel Adnan, Carmen Herrera, Rosemarie Casotoro and Carla Prina, as well as sculptors Helen Pashgian, Lydia Okumura and Ann Veronica Janssens. She also actively supports Korean female artists from her own generation, including Min ha Park, Hejum Bä, and Goen Choi, as well as emerging male artists like Haneyl Choi, Noh-wan Park, and Kim Hansaem.
Distinguishing factor: Lee operates numerous programs that provide art education for Korean audiences in a range of demographics, from children to seniors, museum groups to corporate groups. She also caters to Korea’s growing class of art collectors with various educational offerings geared toward connoisseurship and confidence in purchasing art and building art collections.
Where she shops: Seoul-based galleries run by young art dealers, such as P21, Whistle, Thisweekendroom, and Space Willing N Dealing, as well as international galleries with a presence in Seoul like Thaddaeus Ropac, Lehmann Maupin, Esther Schipper, and Various Small Fires.
Fun fact: Lee is set to publish a new book in 2022 that serves as an introductory guide for readers who are relatively new to art collecting.
Occupation: Food and beverage entrepreneur and former fashion executive.
What’s in the collection: Around 100 artworks with diverse holdings in Korean modern and contemporary art. Highlights include Dansaekhwa masters Lee Ufan, Chung Sang-hwa and Park Seo-bo; avant-garde pioneers like Lee Kun-Yong and Kim Ku-lim; and contemporary artists including Lee Bae and Kim Chong-hak. Shim also collects international contemporary artists like Hernan Bas, Andy Denzler, Yayoi Kusama, and Joel Shapiro.
Distinguishing characteristics: Shim credits his extensive experience in the fashion industry to helping him develop his taste in contemporary art; prior to establishing his ventures in the food and beverage space, Shim spent 13 years building Korea’s largest online fashion platform, MUSINSA, where he continues to serve as an advisor.
His wine bar, OPNNG, operates as a cultural space that incorporates art, design, and sound into the customer experience. Shim plans to open a private museum for his collection in the distant future, with OPNNG serving as a first step toward this goal.
Where he shops: Seoul-based galleries Hyundai, Kukje, and 313 Art Project, domestic art fairs KIAF and Art Busan and domestic auction houses K-Auction and Seoul Auction.
Recent purchase: Shim recently acquired Lee Kun-Yong’s “Alteration 76-1 (For the Man who Drew behind the Picture Plane)” from Gallery Hyundai after encountering the work at the Busan Museum of Art during the artist’s 2019 retrospective.
Occupation: Director of a private wealth management group and vice chairman of a real estate investment firm.
What’s in the collection: Some 150 artworks across the mediums of painting, sculpture and works on paper. His collection is oriented toward international contemporary artists, with notable works by Julian Schnabel, Erwin Wurm, Ed Ruscha, Aaron Garber Maikovska, Sterling Ruby, Mary Corse, Izumi Kato, Brice Guilbert, Adam Pendleton, Joyce Pensato, Eddie Martinez, Andre Butzer, and Alvarro Barrington.
Distinguishing factor: In addition to his contemporary art collection, Lee also boasts a collection of over 500 art toys that he has amassed since his mid-20s, including pieces by Kaws, Javier Calleja, Haroshi, Junseok Kang, Yoshitomo Nara, Barry McGee, Michael Lau, Jean Julien, Takashi Murakami and James Jean.
Where he shops: Art Basel, Frieze and FIAC, international galleries that operate spaces in Seoul, including Pace, Thaddaeus Ropac and Perrotin, as well as Gagosian, Blum & Poe and David Zwirner.
Recent purchase: Lee recently added a large collage work by Simon Fujiwara to his collection after meeting the artist and learning about his practice during a live Zoom tour organized by Esther Schipper Gallery.
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