The word is spreading that the once-heated Korean art auction market has begun to cool. According to the Korea Art Authentication & Appraisal Research Center, the average number of artworks in major auctions in 2021 was 167, but that number decreased by 24.5% in June of this year, indicating that the market is poised to slow.
However, it may be too soon to conclude that the Korean art auction market has begun to decline. In the first half of 2022, the Korean art auction market recorded total sales of 144.6 billion KRW (approximately $111 million). This is an increase of about 800 million KRW from 2021, which is a threefold increase from 2020.
The results are from a report entitled The Korean Art Auction Market in the First Half of 2022 released by the Korea Art Price Appraisal Association, which compiles the online and offline sales figures of ten Korean auction houses from January to June 2022.
According to the report, the total number of sales for this period increased, but neither the number of lots nor the sell-through rate did. In the first half of this year, 15,766 artworks were auctioned, a decrease of 1,056 works from the same period last year, when 16,822 works were sold. It turned out that the sharp increase in the average price of artwork contributed the most to the increase in total sales.
While there is still an ongoing investment sentiment for art in Korea, auction houses in Korea have become more conservative and have offered more works that are certain to find buyers. In the global auction market, the pandemic was the primary factor causing auction houses to become more conservative in their offering of works, whereas in Korea, austerity concerns were the primary factor.
Lee Ufan ranked first among artists with total sales exceeding 20 billion KRW (approximately $15.36 million) during this period. Lee has held the top position for three consecutive years. Out of 188 artworks, 142 pieces were sold, showing a 75.53% sell-through rate. Again, in second place, Yayoi Kusama’s total sales amounted to 13.8 billion KRW ($10.6 million). Out of 90 artworks, 74 pieces were sold, showing an 82.22% sell-through rate. Park Seo-Bo came in third place (8.55 billion KRW), followed by Whanki Kim in fourth (4.96 billion KRW).
During this period, 17 of the top 20 best-selling artists were living artists, including Ayako Rokkaku (Japan), Sarah Hughes (US), and Kim Sunwoo (Korea).
In the meantime, Artnet and Morgan Stanley analyzed the global art auction market from January to May 2022. The art auction market size reached a record high of $5.7 billion, slightly exceeding $83 million in 2018.
The greatest contribution came from the sale of works priced at $10 million or more. Compared to 2018, the total number of works sold in this price range increased by 12%. Since 2018, the number of works under $10,000 has increased by 43%, representing the largest change. Additionally, sales of ultra-contemporary works by artists born after 1974 increased by 188% this year, from 1,520 in 2018 to 4,379.