Korean art

Three Korean galleries set up in New York: Arario Gallery, Gana Art Gallery, and Tina Kim Fine Art expand across the Pacific

Increasingly fashionable artists tempt western collectors


Three Korean galleries are opening branches in New York, reflecting the increasing popularity of Korean contemporary art.

Arario Gallery, which is owned by businessman and ­collector C.I. Kim, already has spaces in Cheonan and Seoul in Korea, and in Beijing. It is opening its fourth branch, Arario New York, on 25th Street in Chelsea next month, with an exhibition of work by contemporary Chinese artists such as Wang Guangyi. Arario will use the gallery, designed by British architect David Adjaye, to show works by Korean, Chinese and Indian artists such as Yang Shaobin, Zeng Hao and sculptor Tallur L.N. “We hope to give the western public more of a chance to appreciate these works, and to overcome the prejudice sometimes associated with the Asian contemporary art scene [that the work is of an inferior quality],” says Jeeah Choi, the director of Arario Seoul.

Gana Art Gallery is also planning to open its first US space, in Chelsea. It recently signed a ten-year lease for 9,800 sq. ft on 11th Avenue, between West 24th and 25th Streets. The gallery became the first Korean dealership with a branch overseas when it opened a space in Paris in 1995. It aims to stage its first exhibition in New York next March.

“We are excited about the opening. Of course there will be huge competition with other foreign galleries in New York but we believe we can build a large network in the western art world for our artists,” says Jungyong Lee, the gallery director.

Tina Kim Fine Art is also set to relocate its gallery, which is currently closed, next to Arario and near the Gana Art Gallery. For the past five years it has been located on 57th Street in Manhattan. The gallery owner, Tina Kim, is the daughter of Lee Hyun Sook, director of one of the leading Korean galleries, Kukje, based in Seoul. In co-operation with Kukje, Ms Kim aims to promote established Korean and western artists in her Chelsea gallery.

Rising market

Korean artists started to gain prominence when Christie’s Hong Kong included eight Korean contemporary works in its Asian contemporary art sale in October 2004. Since then, prices for Korean works have been steadily increasing. The latest Asian contemporary auction at Christie’s Hong Kong in May saw strong demand, with 39 out of the 40 works sold. Pencil I, 1995-98, by Hong Kyong Tack, was the top lot, selling for HK$6.5m ($828,644), way above its upper estimate.

Meanwhile, a number of galleries from the US and Europe have expanded into Korea to capitalise on the emerging ­number of Korean collectors of western art. Recent arrivals include Michael Schultz Gallery and Bitforms Gallery in Seoul, which will shortly be joined by Opera, a secondary market gallery with offices in London, New York, Paris and Venice. It will open a space in the Chungdam District with the Korean fashion house Wearfun.

Michael Schultz Gallery says it has already sold works by Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Georg Baselitz in Seoul. “We first saw the potential of the Korean art market while participating in the Korea International Art Fair, held in May. The response from Korean collectors has been very positive,” said Cho Sungsun, the gallery’s director.