Despite current economic uncertainty in South Korea, its art market remains booming as Western galleries continue to open and expand in its capital. The commercial gallery Peres Projects, which is headquartered in Berlin, is the latest to do so, having now opened a second, larger space in Seoul. The four-storey, 2,060 sq ft gallery is located in the Sagan-dong neighbourhood, near the trendy Gwanghwamun area. Peres Projects opened its first space in Seoul last year—a small gallery in the basement of the luxury Shilla Hotel.
“Gwanghwamun is one of the most culturally active areas in Seoul,” says Peres Projects founder Javier Peres. Filled with tourists wearing traditional Korean hanboks, the area is also “home to the most important historic Korean galleries, museums such as the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA Seoul), and historic sites such as the National Palace. The area attracts both local and foreign audiences, and its streets see intense foot traffic,” he says, adding that it contrasts to the "much more secluded and private" Shilla location.
The new gallery’s first-floor gallery opened with a solo exhibiton of work by Cece Philips—her first show in Korea. Walking the In-Between sold out prior to opening, Peres says. A group show fills the second floor, with the upper stories of the building used for office and reception spaces.
Immediately after opening the new space, Peres Projects took part in Art Busan in early May—the fair's first edition since the inaugural Frieze Seoul. Held in the affluent seaside city, Art Busan is considered Korea’s second most important domestically-organised fair, after Kiaf, and this year saw around 145 galleries take part. Joining the fair since 2019, Peres says, "Art Busan has played a central role in our activities in Korea. One could say that Busan is to Korea what Miami is to the US: a coastal holiday destination and, therefore, a great meeting point."
At Art Busan, the gallery showed artists including Shuang Li, Bayrol Jiménez and Manuel Solano to “satisfying” sales, says Peres Projects' Asia managing director Kacey E. Cho. “We were especially impressed by the Korean collectors’ enthusiasm for young artists,” she adds, with particular interest in Donna Huanca and Richard Kennedy, due to their concurrent solo exhibitions in the country. Kennedy’s show Acey-Deucey runs until 4 June at Gwangyang’s Jeonnam Museum of Art and Huanca’s solo project Bliss Pool runs until 8 June at the Seoul nonprofit Space K.
“Although young collectors make up a significant and growing portion of South Korea's collector base, Art Busan still attracts visitors from different segments of Korean society,” Peres says. Similarly, “our collector base in Korea is very broad in age range.
On Peres Projects' roster are a number of young artists with diverse a range of racial, sexual and gender identities, such as the self-taught Philips whose paintings celebrate queer Black life, and the Kurdish-German immigrant Melike Kara. But certain social issues remain taboo or controversial in South Korea. For example, the 2023 edition of the Seoul Queer Culture Festival this summer has struggled to secure its usual venue, Seoul Plaza, due, in part, to opposition from Christian right-wing protestors.
“As a gallery, our mission has always been to promote compelling artists who bring new voices and heightened perspectives on how to share new ideas,” which means “championing artists from diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds, as well as many women artists,” Peres says. Facilitating audience expansion and appreciation for their artists has led to relationships with local institutions like Space K, focusing on artists from traditionally marginalised groups. “Some of the artists we work with are very interested in exploring socio-economic and political themes, but this doesn’t mean that we focus all our activities on their priorities alone.”