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[From the Scene] Art Busan moves beyond venue

By Park Yuna

Published : May 5, 2023 - 20:38

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"Philip Colbert Lobsteropolis in Busan" by Philip Colbert, created for Art Busan 2023, is on display at the Paradise Hotel Busan. (Courtesy of the Artist and The Page Gallery)

When Art Busan kicked off in 2012, South Korea's second-largest city Busan was an "art desert."

Twelve years later, the organizers claim the fair, which began Thursday, has helped the city turn into a thriving art destination in South Korea. And during this year's four-day air fair, the city’s vibrant art scene lights up beyond its home at the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center.

For instance, at the Paradise Hotel Busan, about 3 kilometers from Bexco, British artist Philip Colbert’s large-scale lobster installation, created for Art Busan 2023, has been placed, quickly becoming a popular photo spot among visitors.

And there is “Art Shuttle,” run by the organizers, which take fair-goers, albeit only for VIPs, to studios, galleries and other art-related venues in the port city.

“We do not just focus on trading art. Our aim has been to provide a diverse range of experiences and touring opportunities for everyone visiting the fair and the city,” Jeong Seok-ho, managing director of Art Busan, told The Korea Herald.

“This way, we believe more people will appreciate art, and it will eventually lead the market to expand,” he added.

Craft artist Kim Min-wook explains on his work on Thursday as part of the Art Shuttle tour in Busan. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald) Craft artist Kim Min-wook explains on his work on Thursday as part of the Art Shuttle tour in Busan. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

On Thursday, “Art Shuttle” for a press tour took participants to a studio filled with the scent of camphor wood. The studio belongs to Kim Min-wook who was one of the top 30 finalists for the Loewe Foundation Craft Prize 2022. Using a wood turning lathe, Kim makes wafer-thin bowls, clamped and stapled with copper. Kim said the scent of the ground camphor wood somehow inspired him to create bowls.

“I use a tree trunk that is eaten by insects. The heavy tree turns into a light tree bowl,” the artist said.

Another destination was the Johyun Gallery, situated on a hilly alley with a view of the sea near Haeundae Beach. The gallery is currently hosting a solo exhibition of Korean painter Kim Hong-joo.

A studio of Lee Ok-nam in Busan is open to the public during Art Busan 2023 that runs through Sunday. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald) A studio of Lee Ok-nam in Busan is open to the public during Art Busan 2023 that runs through Sunday. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

The final destination of the tour was artist Lee Ok-nam’s studio. Lee greeted visitors, providing tea and food in the garden of her studio, which was full of her signature paper sculptures.

Even in the online sphere, the art fair aims to provide a convenient and immersive experience. This year's edition has partnered with South Korean tech giant Kakao to incorporate AI technology into their chat application. The chatting service provides information on galleries and artists, as well as personalized recommendations for novice collectors based on their preferences.

Back at the Exhibition Center 1 of Bexco, 145 galleries from 22 countries are showcasing their collections to pique collectors’ interest, although sales this year might be slower than in 2022.

People visit Art Busan 2023 on Friday, the first public day of the art fair, at Bexco in Busan. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald) People visit Art Busan 2023 on Friday, the first public day of the art fair, at Bexco in Busan. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Growing into the second-largest art fair in the country, Art Busan enjoyed record-breaking sales result last year.

While some major galleries saw solid sales this year, many galleries felt sales have slowed compared to last year when Art Busan 2022 generated 75 billion won ($57 million) in sales.