Art: Korea’s newest commodity

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Art: Korea’s newest commodity


Recently, the line between art and the market has gotten less noticeable ― so much so that banks are now becoming galleries. The Korea Exchange Bank’s Pyeongchang branch opened its “Rose Gallery” (the bank’s signature flower is a rose) on Sept. 4. Although other banks have hung paintings on their walls here and there, the Rose Gallery is unlike its predecessors in its scale and the kind of artwork featured, including works by noted artists such as Kim Heung-soo and Lee Jong-sang, worth more than 200 million won ($208,904) a piece.
“A piece of art is an article of commerce as well as a work of art,” said Jung Jae-ho, the director of One and J. Gallery, during a lecture, “Advice for Beginners on How to Collect Art,” at Gallery Loop last Thursday. He was one of two lecturers featured during a forum titled “An Approach to the Alternative Art Market,” a part of the Artist Forum International 2006, in which leading alternative galleries in Korea held exhibitions, residency programs, seminars and art auctions this month.
The forum was created in the midst of a trend in which the art market in Korea has become a viable area of investment, with art funds and auctions grabbing the attention of not only the privileged and wealthy, but others who might not have had any interest in the past. “We organized this program in order to encourage a new group of collectors to get more excited about this field. The existing art market had a short-term concept of art collecting, in which artists with present day asset-value were appreciated. The focus was also more on modern art than contemporary art,” said Suh Jin-suk, the director of Gallery Loop, a frontier alternative space in Seoul and a main participant in the Artist Forum International 2006. “Through this forum, we wanted to connect the new audience in art, with interest in experimental, contemporary works by younger artists, to the center of the art market and encourage them to take part in collecting,” he added.


Art collecting is a very new concept for the Korean public, and the country’s first real auction house, Seoul Auction, was only founded in 1999. In 2005, a former employee of Seoul Auction, Kim Soon-ung, founded his own house, K-Auction.
Presently, the art market is gaining ground as a more approachable realm for the general public in Korea, as well as international audiences. Korean artists are being acknowledged in exhibitions globally and have sold at top prices in auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s. “One reason for the art market gaining the attention of the public is the government’s decision to make a tax exemption for art in 2004. Since then, collecting art has become a new investment opportunity for many people,” commented Lee Ho-sook, a specialist at the fine arts department of Seoul Auction, who also lectured at Gallery Loop. “However, another main reason is that more innovative, top-quality works by contemporary Korean artists are coming out. As a result, a new group of collectors that are interested in edgier, more experimental art have a voice and are becoming more involved,” Ms. Lee added.


So how does one take the first steps to become involved in art collecting? The experts say that the most important thing for beginners is to look at, read and study various art works before deciding to buy. “However, ultimately you shouldn’t rely on anybody else’s opinion of an art work. Even an essay by the most acclaimed art critic is still only one personal opinion,” said Mr. Jung. He said there is no method of looking at a contemporary artwork and estimating how much it is going to be worth, simply because, “there is less of a history there than say, with modern art. Nobody can really predict accurately how much a piece is going to be worth.”
Another important rule of thumb is to start collecting within your financial budget. “There is no need to go out and buy a really expensive piece of work, in order to show your status or to make it an investment piece. The price of art is very unstable. Find something you personally like that you can actually afford. Or if you are looking for an investment piece, research and try to be level-headed when judging what you want,” said Ms. Lee.
A cautionary case ― Vincent van Gogh’s “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” was sold by Christie’s for a record-breaking $82.5 million to a Japanese businessman in 1990. However, because the buyer couldn’t repay the bank loan he took out for the purchase, the painting ended up being owned by the bank. “It just goes to show that auction prices do not equal ‘real’ value. They’re more of a competition of who wants what the most,” Mr. Jung said.

10 tips for new art collectors By Jung Jae-ho

1. Decide on the works you don’t like first ― and then look for the ones you like.

2. Experience various forms of art, whether in galleries, at art fairs, auctions or alternative spaces.

3. Read art-related magazines and books. (“Not only to learn about what the artist intended to do, but also to broaden your horizons and take in different perspectives.”)

4. Take interest in the artists. (“Especially contemporary artists ― don’t miss the chance of talking to these people and hearing what they have to say, as contemporaries.”)

5. Set a budget for your art collecting.

6. Remember that just because a work is expensive does not mean it is overpriced.

7. It’s not about quantity, but quality.

8. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. (“Many people are intimidated when walking into a gallery but the curators and employees are there to answer questions about art! Be a bit more gutsy and ask away.”)

9. Everybody makes mistakes. (“Especially if you are a newcomer. If you buy an art work that you later regret buying, don’t be discouraged ― it happens to everyone.”)

10. Enjoy and invest in works that touch you personally (“Don’t be too swayed by current trends.”)

5 things to look for when buying art By Lee Ha-sook

1. Look at the artist’s signature. (“Depending on how the artist signs a certain work, the price can go up or down.”)

2. Identify the date of the work. (“Even with the same artist, the price can vary substantially depending on which year or which phase of his/her artistic career the work was made.”)

3. Be aware that there are fakes out there. (“If a work is surprisingly low in price compared to its market value, be careful.”)

4. Verify the physical state that the work is in. (“Even if a piece is rare and valuable, if it is in poor condition, its value goes down.”)

5. Note where the work has been before it got to you. (“If an art work was owned by someone influential in the art world, let’s say, a famous collector, the work is going to be that much more valuable.”)

by Cho Jae-eun
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