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Art and Seoul

By MONIQUE TODA, The Philippine STAR Published Sep 19, 2022 5:00 am Updated Sep 19, 2022 10:48 am

I was high on art, and all of my senses were on overdrive. I felt all the excitement and buzz.

The location: Seoul, South Korea. The event: the Frieze Seoul Art Fair. The London-based Frieze group organizes “the largest contemporary art meetings in the world,” and Frieze Seoul was their first art exhibition in Asia.

Held alongside it, on a different floor, was the Kiaf Art Fair, which is the leading art fair in South Korea.

I was quite thrilled to fly in and attend the event early this month, and knew I had a long and immersive day ahead. There were a total of 118 top galleries participating in Frieze Seoul. Not to mention another 164 at the Kiaf Art Fair.

Trickie Lopa, cofounder of Art Fair Philippines, was also in town to attend the double event. “It felt good to attend an art fair with the caliber of Frieze, not just in a very accessible city for the art crowd in this part of the world, but in a city like Seoul that’s experiencing its cultural moment,” she said. “KIAF clearly upped its ante as well, a good fair to discover up-and-coming artists from Korea and the wider Asian region.”

The Korean Economic Daily has claimed that Frieze Seoul, the first exhibition of the group in Asia, had “most of the famous pieces on display sold out on the spot, or pre-sold.” This has made Seoul emerge as Frieze’s number-two market, even outshining New York and LA.

The author in front of a work by Kim Whanki, the pioneering abstract artist of Korea

The first fabulous artwork that greeted me as I entered the Frieze exhibit was “Tranquility 5-IV-73” by Kim Whanki, the pioneering abstract artist of Korea. It was from the collection of the Kukje Gallery.

Other artworks included were: “Sonic Rotating Whatever Running on Hemisphere #13 and #19,” which were steel orbs punctuated with water taps; and a white Labradorite footstool by Jenny Holzer entitled “Selection from Truisms: Calm is more conducive…”

“Space (Galaxy Mandala)” by Tavares Strachnan at the Perrotin Gallery

I then proceeded to one of Gallery Perrotin’s exhibits (they had multiple locations). The international gallery had a solo presentation of Tavares Strachan. This was the New York-based and cosmonaut-trained artist’s highly anticipated premiere in Asia. His art features the “under-recognized and unfamiliar — people, places, events, objects, concepts, and phenomena.” In Frieze Soul, he focused on three themes: Invisibles, Galaxy, and Galaxy Mandala.

“Untitled 2021” by “the most famous living Japanese contemporary artist,” Yoshitomo Nara

At the Pace Gallery I found Yoshitomo Nara’s “Untitled 2021” with his signature “menacing child.” I like Nara and was delighted to see this work in person. In 2019, Nara’s “Knife Behind Back” was auctioned at a record setting $25 million. ARTnews has described him as “arguably the most famous living Japanese contemporary artist.”

“Throne (g/p_pyramid)” by iconic Japanese sculptor Kohei Nawa

At the Arairo Gallery, I was mesmerized by “Throne (g/p_pyramid)” by iconic Japanese sculptor Kohei Nawa, which looked like it was done in gold. Nara is also famous for his PixCell Deer series. Another popular Japanese artist featured was Takashi Murakami: six paintings of his famous Murakami flowers were displayed side by side.

Filipino artist Leslie de Chavez at Frieze Seoul

The Philippines was also represented. At the Arairo gallery, I discovered Filipino artist Leslie de Chavez with his multi-panel artwork “There Is Not Enough Pain and Pleasure in the World to Permit Giving Any of It Away to the Greed of Mankind.”

The Drawing Room at Frieze Seoul featured a series by Jose Santos I

Two Filipino galleries had spaces as well. There was The Drawing Room, which presented Jose Santos III, who focused on a series pertaining to the COVID lockdowns and carefully emerging from it. The series had “images of pause; the passage of time; isolation and confinement: barriers, wrapped objects, empty containers, locks and locked doors.”

There was a lot to take in at this art event. But its success ensures that there will be another one next year (hopefully). And I will surely be there again.

Digitally woven tapestry entitled “An Unravelling (Conversation Among Ruins, After Francisco)” by Patricia Perez Eustaquio at the Silverlens Gallery

The concept of the Silverlens Gallery was Southeast Asian art, featuring paintings by Pow Martinez, woven mats by Yee I-Lann, and a digitally woven tapestry by Patricia Perez Eustaquio referencing our “babaylan.”

“Femme au Beret Rouge a Pompon” by Pablo Picasso

The art fair had a Frieze Masters Section where the more established artists and their pieces were presented. It was spectacular and my favorite part of the fair. At the Gagosian, I saw a queue of people taking photos and selfies with Picasso’s “Femme au Beret Rouge a Pompon,” so I did the same. Right beside it was the splendid “Nu au Châle Vert” by Henri Matisse. There was also the legendary “Composition: No. II, with Yellow, Red and Blue” by Piet Mondrian.

“Kerzenschein (Candle-light)” by Gerhard Richter, one of the most important contemporary German artists.

Other breathtaking and impressive art in this area included “Study for Portrait of John Edwards” by Francis Bacon, “Kerzenschein (Candle-light)” by Gerhard Richter, “Untitled (Capri 54.13)” by Mark Grotjahn, “Vanda Orchid” by Jonas Wood, an enormous tribal mask by Keith Haring called “Untitled, 1987,” a James Wilkinson ink on paper by David Hockney, and “Duck” by Jean-Michel Basquiat.

“Prada Double Cheeseburger” by Tom Sachs

There were also a few Andy Warhol paintings, totally iconic. Tom Sachs, who redefines consumer goods, was represented by his “Prada Double Cheeseburger” installation and “Scotch Nose Cone” on canvas. Not to be missed, of course, was Damien Hirst’s “High Windows” (2006), which also had many people lining up for photos.

Aside from the masters, there was a Focus Asia section where emerging Asian artists were given an avenue to showcase their talent, including Ali Behesti, Osamu Mori and others.

“Reclining Figure 4” by Korean artist Gwon Osang

Since I was in Korea, it was also good to check out works by Nam June Paik, an American-Korean artist who is considered to be the founder of video art. A few of his installations were included in different galleries in the fair. There was also Gwon Osang, who is known for his non-traditional sculptures using photos. I found at least one piece, which was “Reclining Figure 4.” There could have been more that I missed. It was overwhelming at times.

There was a lot to take in at this art event. But its success ensures that there will be another one next year (hopefully). And I will surely be there again.