28 November 2010

29.5 km of color through Seoul

Seoul City Hall Plaza

Seoul is the city where you can walk infinitely, touring historical and cultural sites, shopping, enjoying the numerous green spaces or oppositely going deep into the urban jungle.

Sometimes, when I have spare time and the weather allows it, I walk tens of kilometers, without a purpose, or a well defined destination.

I walk until I feel like enjoying it, always planning until the next corner, always discovering new neighborhoods, meeting new people, and learning about the city's culture.

The city's metropolitan size is huge, with a population of over 20 million. While walking sometimes I remember statistics, and I know that no mater how much time I would spend walking, I would never be able to see everything in Seoul.

I noticed that except taxi drivers, even the native Seoulites don't know the city too well, especially its urban history.

On a sunny October Saturday, I walked over 29 km through the capital city, walking from the place where I live now, to the place where I lived last year. 

Although I didn't picked the shortest path, I've crossed only a very small part of the metropolis.

I started from Samgakji toward Seoul Station, then Seoul City Hall Plaza up to Myeongdong shopping district. After a short rest in Dongguk University's campus, I moved south to Oksu neighborhood and crossed the Han River toward Apgujeong area. After crossing the fancy Gangnam district, I followed the Teheran Road east until the Olympic Stadium from Jamsil, and finally went until Yangjae Station by following the Yangjae River's stream.

I am posting a few photos out of the few hundreds a took during my walk.

More than just resuming it to a few images, I am planing to use my experiences gained during my walks for future projects as well.

Inside Dongguk University Campus

Sunset over the Han River

Highways next to the Han River and Oksu neighborhood

Between Samsung Station and Jamsil Olympic Complex

Near Jamsil


Between Euljiro and Myeongdong
Dogok neighborhood next to the Yangjae River

Around Euljiro
Oksu neighborhood

14 November 2010

Late Impressions from KIAF 2010 [Korea International Art Fair]

After returning to South Korea this autumn, I made myself a long list with all the major art events that I was planning to see during the following months. So far, I can say that after visiting numerous expos, festivals and art fairs I remained with mixed impressions. I’ve seen a world class Gwangju Biennale that is probably Korea’s most prestigious art event, an event that I will talk about in a later article. I’ve seen the 5th International Media Art Biennale of Seoul, an event that I find rather low quality and over conceptualized compared to its predecessor from two years ago – an event that was a truly innovative media art parade. And I would also mention the Incheon International Digital Art Festival 2010 held in newly built Songdo City, an event that although isn’t very famous yet, it opened a fresh perspective for digital art focusing on artworks that use new technologies for obtaining maximum emotional impact.

However the event that was on the top of my list was the Korea International Art Fair 2010 [KIAF 2010]. After visiting the Korea International Art Fair in 2008, I was looking forward to see the edition of 2010, held like the previous events in Seoul, Gangnam District, Coex Center. I wrote down the following article right after visiting the art fair, September 2010.

image - courtesy of KIAF 

Held year by year since 2002, the Korea International Art Fair’s 2010 edition held between September 9 and September 13 in Seoul, once again proved its reputation of being considered one of Asia’s leading art fairs. Just like the Art Taipei, Shanghai Art Fair or Art Fair Tokyo, KIAF reflects the power of the skyrocketing Asian art market, a market that year by year features new emerging ambitious art events. KIAF, far more comprising than its Chinese and Japanese rivals, goes further pursuing its goal of becoming a landmark in the global art arena.

Regarded in its Korean context, KIAF is one of Korea’s most prominent contemporary art events alongside with the notorious Gwangju Biennale. However, besides the fierce international competition, KIAF must face the rivalry of other first class Korean art events like the Busan Biennale, International Media Art Bienalle – Seoul, Incheon Art Fair, Daegu Art Fair and numerous others..

If we regard the fact that the 2009 edition was visited by 56,000 people in just 5 days, the grand scale and the significance of KIAF become self evident. Moreover, despite the worldwide economical recession the 2009 edition comprised artwork sales of over KRW 13 billion [about 8.5 million]. These numbers reflect not just the tremendous interest of Koreans in the contemporary art market but also the prime quality of Korean art.

The 2010 edition featured a total of 193 galleries from 16 nations, 120 galleries participating from Korea, respectively 73 from Europe, Asia, Australia and both North and South America. The total number of participating artists was around 1,500, exhibiting over 5,000 artworks. Although the number of participating galleries and countries was smaller compared to the 2008 edition, this shouldn’t necessarily be regarded as a decline of the event’s quality. Oppositely, it can be interpreted as a sign of overall improvement of the event’s international status, showing that it became more exclusivist making it more difficult for smaller, less competitive galleries to participate in the event. As an example in this sense one might dare to mention as examples the galleries from India and Switzerland participating in the previous editions, but having insufficient presence at this year’s event. India was invited as the guest country of the 2009 edition, but out of the small number of galleries that participated last year none of them returned in 2010. The numerous Swiss galleries representing the guest country of the 2008 edition displayed contemporary artworks from a rather different point of view compared to other European galleries, however only two galleries showed up in 2010. Should this be considered as a sign of commercial or artistic failure for the mentioned countries, or just the mentioned galleries prefer focusing on smaller markets?

Even though the event is intended to function as an art fair, obviously not all those thousands of people who visit KIAF come with commercial purpose. KIAF is a place that brings together connoisseurs representing art institutions, private collectors, artist and thousands of amateurs willing to take a glance at good quality expos. However, the event presents a relative lack of coherency, because every gallery is given unlimited freedom of exhibiting any art genre and artworks representing any type of subjects. This freedom induces the presence of a wide variety of artworks that can satisfy even the most eccentric preferences, creating a real art fest that manages to unite almost every genre. On the other hand, the lack of an overall clear curatorial project creates high contrasts, the event ending up having a totally different atmosphere and purpose compared to a coherent art event. After all, it is an art fair, so variety, contrasts, and freedom of choice should be regarded as pros.

But KIAF goes further than just performing the simple tasks of an art fair. In addition to the freedom given to the participating galleries, KIAF 2010 promoted various subsidiary programs: Artist Discovery, Shooting Hidden Spot, Docent Program, Kids in KIAF, academic conferences and special themed exhibitions. As the names of these future oriented programs already suggest, the purpose of them was to promote young artists side by side with world-renowned artists, bring the public closer to the works and artists through special lectures and guided tours, and to contribute to the future development of art through the involvement of children in education activities regarding contemporary art.

Conversely, one of the major negative points of this year’s edition was the lack of the Performance program. During the recent years every edition featured artists selected for the performance or happening art genre, but this year although the Performance Program was included in the original program, the initial plans were abandoned. Even though the decision of the organizers might involve serious reasons, the sudden change of plans suggests lack of a serious attitude regarding performance art

One of the most important merits of this year’s edition was the creation of a special section for promoting new media art. The special exhibition entitled “Creative Power: Korean Media Art” explored the strong points of contemporary Korean art that excels on the fields of media and digital art. The expo was built up around the national symbol Nam Jun Paik and it reunited some of the most relevant Korean media artists, creating a clear image of the characteristics of Korean media art.

Year by year, through the Guest Country Program KIAF invites galleries from a country with major influence on the contemporary art development to display artworks that embody the unique aspects of the country’s artistic direction. This year’s guest was the United Kingdom, an important landmark both because of the British Pop Art artists, and more recently because of the Young British Artists movement. Besides 14 British galleries that participated in this special section, a series of conferences offered substantial theoretical insight into the significance of British art.

While taking a stroll through the booths of the British galleries one could observe the high interest of the Korean art collectors, but also the cold attitude of the British staff that was way to contrasting with the warm atmosphere inside of the Korean and Japanese galleries. Moreover, disregarding the world class artists’ works, at a first glance the image of British art showcased by the participating galleries seemed to be less innovative and less courageous compared to the creativity that characterized some of the exhibits of the Korean and Japanese galleries.

Furthermore, most of the British galleries seemed to be suffering by an ostentatious “Damien Hirst mania,” most of them having at least a few glitzy artworks made by Hirst. However, these showy artworks that distracted the public’s attention from their surrounding exhibits, were often inferior thematically to the artworks flanking them. And surprisingly, the “Hirst mania” wasn’t limited only to the British exhibitors, several Korean galleries boasted their Hirst signed artworks along with exhibits made by other world class artists.

The overall image created by the exhibits present at KIAF 2010 was an amalgam of artworks by world class artists, newly emerging highly innovative artists, and [like in any art fair] a certain percentage of low quality artists. Along works signed by worldwide famous names like Andy Warhol, Yayoi Kusama, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Gerhard Richter, Patricia Piccinini and numerous others, works by the most important Korean artists were showcased by both Korean and western galleries. Names like Nam Jun Paik [백남준], Kim Kira [김기라], Chun Kwang Young [전광영], Lee Jae Hyo [이재효], Park Hyun-Ki [박현기] are just a few of the numerous Korean artists who impressed with both their original techniques and concepts.

Just like the previous editions, KIAF 2010 created a real festival of international art, offering an overview of the art development in the countries influential in the contemporary art scene, and also offered a perspective to predict its future evolution. It proved its reputation as Asia’s prime art fair offering a wide choice of mostly good quality artworks. While the presence of some low quality artworks and lack of proper public relations characterized a few galleries, these issues are relevant only for the respective galleries, not for KIAF itself. Last but not least, the numerous subsidiary programs offered by KIAF represent further strong points that guaranteed the success of KIAF 2010.

Check official website:

See some of the artworks and list of galleries here: