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[Herald Interview] Seoul Auction continues to show Korean art in Asia -- and beyond

By Park Yuna

Published : March 26, 2024 - 17:22

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Yoon Hyun-sik, head of sales at Seoul Auction's global business team, speaks to The Korea Herald during an interview on March 15 in Seoul. (Seoul Auction) Yoon Hyun-sik, head of sales at Seoul Auction's global business team, speaks to The Korea Herald during an interview on March 15 in Seoul. (Seoul Auction)

When Seoul Auction held its inaugural auction in Hong Kong in 2008, there was only a “single goal” in mind -- to herald Korean art to the global art scene, introducing it to new collectors in Asia. For the past 16 years, the resolve has remained firm for Korea’s leading auction house.

On Monday, at Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, the auction house kicked off a preview of its "Contemporary Art Sale” scheduled to take place in Seoul at 3 p.m., Friday.

“We have put in so much effort this time, from selecting artworks to previews both in Hong Kong and Seoul. I think the time we have endured is paying off after all,” Yoon Hyun-sik, head of sales at Seoul Auction's global business team, told The Korea Herald on March 15 at the company’s headquarters in southern Seoul.

"3-Ⅴ-71 #203" by Kim Whan-ki (Seoul Auction)

"Korean art was not widely known when Seoul Auction tried out the Hong Kong market -- not many people were familiar with Korean art at the time. Now people have much more interest in Korean artists than before. People from international galleries and museums ask about the Korean art scene and atmosphere,” he added.

The highlight of Friday's auction is a 2.1-meter-tall painting by Korea’s pioneering abstract painter Kim Whan-ki (1913-1974) in 1971 – which will mark the first all-over dot painting put on the block by the auction house since 2018. At a Christie's auction in 2019, Kim’s painting "Universe 5-IV-71 #200” recorded the highest-ever price for a Korean art work sold at an auction at 13.2 billion won ($9.8 million).

“Kim is a very important figure in Korean art and deserves more global recognition than he receives now. He is an artist who shares the time of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and American artists Andy Warhol and Mark Rothko,” he said.

When Ho-Am Museum of Art held a solo exhibition of the artist last year, it was visited by more than 150,000 visitors, marking the largest number of visitors of any exhibition at the museum.

An installation view of An installation view of "Contemporary Art Sale" preview in Hong Kong at Grand Hyatt Hong Kong running through Thursday (Seoul Auction)

Kim’s large-scale painting’s estimated price at the auction is 5 to 8 billion won. The dot-painting features colors that include black, green and the so-called “Whanki blue,” the artist's signature blue color. It was painted three years before Kim's death in 1974 at the age of 60.

More than 80 artworks worth around 18 billion won in total will be on sale at the upcoming auction in Seoul, which will include Yun Hyong-keun’s “Umber Blue” created in the 1970s and “Umber ’90-66” in 1990. Works by Korean Chung Shin, Choi Hye-ji and Kim Sun-woo will also go under the hammer. K-Pop artist G-Dragon’s “Youth is Flower” will mark the first-ever artwork by the artist to be shown at an auction.

An installation view of An installation view of "Contemporary Art Sale" preview at Seoul Auction's headquarters in Seoul that opened March 7 (Seoul Auction)

The preview in Hong Kong will run through Thursday, accompanied by an artist talk program featuring Chun Kwang-young and Kim Sun-woo. The preview in Seoul, which opened March 7 at Seoul Auction's headquarters, will also continue through on Thursday.

In Hong Kong, Yoon expects to meet international collectors from not only Hong Kong, but China and Southeast Asia as well.

The auctioneer is gauging the timing “to resume an auction” in Hong Kong -- it has not held an auction in Hong Kong since the pandemic -- but is not sure when it will be given the market mood in the region.

Concerning the arrival of international auction houses in Seoul, including Sotheby's and Phillips, Yoon sees that phenomenon as a "good opportunity" especially for Korean artists whose works will get more exposure to the world's leading players in the art scene.

"I don't see it as a threat to Seoul Auction. In fact, it is a good thing for us to have the 'pie' grow. We have a strong relationship with artists and collectors that has been built over decades," he said.

Yoon who was appointed the head of the global business team in 2019 said he is turning his eyes to the countries in the Middle East which are aggressively growing their cultural scenes.

“We have not planned anything yet, but I will soon personally visit the region to experience the art scene there and explore the market,” he said.