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How Kukje Gallery and Gallery Hyundai Were Able to Cross the High Threshold of Art Basel in Basel

Art Basel emphasizes trust as the most crucial criterion when operating an art fair. Gallery Hyundai and Kukje Gallery, the two Korean galleries that have participated in this year’s Art Basel in Switzerland, have proven their credibility in the art market through their consistent activities.

Art Basel in Basel 2023. Courtesy of Art Basel.

Art Basel in Basel 2023, the world’s largest art fair, took place from June 15 to 19, 2023.

Art Basel in Basel this year was bustling with visitors. However, according to Artsy, it appeared that many participating galleries leaned toward emphasizing established artists, indicating a preference for validated names and safe programs during uncertain times. Nevertheless, as international travel restrictions were fully lifted after the COVID-19 pandemic, the first in-person Art Basel held in Basel showed promising sales and marked a strong start.

Notably, Hauser & Wirth sold three of Louise Bourgeois’s masterpieces, including Spider 4 (1996), which fetched $22.5 million. Other galleries also reported success, with major works by Jack Whitten, George Condo, Mark Bradford, and Barbara Chase-Riboud being sold.

This year, 284 galleries from 36 countries participated in the main Galleries sector. From Korea, Kukje Gallery and Gallery Hyundai took part in the fair, with Gallery Hyundai making a re-entry into Art Basel in Basel after a hiatus of 15 years.

Kukje Gallery

Kukje Gallery, Art Basel in Basel 2023. Courtesy of Art Basel.

Kukje Gallery showcased Korean and international artists at its booth. From the VIP preview on the first day, the gallery sold a painting by Lee Ufan for $700,000, a painting by Park Seo-Bo for $500,000, and a painting by Ha Chong Hyun for $240,000. 

International artists displayed included American sculptor Alexander Calder, British artist Anish Kapoor, American artist Ronnie Horne, and French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel.

The Korean artists showcased by Kukje Gallery this year have either recently gained attention or are the next generation of artists after the Dansaekhwa group. Among them, Lee Seung Jio’s geometric abstraction Nucleus (1974); Wook-Kyung Choi’s abstract painting Untitled (date unknown); Ham Yang Ah’s embroidery series titled Needling Whisper, Needle Country/SMS Series in Camouflage/Are you lonely, too? K 03-01-02 (2018-2019), which metaphorically depicts the hidden reality of division through the process of receiving embroidered results from North Korean artisans; and Haegue Yang’s new piece Droplets with Sound – Cobalt (2023), composed of cobalt blue and silver droplets, were introduced.

Additionally, Kukje Gallery is planning to highlight the works of Wook-Kyung Choi, which have been featured in several Korean and international exhibitions, such as Women in Abstraction at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain (2021-2022), Wook-Kyung Choi, Alice’s Cat exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea in Gwacheon (2021-2022), and the Action, Gesture, Paint: Women Artists and Global Abstraction 1940-70 exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London (2023).

Gallery Hyundai

Gallery Hyundai, Art Basel in Basel 2023. Courtesy of Art Basel.

For the first time in 15 years, Gallery Hyundai participated in Art Basel in Switzerland in the Gallery, Unlimited, and Film sectors. In the main Gallery sector, the gallery introduced a two-person exhibition by artists Lee Ufan and Park Young-sook and was introduced as one of the 10 best booths by the art platform Artsy.

Gallery Hyundai’s booth featured new works by Lee Ufan, including the painting Response and the ongoing series Dialogue, as well as large-scale ceramic pottery created through a collaboration between Lee and Park Young-sook. Artsy mentioned the experimental endeavors of Lee, a renowned figure in the art world, and the restrained beauty of Park’s large ceramic works, highlighting the harmony between the two artists.

Gallery Hyundai has established its identity as a gallery that focuses on showcasing Korean artists. It has particularly emphasized highlighting artists of significant historical artistic importance. Do Hyung-The, Gallery Hyundai President stated, “It is immensely rewarding to have showcased the diversity and strength of Korean contemporary art on the international stage through the Gallery Hyundai booth. Our goal has always been to introduce Korean artists to the world.”

At the Unlimited section, featuring large-scale installations, the gallery presented the recent video installation News from Nowhere: Eclipse (2022-2023) by the artist duo Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, and in the Film section, the gallery presented the new video work Delivery Dancer’s Sphere (2022) by media artist Ayoung Kim, which was screened at the Basel City Cinema; the latter was followed by a Q&A session with the artist.

Artist Ayoung Kim received the Golden Nica award at the Prix Ars Electronica, the world’s most significant media art award, held during Art Basel on the 16th. Additionally, at the House of Electronic Arts Basel (HEK), an art museum located in Basel, Kim will participate in the group exhibition “Collective Worldbuilding – Kunst im Metaversum” by showcasing an artwork, which will be exhibited until August 13th.

Gallery Hyundai once shared a stake with Korean auction house K Auction, which prevented it from participating in the Art Basel art fair. Similarly, Gana Art, another Korean gallery that also runs an auction house was unable to participate in Frieze Seoul last year. Gallery Hyundai and K Auction have been separated since 2018, and the gallery currently does not have any stake or business exchanges.

However, Gallery Hyundai has been participating in other international art fairs, not only selling artworks by Korean artists but also promoting them to overseas art museums. To participate in Art Basel, they had to go through the process of persuading the selection committee galleries. As a result, they were able to participate in Art Basel in Miami Beach held in December 2021, and now they have come to Basel as well.

Art Basel in Basel 2023. Courtesy of Art Basel.

The reason Gallery Hyundai was unable to participate in Art Basel was that it did not meet the criteria set by the art fair. Art Basel prioritizes this trust as the most important factor for successful artwork sales.

However, when a gallery and auction house engage in combined operations, the possibility of arbitrary price manipulation arises, which undermines the essential trust of trading artworks in the market. Galleries that directly acquire artworks from artists for trade are classified as part of the primary market, while auctions, where previously traded artworks are resold, are classified as part of the secondary market. Each market competes and complements the other to establish the appropriate prices for art. 

 The participation guidelines and protocols set forth by Art Basel are based on the principle of trust. In other words, participating galleries must consistently demonstrate trustworthiness not only during the event period but also through their ongoing activities. Art Basel selects galleries based on this criterion.

For example, Art Basel specifies various conditions, including whether the selected galleries assume financial and legal responsibilities for the gallery, affiliated artists, and related parties; whether they clearly disclose the origin and authenticity of the artworks; whether they sell only authorized artworks granted by the owners or under approved conditions; whether they provide buyers with written invoices containing descriptions and images of the artworks, artist’s credentials, the size and medium of the artworks, the sale price, the buyer’s identity, and other customary information related to the transaction; whether they maintain appropriate transaction and accounting records; and whether they comply with all relevant laws of the country where the business is conducted or any other applicable laws.

These standards set by Art Basel to create a quality art fair based on trust are a good model for other art fairs worldwide.

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