To a casual observer, there might already seem to be a wide range of art fairs in London. The season starts with the London Art Fair in January and finishes with the Frieze in October. In between there’s plenty of smaller shows to keep various parts of the market satisfied. So launching a completely new fair, particularly at a time when the UK economy is threatening to enter into a third dip in its recession, is a bold move.
Fortunately, the gamble seems to have paid off. Olympia Grand Hall had an unmistakeable buzz throughout the three day event (1-3 March, plus VIP opening the evening before on Thursday 28 February). There was a range of talks, a family trail, and you could even have a Fortnum & Mason tea to keep you going through the afternoon. And you needed to spend at least an afternoon there – there was so much to see, even if you restricted yourself only to Korean artists.
Of course, LKL started with focusing on the Korean galleries attending, of which there were six, plus the City of Daegu Art Museum. We also paid a visit to the UK galleries known to represent Korean artists. But strolling the avenues of the fair – trying to avoid getting hit by the inflating and deflating Choi Jeong-hwa lotus flowers which were offered by two of the galleries – you constantly came across familiar and unfamiliar work from Korean artists who had found their way into other galleries.
For example, it was nice to see that Won Beomsik and his Archisculpture series have been picked up by Rebecca Hossack Gallery – he joined them in around October 2012.
In print specialists Jealous the colourful magic mushroom image from Kim Sang-hyun attracted the attention: Kim was winner of one of the 2012 Jealous prizes, awarded to one student from each of the major art colleges, which gives him one year with the print-makers to reproduce some of his finished pieces. The intricate outlines of his works, created by burning incense on oriental paper, produce a result which resemble a microscopic Norwegian coastline or a Mandelbrot set, and they proved impossible for the print-maker to capture photographically and had to be redrawn by hand. The results were eye-catching though.
Gallerie Paris-Beijing, a Chinese art specialist, had a work by Kim In-sook – a smaller version of the Saturday Night photograph that was in the Christie’s London sale in 2009. It was generating a lot of interest – so much so that it was impossible to get near it.
But back to the main Korean galleries though.
Hakgojae had secured themselves an amazingly prominent place immediately by the entrance. The distinctive red and white landscapes of Lee Sea-hyun greeted you as you entered. Inside the unit, works by Lee Ufan, Hong Kyoung-tack and Lee Yong-baek ere among the big name artists that caught the eye. The much more restrained brush paintings by Song Hyun-sook took up half a wall. New to me was the adopted artist Jin Meyerson. Two very busy works depicted in distorted and exaggerated perspective the clamouring crowds at a pop concert and colourful punts reflected in the twisting dark water of a swift-flowing river. You thought you had finished, but on the outside of the walls, facing the aisles of the venue, was more Hong Kyung-tack and a delicate hanok drawing by Lee Young-bin – you can find another such work by the same artist downstairs at Purdy Hicks at the moment. Take a look when you visit their current Bae Chan-hyo exhibition.
Walking down the side aisle towards Cais Gallery you come across the three-dimensional surrealist work of Lee Kyoung-mi. The most striking was dominated by a large nineteenth century church which jutted out of the picture at the viewer. The church seemed to have been washed ashore onto a table with strange objects in the foreground – a toy car, some books, a cat in a space suit holding some party balloons: one of those works which asks a lot of questions, and in the time available it wasn’t possible to come up with any answers. Other works by Lee Kyoung-mi on show were a Dutch village similarly positioned on a desk, and a strangely watery Bukchon alleyway also on a desk top. Domestic cats were a feature in all these works. Along with some more Hong Kyung-tack and some colourful pop art style works from Lee So-yeun perhaps the most popular works in this gallery were the exquisite sculptures by Choi Xooang, some of which were exhibited at House of the Nobleman by Union Gallery late last year.
At Lee Hwaik there were also some familiar artists – Shin Mee-kyoung’s soap vases, Kim Dong-yoo’s pop-art style paintings of famous faces made of hundreds of meticulously-painted smaller faces – such as the Queen made up of hundreds of Lady Di faces. Two recent works by Kim Tschang-yeul were there – Kim is still painting (albeit with aid from assistants) at the age of 90. Peaceful, muted interiors from Jeong Bo-young invited you to rest awhile, and adjacent to them were four stunningly beautiful works by Kim Duck-yong using mother-of-pearl to colour the hanbok of a Korean woman.
The other big Korean gallery at the fair was Gana Art. A tyre sculpture by Ji Yong-ho would be been recognisable to visitors who had been to Korean Eye 2010, while distorted sculptures by Yi Hwan-kwon teased the eye (again, a Korean Eye artist). Gana was one of the galleries offering a Choi Jeong-hwa inflating lotus flower, and other works included a large installation by Lee Sung-mi entitled Painting by Sculpture (Crying for You), an exuberant Bathing Tiger and Magpie by Sa Suk-won, and three-dimensional landscapes by Roh Sang-jun which resembled the battlefields created by schoolboys to display their toy soldiers. It was also nice to be re-acquainted with the meticulous work of Jung Hai-yun featuring the colourful chests of drawers from her childhood – her last showing in the UK was down in New Malden in 2008 and it would be good to see more of her.
Two smaller Korean galleries were there: Gallery EM, with photographic work by Rhee Jae-yong, and the pleasant surprise: SoSo Gallery, based in Haeri Art Village near Paju. Their display was entirely devoted to work by Park Ki-won, the National Museum of Contemporary Art’s Artist of the Year 2010. This was an entirely different body of work to that which I had seen on my visit to Gwacheon in 2010, which had consisted of rooms constructed out of transparent plastic pillows and galleries full of wire wool. These were peaceful minimalist paintings reminiscent of late Kim Whanki.
Daegu Art Museum was showing some Choi Byung-so – it was nice to be reminded of his work which had been on display in the unmissable Dansaekhwa exhibition at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in 2012.
So much for the Korean galleries.
Albemarle had devoted their whole unit to the popular Lee Jae-hyo, while Hada Contemporary had brought four artists: a light sculpture from Ahn Chul-hyun (whose Infinite Garden had graced the 2012 Korean Eye show), the sculptured furniture of Kim Hyuenjun made of corrugated cardboard, the bright colourful oils of Lee Jinhan and one of Baak Je’s geometric works, Petitio Principii 001-002 (2011).
And finally, a couple of German galleries. A large six-panel screen by Son Dong-hyun entitled Apocalypse which had been exhibited in the Abazzia di San Gregorio at one of the 2011 Venice Biennale collateral events dominated one of the aisles outside Aando Fine Art, while a bright pink Choi Jeong-hwa lotus flower inflated and deflated on another wall.
And Galerie Heike Strelow had work by Il-jin Atem Choi, son of parents who moved to Germany soon after the Korean War. Choi is a street artist – his street name – Atem – roughly translates as “Breath”.
The range of work on display was vast. The Korean galleries had made sure to bring good English-speakers, and it was a privilege to be able to talk to them about their artists. A number of galleries seemed to be making sales, and with prices between £100 and £500,000 there was something to suit most budgets.
From the visitors’ perspective this exhibition was a huge success. It is to be hoped that exhibitors and organisers shared that assessment, and that everyone will return at the same time next year. The sign above the exit was hopeful: the dates scheduled for Art14 are 28 February – 2 March.