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3 Korean Women Leaders Who Are Demonstrating Their Leadership at the Asian Offices of the World's Top 3 Art Auction Houses

Exterior view of Sotheby's, Christie's, and Phillips.

Today, many women figures are active in the contemporary art world, trying to reflect diversity and fostering Korean art.

For instance, the Seoul Museum of Art’s director Baek Ji-sook analyzed and constructed data containing information on the collection. It is now the only art museum to disclose data on the collection and analysis of works by female artists in Korea. Lee Sook-kyung, senior curator of international art at Tate Modern in London, has been appointed as the artistic director of the 14th Gwangju Biennale, the first time in 15 years that the foundation has been appointed a Korean curator as its artistic director.

Women leaders in the art auction houses have also been engaged in various activities leading the contemporary art world in Korea.

Sotheby’s and Phillips have selected Jane Yoon and Suh Min-hee to lead their Korean offices, respectively. Yunah Jung, a specialist at Christie’s Hong Kong headquarters, has been promoting contemporary Korean art.

Jane Yoon, Managing Director of Korea office, Sotheby’s. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

One of the world’s two largest art auction houses, along with Christie’s, Sotheby’s has been trying to expand its activities in Asia to diversify its base in the Asian art market as the market has shown steep growth.

For instance, Sotheby’s brought back its Singapore auction in late August after fifteen years. They have also appointed a new director for the Thailand office to expand its activities in the country, where its sales numbers doubled between 2017 and 2021.

Sotheby’s will also open a new Shanghai headquarters to commemorate its fiftieth anniversary of opening its Hong Kong headquarters. Despite Hong Kong’s political instability, the auction house sees the potential in the Chinese market as Greater China remains the second-largest art market after the United States as of 2021.

Another stronghold in the Asian art market is South Korea. Sotheby’s was the first international auction house to open an office in Korea in April 1990 but closed its Korea location in the early 2000s.

With the recent rapid growth of the Korean art market, which is expected to reach 1 trillion KRW this year, Sotheby’s announced that it would reopen its Seoul office for the first time in about twenty years last August. This year, Sotheby’s reported that the number of young millennial collectors in Korea increased by more than fifty percent compared to the previous year.

Sotheby’s will focus on opening the Seoul office by appointing Jane Yoon as the managing director of Sotheby’s Korea. Jane Yoon has worked for Art Basel and Christie’s Hong Kong over the past twenty-three years and has built a career in the Korean, New York, and Chinese art worlds. Most recently, she joined Phillips to open a Korean office in 2017.

Suh Min-hee, Regional Director of Korea office, Phillips. Courtesy of Phillips.

Phillips, one of the world’s top three auction houses, has been running an office in Korea since 2018. Phillips reported that at auctions in 2021, the winning rate of Korean collectors increased by 323 percent compared to the previous year, and private sales also saw 90 percent growth.

As Korea is one of the fastest-growing art markets, Phillips has been expanding its activities in the country by appointing a new Korean office director on November 18, Suh Min-hee. Before joining Phillips, Suh served as a specialist and director of modern and contemporary art at K Auction.

Phillips said that director Min-hee Suh, who has accumulated experience in major Korean auction companies, is expected to contribute to expanding the Phillips brand by interacting with various collectors through cooperation with Phillips’ Asian team and global experts.

Yunah Jung, Senior Specialist and Vice President for the Asian 20th & Contemporary Art, Christie’s. Courtesy of Christie’s.

While Sotheby’s Jane Yoon and Phillips Suh Min-hee will lead the Korean offices, Yunah Jung has been promoting Korean contemporary art as a senior specialist and vice president for the Asian 20th & Contemporary Art at Christie’s Hong Kong.

In 2014, Jung organized an auction section with Korea’s Dansaekhwa paintings for the first time at Christie’s. The auction attracted a lot of interest from major collectors in the United States and Europe, leading the auction to success.

The following year, Jung opened an exhibition throughout the main exhibition halls of Christie’s New York at Rockefeller Center titled Forming Nature: Dansaekhwa, Korean Abstract Art.  She also introduced Dansaekhwa to the Asian market in 2019. Through these exhibitions, she laid the foundation for Dansaekhwa to take its place in the major art market. 

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