Art Busan & Design Art Fair opens amid Korea coronavirus pandemic –

It’s been the year without Art Basels and Friezes, and in most parts of the world all the other art fairs of its kind – physical, with collectors walking the aisles and dealers pitching – are still there. far. But in the Asia-Pacific realm, where the coronavirus pandemic is relatively under control, some of the events are unfolding rapidly, albeit in modified forms.

Thursday in South Korea, Busan Art & Design opened its doors to VIPs at the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center for its ninth edition. There are 60 exhibitors, including Kukje, Lehmann Maupin, Hyundai, Gladstone and Thaddaeus Ropac, as well as temperature checks, mandatory masks and a strictly limited number of tickets.

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The annual showcase usually takes place in May, but in mid-March, with infection rates skyrocketing around the world, Art Busan organizers chose to postpone it until the second half of the year. “Like everyone else, we were hoping and assuming that after the summer things would get a lot better,” said fair director Seokho Jeong. “How naive were we? “

Art Busan considered September and November as the new date and chose the latter, so that it comes a week after the inaugural edition of the Art SG fair in Singapore. Even though Art SG was excluded (for the second year in a row), this timing turned out to be premonitory. A Covid-19 outbreak in South Korea at the end of August forced the cancellation of the long International Korean Art Fair a few weeks before its scheduled race in September.

Ai Weiwei, “Marble slab n ° 1”, 2009.

Ai Weiwei Marble plate n ° 1 (2009), which Tang brings to the fair.
Angel Gil – J Angel Gil Lema

Making the decision in March, Jeong said they anticipate a busy show schedule in the fall and the likelihood that galleries face tough balance sheets. in a typical year.

While many exhibitors travel to town to do business under normal circumstances, South Korea is enforcing a two-week quarantine for those arriving from beyond its borders, which has deterred some but certainly not all. to participate. Ropac director Kyu Jin Hwang, who is based in London and focuses on Asia, said she had just completed the mandatory wait for the second time. “I arrived in Korea in early October for my quarantine, then had meetings with clients for a week,” she said. It exhibits works by Georg Baselitz, Jules de Balincourt and Lee Bul, among others.

And such travel restrictions aren’t necessarily an insurmountable obstacle for foreign resellers who don’t want to brave quarantine: they now have people stationed in Korea.

Lee Bul,

Lee Bul, Lost XLIII, 2020, which will be on the booth of Lehmann Maupin, established in Seoul since 2017.

Gladstone, which has branches in New York and Brussels, added a director in Seoul earlier this year – HeeJin Park (formerly of local heavyweight Kukje) – and has parts by Sarah Lucas, Anicka Yi and others at Busan. Galerie König, in Berlin, London and Tokyo, has been working with a team in Seoul for several years, said director Dina Münzfeld. Freewheeling paintings by veteran German artist Karl Horst Hödicke hang on its stand. (Its founder, Johann König, was reported as hunting for a space in the city last year.)

Lehmann Maupin, which has branches in New York, Hong Kong and London, opened in Seoul in 2017 and signed for Art Busan for the first time this year after the postponement. “The Covid situation has caused us to move our explorations to regional fairs where we can physically present and communicate directly with collectors,” said Emma Son, senior director of the Seoul-based gallery.

Art Busan was also able to facilitate quarantine exemptions for some high-level gallery staff, Jeong said, which secures their release after a negative coronavirus test, although this may require an overnight wait in a government-selected institution.

Even with fairly low cases of the virus at the moment (the nation of about 52 million people reported 118 new infections on Tuesday), Jeong noted that some collectors are understandably concerned about the risk of attending a fair. To address this, Art Busan is teaming up with a company called Artland to offer 3D booth tours, an online and offline hybrid model touted as the first of its kind in the region. (A handful of galleries that have given up on a trip to the country are also holding exhibitions online only with the fair, such as Berliner Carlier Gebauer, which features works by Laure Prouvost, who had a star turn at the French pavilion during of the last Venice Biennale.)

The pandemic has also led the show to considerably reduce attendance: only 2,000 tickets are available each day. (In a typical year, organizers count around 60,000 visitors over its four days.)

Karl Horst Hödicke, 'Blond und rot auf der grauen Treppe,' 1977

From König: Karl Horst Hödicke, Blond und rot auf der grauen Treppe, 1977.

We do not want to exaggerate, but the chance to actually attend a fair can bring a certain novelty today. It is an “extraordinary opportunity to present – and experience – art in person,” said Lehmann Maupin’s Son, and the gallery “therefore selected artists who opt for unconventional materials and textures to break down elaborate socio-political concepts “. She highlighted “Lee Bul’s use of mother-of-pearl, Teresita Fernández’s application of natural materials and Nicholas Hlobo’s hand-sewn canvases”.

Yonni Park, a Korea-based associate director for Tang Contemporary Art, which has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and Bangkok, said that “in Korea, during the severe time of the Covid pandemic, the art market was completely frozen. But as the situation improves more and more, collectors have received more and more requests. Among Tang’s offerings are works by Ai Weiwei, Wu Wei, and Zhao Zhao.

Ropac's booth at Art Busan & Design 2020.

Ropac’s booth at Art Busan & Design 2020.

“Before the pandemic, to be honest, there were a lot of people – even galleries or collectors or anyone in the art world – who felt exhausted by art fairs because there are just too much, ”Jeong said. And online fairs are not ideal substitutes. “There just isn’t that excitement that you get and feel from physical fairs, meeting people and going to parties and seeing the works of art that you are actually going to buy, yourself, in front of you.”

He’s not the only one to bet that other people feel the same way. The weekend after Busan, the Art021 and West Bund Art & Design fairs will take place in Shanghai, and at the end of the month, Art Basel will bring together 22 local galleries at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center for a show called Hong Kong Spotlight— son first in-person event of the year.

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Joseph E. Golightly