Frieze Art Fair makes Asian debut in Seoul, tapping into hot South Korean market

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SEOUL, Sept 2 (Reuters) – VIP guests gathered at Seoul’s COEX convention center on Friday as the city became the first in Asia to host the Frieze Art Fair, which features works from more than 110 galleries around the world entire.

In a nod to South Korea’s millennial-driven art market, which is set for another record year, the Fair – a well-attended showcase of the best works by contemporary artists – moved to the first time beyond its traditional locations in London, New York and Los Angeles.

“We are delighted to now have Seoul, the Korean art fair, as part of Frieze. We were definitely missing an Asian branch,” said Simon Fox, Managing Director of Frieze Group.

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An art hub focused on post-war and contemporary works, South Korea overtook Germany last year to rank fifth among markets, according to UBS Bank and Art Basel’s Art Market Report.

Sales rose 180% to a record 922 billion won ($680 million), according to data from the Korea Arts Management Service (KAMS).

Reasons for this boom include growing interest among millennials, who often see art as an investment opportunity, as well as a favorable tax regime.

A 36-year-old collector, Seoul office worker Lee Young-sang, has been saving up for the long-awaited fair, which opens to the public on Saturday.

“I’m so happy to see amazing works of art in one place and have the ability to buy,” said Lee, who spends most of his disposable income on art and owns around 120 pieces.

Works of art worth less than 60 million won are exempt from capital gains tax in South Korea, and sales tax is levied at a relatively low rate of 22% on a maximum 20% of the price.

Such factors “definitely encourage young collectors to make bold investments,” said tax accountant Kwon Min.

Riding this wave, at least five international galleries have opened or expanded their space in Seoul in 2021 and 2022.

They include global dealer Perrotin, who is opening his second gallery in the glitzy Gangnam district this week to coincide with the fair, and Thaddaeus Ropac, who opened his first last year.

“(South Korea) has an incredible infrastructure – a well-educated public, great academies, artists, museums and committed collectors,” said Thaddaeus Ropac, founder of the eponymous dealership which has galleries in London, Paris and Salzburg.

“(South Korea has) a surprisingly young generation of collectors, probably younger than Europe and America, which is… very exciting for us.”

($1 = 1,356.9800 won)

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Reporting by Joori Roh; edited by John Stonestreet

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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