Lowering the barrier to art market

By Lee Woo-young

Art fairs, galleries attract young, first-time buyers with smaller works and limited edition prints

  • Published : Aug 10, 2016 - 14:50
  • Updated : Aug 10, 2016 - 16:58

Buying art isn’t as easy as buying books or movie tickets. Even if you fall in love with a piece of art at an exhibition, taking it home could turn out to be the priciest decision you ever make.

Fearing shrinking art sales and the domination of the art market by super-rich collectors, the art world is coming up with ways to make art more accessible to a wider audience and to attract art lovers to experience buying artworks.

The Affordable Art Fair Seoul, the Korean edition of the London-based global art fair, seeks to appeal to a broader audience this year with a special section featuring small artworks with price tags ranging from 200,000 won ($180) to 500,000 won. The fair runs from Sept. 9-11 at Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Seoul. 

More than half of the visitors to the inaugural fair last year consisted of professionals in their 30s and 40s who are keen on following the latest lifestyle trends, according to a survey by the fair committee. A total of 14,000 visitors spent 1.4 billion won ($1.2 million) at last year’s event, putting the Korean fair at seventh place in terms of sales among 13 Affordable Art Fair events held around the world. 

A visitor views paintings at Affordable Art Fair Seoul, held at Dongdaemun Design Plaza in 2015. (Affordable Art Fair Seoul)

“Artworks priced around 1 million won to 2 million sold especially well,” said Kim Yul-hee, the director of the Affordable Art Fair Seoul, at a press conference in Seoul on Tuesday.

The fair was first organized in London in 1999 by a British ex-military officer and art lover with the goal of making art affordable and accessible to everyone. It has since expanded to 13 cities, including New York, Amsterdam, Milan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Seoul is the third host city in Asia.

Prices of artworks on sale start from 500,000 won and go up to 10 million won. The fair found that many first-time buyers look for artworks under 2 million won.

“Art is being consumed quickly, the way books, music and movies are,” she said.

Some of the most popular works at last year’s Seoul fair included limited edition prints of original works by Damien Hirst, which sold out on the preview day. The fair is again hosting Manifold Editions, a London-based contemporary art agency that sells signed prints by acclaimed contemporary artists. It is anticipating higher sales of printed editions of well-known contemporary artists. 

Limited edition prints and collaborative artworks are on display at Print Bakery flagship store in Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul. (Print Bakery)

For many young art lovers on a budget, purchasing printed editions of original artworks is becoming an alternative to owning original artworks.

Print Bakery, run by Korea’s biggest auction house Seoul Auction, is the first gallery in Korea to offer printed editions of original works by acclaimed artists. Offering more than 280 print works by 80 Korean artists, including modern masters and contemporary artists, its Samcheong-dong flagship store is a frequent stop for customers looking for artworks for their homes or for gifts.   

“Paintings sized 40.9-by-53 centimeters sell well, at an average price of 180,000 won. I think the size and the price are right for customers looking for a gift item, or paintings that will bring fresh change to their home interior design,” said Son Ji-sung, thehead specialist of Seoul Auction’s marketing team.

At Print Bakery, 150 limited edition prints of an abstract painting by Kim Whan-ki that fetched 4.7 billion won ($4.2 million) at a Hong Kong auction last year are priced at 4 million won each.

“Print Bakery makes buying art as easy as purchasing bread or wine,” Son added.

By Lee Woo-young (wylee@heraldcorp.com)