The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Korea and the Korea Arts Management Service (KAMS) have released the Survey on the Art Market every year since 2009 to provide statistical data on Korea’s art market size in the previous year. The 2021 Survey on the Art Market, a report on the 2020 art market, was published in December, 2021.
The survey is divided largely into four sectors: the art market area; the public area; a summary analysis of the global art market; and the attendance figures of art exhibitions in Korea.
A brief summary of the art market figures from the survey, which include those for 503 galleries, 9 auction houses, and 35 art fairs, is provided below.
In 2020, when the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was declared a global pandemic, the total sales of art and antiques, including public and market sectors, had reached 384.9 billion KRW (approximately US $317 million). The market sector, which includes galleries, auction houses, and art fairs, declined by 14% to 327.962 billion KRW ($270 million).
Korean galleries’ revenue overall decreased by 11.3% to 172.319 billion KRW ($142 million), while the sales of art and antiques specifically fell by 10.5% to 165.773 billion KRW ($136 million).
Of the 503 galleries, sixteen exceeded 1 billion KRW in revenue, and their average amounted about 8.4 billion KRW ($7 million). 8,082 works were sold in Seoul, which accounted for 70.8% of the total number of 11,422 artworks, while sales of painting, excluding traditional Eastern paintings, accounted for 73.8%. The artworks in the the survey was classified by genre, but not by period.
The sales of artworks at auction houses declined the least, by 0.5% to 115.298 billion KRW ($95 million), but their revenue overall fell 28% to 57.598 billion KRW ($47 million). Of nine auction houses, two had revenue that exceeded 5 billion KRW ($4 million).
There were 493 public fine art auctions throughout 2020. Only thirty-two (6.5%) were offline public auctions, while 461 (93.5%) were online auctions. About 25.6 billion KRW ($21 million) worth of works were sold through online auctions. The segment of works that sold for less than 1 million KRW (roughly $900) in online auctions experienced the highest demand and accounted for 68.1%. The largest segment by value was works that sold for between 1 million KRW to less than 3 million KRW and accounted for 21.5%.
The sales of paintings, excluding traditional Eastern paintings, dominated and accounted for 48.2% in sales and 36.2% in the total number of works sold.
Art fairs’ total sales of works showed the steepest decline of 41% to 46.89 billion KRW ($38 million), and the income overall fell 42.9% to 9,028 million KRW ($7 million).
Twenty-nine of 35 art fairs earned an annual revenue less than 500 million KRW ($410,000) in 2020 (84.9%), while three were in the 500 million to less than 1 billion KRW revenue range (8%), and two earned between 1 billion to less than 10 billion KRW (7.1%).
All art fairs welcomed and showcased modern and contemporary art in their events. Only one fair was dedicated to specific genres, while the remainder accepted all types.
Paintings (traditional Eastern paintings not included) dominated in art fairs as well and accounted for 86.4%.
The survey also provides statistical data on the works of Korean artists sold internationally.
For Korean artists’ works sold at international auctions, the survey referred to reports by Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Phillips, Seoul Auction, SBI Auction, and Bonham’s. A total of 9.68 billion KRW ($ 8 million) worth of works was sold at international auctions, which constituted only 19% of 2019’s 50.3 billion KRW ($41.5 million).
Unlike 2019, when international sales of Korean artworks took place only in Hong Kong, works were sold in various regions, including New York, London, Tokyo, and Paris in 2020.
By region, Hong Kong saw the highest total sales of Korean artworks, 7.02 billion KRW (HK $46,111,005, US $5.7 million), but the amount was only 15% of 2019’s 46.8 billion KRW ($38 million). London was the second-highest at 1.7 billion KRW (£ 707,890) followed by New York at 1.4 billion KRW ($877,741).
Among the top 10 selling Korean artists at international art auctions, 4 of Lee Ufan’s works were on the list. Lee also had the highest aggregated sales value of 4.27 billion KRW ($3.5 million) for 35 artworks sold at international auctions. Still, the total sales value was only 53% of that in 2019. The highest-priced lot was Lee Ufan’s With Winds, which sold for 1.12 billion KRW (roughly $924,000) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in July 2020. Other artists included in the top 10 Korean artists’ works are Nam June Paik, Kim Tschang-Yeul, Chun Kwang Young, and Park Seo-Bo.
The survey reported that the following art fairs showcased the works of Korean artists the most: Art Basel Hong Kong; Art Basel Swiss; Art Basel Miami; TEFAF New York; Dangdai Taipei, and Abu Dhabi Art.
Many of the works featured were by artists categorized as Dansaekhwa artists, such as Lee Ufan, Park Seo-Bo, Ha Chong-Hyun, Yun Hyong-keun, Chung Sang Hwa, Kim Tschang-Yeul, and Quac Insik.
Contemporary Korean artists who appeared in a number of international art fairs included Do Ho Suh, Haegue Yang, Suki Seokyeong Kang, Lee Bae, Lee Bul, and Minjung Kim.
The survey reported that there were approximately 69 solo exhibitions and 93 group shows at oversea galleries that featured Korean artists’ works.
Further information of the Survey on the Art Market can be found on the Korea Arts Management Service’s website.