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[Herald Interview] Frieze CEO sees permeating local cultural scene as key to fair's success

By Park Yuna

Published : Sept. 7, 2023 - 16:00

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Frieze CEO Simon Fox (courtesy of Frieze) Frieze CEO Simon Fox (courtesy of Frieze)

As the date for the second edition of Frieze Seoul approached, museums and galleries in Seoul unveiled their plans to ensure the fair becomes the highlight of the year. At the same time, galleries and global auctioneers are exploring opportunities to establish permanent spaces within the city.

“I was absolutely overwhelmed by the enthusiasm that everybody in Seoul has for Frieze Seoul, and of course for Kiaf Seoul, by the number of events that are happening around the city. It is not something that we necessarily see in other cities,” Frieze CEO Simon Fox told The Korea Herald in Seoul on Wednesday.

Frieze Seoul, which made its debut in Asia last year in Seoul, has attracted more than 70,000 visitors to the fair along with Kiaf Seoul, a longstanding art fair based in Seoul.

The two fairs brought together more than 330 galleries from across the globe, including some 120 galleries featured by Frieze Seoul this year. Frieze Seoul 2023 runs through Saturday and Kiaf Seoul 2023 closes on Monday.

The powerful vibrancy of the Korean art scene has continued to grow with the opening of the global art fair, as overseas collectors and leading art figures from around the world flock to the city. A number of international galleries have also brought their works to meet Seoul-based collectors.

The CEO said that the success of the art fair depends on how well it integrates with the city’s cultural scene, bringing people from overseas to experience the city beyond the fair itself. Seoul seems to be mustering all efforts to capitalize on the opportunity, as a number of art events are being presented by the private sector.

This year has been even more special in terms of major events in the city, where Seoul Fashion Week and the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2023 are taking place at the same time as Frieze Seoul.

“Frieze Seoul is part of a whole ecosystem of activities and cultural activities that make being in the city for four or five days a really exciting moment in people’s calendars. I believe what has made Frieze Seoul so successful is that people from overseas want to explore Seoul -- I believe there is a lot for the overseas collectors to do while they are here,” he said.

Since its debut in Seoul, the fair has worked alongside Kiaf Seoul, sharing programs and designating tickets that allow visitors access to the two fairs which take place at the same venue -- an unprecedented collaborative format between the global franchised art fair and a local art fair.

“We are here at the invitation of Kiaf Seoul,” Fox said. “I believe they saw the opportunity that Frieze Seoul brings to put an international spotlight on Korean art and Korean galleries. Because of our global presence, the attention that came last year in particular to the city was extraordinary.”

Frieze recently revealed its ambition to expand its presence in the US, the biggest art market in the world, by taking over the Armory Show in New York and Expo Chicago in July. It already runs two fairs in the region -- Frieze LA and Frieze New York.

The CEO hinted at a possible rearrangement of the schedule of Frieze Seoul and the Armory Show, as their dates overlap. The Armory Show kicks off on Thursday and runs through Sunday in New York City.

“There will be the same dates next year (for Frieze Seoul), but we are going to work with the convention center Javits in New York and with Coex to see if there is any flexibility to move either the New York show or our Seoul fair by a week or two. It is not ideal that they overlap, which is not helpful for galleries and collectors that want to attend both.

“I hope we can achieve this in the next year or two, but it depends on the schedule in the convention center,” he said.