The Korean art auction market raked in a record-breaking 329.4 billion KRW (approximately $ 277 million) in sales in 2021, according to the Korea Art Price Appraisal Association and K-Artprice.
The sales figure from eight Korean art auction companies’ online and offline auctions held between January and December 2021, ranging from antiquities to artworks by living artists, has surpassed 2020’s 115.3 billion KRW (roughly $97 million), marking triple growth. The figure is even higher than the 156.5 billion KRW ($132 million) in 2019, before the outbreak of COVID-19.
Out of a total of 32,955 artworks, 22,235 were sold, showing a 67.47% sell-through rate.
Lee Ufan(b. 1936), a Korean artist who provided the groundwork for the Japanese avant-garde group Mono-ha (School of Things), was named the No. 1 artist by total value of artworks sold at auction in 2021. Four hundred fourteen out of Lee’s 507 works were sold at 39.5 billion KRW (roughly $33 million), showing an 81.66% sell-through rate.
Lee also set a new record for a living Korean artist with his painting East Winds (1984), which surpassed 3 billion KRW ($2.5 million) at an auction in August.
Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929) took second place for a total sales value of 36.5 billion KRW ($30 million), while Kim Whanki (1913-1974) ranked third with 21.4 billion KRW ($18 million). Woo Kuk Won (b. 1976), who creates strong-colored graffiti-like paintings, was the only artist under the age of 50 included in the top 10 artists by total sales value.
Four big-name Korean artists set new auction records in 2021, according to a Korean economic newspaper, Sedaily (서울경제). Spirit (1965) by Yoo Youngkuk (1916–2002), a painter who expanded the scope of abstract art through the Korean avant-garde movement, was sold for 1.27 billion KRW(roughtly $1 million). The water droplet painter Kim Tschang-Yeul’s (1929–2021) Waterdrops (1977) set a record of 1.04 billion KRW($874,000). One of the renowned Dansaekhwa painters, Park Seo-Bo (1931–), recorded 1.2 billion KRW($1 million) with Écriture No.200~86 (1986), and Lee Bae (1956–), who creates monochromatic works mostly with charcoal, recorded 440 million KRW($370,000) with ISSU DU FEU 29 (2003).
The local market watchers expect the auction market to account for around 30% of the total Korean art market. And a number of Korean media outlets estimated that the total sales of art and antiques in 2021 reached about 900 billion KRW (roughly $760 million) in 2021. Korea Arts Management Service, a government agency, has reported that the Korean art market achieved 384.9 billion KRW ($323 million) in 2020 and 414.6 billion KRW ($348 million) in 2019, showing that the Korean art market saw rapid growth over the past year.