Over the past year, many local experts predicted that the size of the Korean art market would surpass 1 trillion KRW (Korean won) in 2022. This speculation has turned out to be true, as the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) and the Korea Arts Management Service (KAMS) announced on January 4, 2023, that the size of the art market in 2022 was estimated to be 1.0377 trillion KRW (approximately $1 billion USD).
Despite COVID-19 and the global economic downturn, the Korean art market recorded its highest sales volume ever. The number represented a 37.2% increase compared to the result of 756.3 billion KRW in 2021. According to market observers, sales drove sales growth at art fairs and galleries in 2022.
Sales at art fairs increased by 59.8%, from 188.9 billion KRW in 2021 to 303 billion KRW in 2022. The MCST and KAMS noted that the increase in art fair visitors, which rose by 13.1% from 2021 to 875,000 in 2022, contributed significantly to the growth in art fair sales. The total art fair sales are expected to be higher, as the performance of Frieze Seoul in September is not included in the MCST and KAMS’s estimated art fair market size.
Galleries’ sales volume is estimated to have increased by 180 billion KRW, a 59.8% increase from 314.2 billion KRW in 2021 to 502.2 billion KRW in 2022. However, as data regarding gallery sales and private deals are largely unavailable to outsiders, KAMS based its results on sales at auctions and art fairs, the two main art sales channels in the art market.
In the second half of 2022, the auction market in Korea reportedly experienced a decline in sales and entered correction territory. Art auction sales decreased by 30.9% from 338.4 billion KRW in 2021 to 233.5 billion KRW in 2022.
MCST intends to seek ways to support the Korean art world through national art policies based on research on the size of the Korean art market. First, the government will strengthen its interest in preparing policies to support local art fairs, which provide opportunities for collectors and the general public to appreciate art together and show high sales growth. Second, the government will support the participation of both young and established artists and galleries in various international art fairs and special exhibitions.
A policy official at the MCST stated, “The Korean art market is showing high growth, with sales exceeding 1 trillion won in 2022. However, despite this growth, the Korean art market is suffering from the absence of a legal system. To resolve this, the Arts Promotion Act, which is currently pending in the National Assembly, must be enacted as soon as possible.”