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A Few Things Kiaf Has to Work on to Gain Recognition as an International Art Fair

Kiaf is one of the largest art fairs in Korea that emphasizes being international. Yet, it still falls short of being recognized as an internationally renowned art fair. Nevertheless, it is expected that, by improving various organizational aspects, Kiaf will be able to gain prominence as an international art fair in the future.

Kiaf 2022. Photo by Kiaf Operating Committee. Courtesy of Kiaf.

Kiaf (Korean International Art Fair) will be holding its second concurrent art fair with Frieze Seoul from September 6 to 10. This year, more than 210 galleries will be participating in Kiaf SEOUL, in addition to 120 galleries at Frieze Seoul, totaling around 300 galleries around the world.

Last year, Kiaf had the opportunity to assess its position in the international art market, as it was held at the same time as the world-renowned Frieze for the first time.

Kiaf is considered one of Korea’s leading art fairs, but it will need to implement various improvements in order to truly reach the international stage. Since Kiaf will be held in two months, it will be interesting to explore how it can further establish its presence and solidify its position in the international art market in the future.

What are art fairs and what are their benefits?

Kiaf 2022. Photo by Kiaf Operating Committee. Courtesy of Kiaf.

An art fair is an event where a number of galleries unite to sell artworks in one location for a short period of time. Art fairs are a great way for participants to exchange information and promote the sale of their work. Galleries are often located across different parts of a country and have limited accessibility among collectors and the public, so art fairs can help them gain visibility by bringing a large number of people together at once.

International art fairs in particular bring about numerous synergistic effects. Such fairs mean galleries can overcome the limitations of geographical boundaries by participating in international art fairs held abroad. Additionally, they can engage in communication with collectors and art professionals from the event’s host location, allowing them to gauge the trends in the local art scene and understand international currents as well.

International art fairs also facilitate networking among collectors, galleries, artists, and experts in the art industry. Furthermore, being large-scale events, such fairs can increase accessibility to art collecting for the general public.

International art fairs bring about significant cultural and economic growth effects beyond those within the art market. As a result, organizers of international art fairs go beyond simply showcasing and selling artworks by incorporating various events related to the fair.

For example, during the event, the fair may plan academic events, such as seminars and conferences, or organize educational programs like tour guides to help collectors visiting the fair understand the artworks more fully. They also provide conversations with artists to make the experience more enjoyable and enriching for visitors.

Furthermore, they build lists of collectors months before the fair opens, and encouraging their participation in the fair. They also collaborate with local art museums, nonprofit organizations, and other businesses to create avenues for people to engage with and learn about art and culture outside the event venue.

What is the current state of international art fairs in Korea?

Kiaf 2022. Photo by Kiaf Operating Committee. Courtesy of Kiaf.

According to the “Korean Art Market Report”” published by the Korean Arts Management Services (KAMS) in 2022, the number of art fairs held in South Korea in 2021 totaled 65, 30 more than took place in 2011, indicating tremendous growth in the Korean art fair market. However, it is also a disappointing aspect of the Korean art market that, despite the continued increase in the number of art fairs, there has been limited growth in terms of international-scale art fairs.

In 2022, the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the KAMS evaluated 17 art fairs that were held in 2021 and applied for evaluation. None of them received the highest rating, and only Kiaf and Art Busan received the second-highest rating.

Kiaf and Art Busan are the largest art fairs in Korea that emphasize being international. However, compared to other international art fairs abroad, they have fewer participating foreign galleries and are criticized for having a relatively simplistic operational structure, raising doubts about their true role as international art fairs.

Kiaf should explore various strategies for improvement

Kiaf 2022. Photo by Kiaf Operating Committee. Courtesy of Kiaf.

This limitation of South Korean international art fairs was further highlighted when Kiaf was first held simultaneously with Frieze Seoul last year. To explore how Kiaf can further establish its presence and solidify its position in the international art market in the future, it is worth considering various strategies it can utilize to achieve these goals.

In particular, experts suggest that, for Kiaf to truly establish itself as an international art fair, it needs to enhance its professional workforce, develop a comprehensive database not only for collectors but also for participating galleries, and adopt a long-term strategic approach rather than being perceived as a one-off event.

Professional workforce

Major international art fairs such as Art Basel and Frieze are comprised of specialized teams. Art Basel, for instance, has a director overseeing every art fair, and they have a large staff that includes dozens of employees in various roles such as operations, budgeting, regional management, communication, and marketing.

Kiaf, meanwhile, is managed by the president of the Galleries Association of Korea, who also serves as the art fair director, and instead of having a separate team dedicated to the art fair, the staff members of the association’s office hold dual roles.

Managing participating galleries

To participate in international art fairs, a gallery must go through a rigorous selection process and bear high costs. Globally renowned art fairs like Art Basel and Frieze establish selection committees composed of well-established gallery professionals who have been recognized for their expertise over a long period of time. These committees adhere to strict yet consistent criteria when choosing participating galleries.

On the other hand, experts have criticized Kiaf for the wide variation in the quality of their participating galleries and artworks from year to year. The Galleries Association of Korea, which operates Kiaf, is an organization with over 160 member galleries in Korea. Kiaf has pointed out that it is driven by the association’s interests and gives priority to galleries affiliated with it.

Art Basel and Frieze focus on giving greater credibility/trust. Disregarding the level of the galleries and the quality of the artworks they present leads to a decrease in trust and credibility surrounding the fair.

Collector Database

Kiaf should go beyond simply building a database of VIP collectors and create a platform through which collectors can network and form connections facilitated by their fair.

While attracting a large number of visitors is important, an art fair is fundamentally a commercial event. Therefore, it should attract diverse domestic and international collectors, provide opportunities for them to become acquainted with participating galleries, and consistently offer various services to enable them to purchase quality artworks at the fair.

However, it should not solely focus on commercial interests. Collectors include not only individuals but also professionals from art institutions as well as experts in the art industry.

Presenting artworks worthy of mention in art history and facilitating purchases by these art professionals and collectors not only enhances the fair’s reputation but also greatly benefits the participating galleries and artists’ careers. Therefore, careful consideration and strategic planning on how to connect specific galleries’ artworks with relevant collectors can significantly impact the fair’s success.

By implementing these strategies and adapting to the evolving needs of the international art market, Kiaf can strengthen its position, showcase its distinct identity, and emerge as a significant player in the global art scene.

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