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The 2023 Art Market Is in a Downturn, But Interest Is Still High: Diaf and Define Seoul

DIAF 2023. Image courtesy: Galleries Association of Daegu.

Amidst a sluggish domestic art market, recent art fairs in South Korea shed light on current trends. The ‘Diaf (Daegu International Art Fair),’ held at Daegu Exco, and ‘Define Seoul,’ which took place in Seongsu-dong, Seoul, in early November, are two examples of recent trends. Judging from the results of the two art fairs, although the market has shrunk, interest in art is still strong.

Diaf, held from November 2 through 5, experienced a slight reduction in size and sales due to the art market’s downturn. Sales totaled 7 billion KRW, about 500 million KRW less than last year. This is nearly 3 billion KRW less than the record-breaking sales of 9.8 billion KRW in 2021. A total of 116 Korean and international galleries participated in the art fair, which was smaller than the 2022 edition when 129 galleries participated.

DIAF 2023. Image courtesy: Galleries Association of Daegu.

However, despite the contraction, interest in art remained substantial, with the number of attendees increasing by about 1.5 times compared to the previous year, reaching over 15,000 visitors. “The number of new collectors across all age groups continues to grow, and a number of high-priced works were sold thanks to Daegu’s strong collector base,” said a representative from Diaf.

Works by well-known artists such as Yayoi Kusama, George Condo, Lee Ufan, and Jean-Michel Othoniel sold for tens of millions of KRW to 100 million KRW at the fair. However, this year’s sales were driven by the popularity of emerging artists whose works are priced between 1 million and 3 million KRW. Despite economic challenges, the fair’s success in attracting a growing number of new collectors across all age groups, particularly leveraging Daegu’s strong collector base, was highlighted.

Define Seoul 2023. Image courtesy: Kim Joongkun.

On the other hand, ‘Define Seoul,’ a newly launched art fair by Art Busan, one of the largest art fairs in Korea, was held from November 1 to 5 in Seongsu-dong, Seoul. Held to connect design and fine art and to redefine the way we treat art, ‘Define Seoul’ is a collaboration between Art Busan and designer Teo Yang.

With 25 domestic and international contemporary art and design galleries participating, Define Seoul drew around 6,000 visitors during the five-day event, experiencing a daily increase in attendance ranging from 15% to 30%. The unconventional location, utilizing the artistic alleyways of Seongsu-dong rather than a conventional convention center, contributed to the fair’s popularity, attracting the Millenials and Gen Z’s (MZ generation) interest and various types of buyers.

The success of Define Seoul was attributed to its innovative approach, utilizing the artistic atmosphere of Seongsu-dong, widespread among the MZ generation, and conducting sales through on-site buyers and corporate, architectural, and agency channels. Giopato & Coombes one of the participating galleries, reported over 40 purchase requests, indicating a diverse range of buyers. The fair’s director, Yang, highlighted efforts to bridge the gap between the public and art through design, aiming to make art more accessible to the masses.

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