Recap: Art Paris Presents The Best Of Korean Art

As buyers, sellers, journalists and art students huddled in the drizzle, forming ever-expanding queues outside of Paris’s Grand Palais, there was a sharp sense of déjà vu for some. Had we we skipped summer altogether and found ourselves directly at the FIAC, the French capital’s autumnal answer to Frieze? Housed in the same venue, Art Paris is doing a decent imitation: the same glass and steel dome as you turn your head north, the same brand-name champagne sponsors scurrying around the VIP section and the same contained excitement, whispered among cashmere scarves.

 Yet you only have to glance at the galleries represented to notice that Art Paris – now in its 16th year – is trying to break out of the international cookie-cutter, high-end selection that Europe’s capitals routinely host. Envoys from Baku, Budapest and Ivry-sur Seine sit happily alongside Parisian heavyweights such as Nathalie Obadia, Daniel Templon and Rabouan Moussion. With half of the exhibitors based here in France, the local selection has one thing in common: many of these galleries have spent years nurturing relationships with Asian artists and agents and, in doing so, have primed the Parisian market for both modern and contemporary work from China, Korea, India and Taiwan.

 This year, the French fair is showcasing the best of Korea’s artistic output, a neat tie-in with twelve months of cultural exchanges between the two countries. Guest curator Sang-A Chun joined the salon’s director Guillaume Piens to bring together work from almost 80 Korean artists, spread among 26 Western galleries and 8 Korean ones.

 The offerings are diverse. There is, perhaps predictably, some assured digital work such as the luminous installations of Chul Hyun Ahn, carefully displayed by the Galerie Paris-Beijing. New media is also deployed on a much larger scale, as the front of the Grand Palais becomes a screen for video and sound installations, dancing accross its historic façade every evening of the fair. We were treated to the swirling forms and butterfly musings of Hypnogagia (Sho Jang & Min Kim, 2016) as night fell on the first day’s trading.

 Photography is well represented by the Park Ryu Sook Gallery, with Kim Joon’s Serpent drawing a steady crowd; Bae Bien-U’s graphic compositions just over the way at Galerie RX were as popular as they were contrasting. For me, delight came in small packages, in Ilhwa Kim’s Seed Universe at Kalman Maklary Fine Arts. Here, tiny hand-made hanji papers form a landscape of colour and relief which stopped me in my tracks. A study of craft, tradition and texture that was echoed in Chun Kwang-Young’s work at the same gallery, made up of meticulously-folded mulberry paper.

Ilhawa Kim’s Seed Universe.

Beyond exoticism – which evidently sells; red stickers abound after less than 24 hours – there is clearly an enthusiasm and expertise about the event which is laudable. With more accessible prices for both exhibitors and visitors, the fair is also bringing some much-needed transparency to the global market: prices generally range from €5,000 to €20,000 and are often clearly displayed. Mere tripping distance from the Champs Elysées, it may feel like an old-guard rendez-vous, but Art Paris is definitely looking beyond its comfortable surroundings and bringing us a breath of fresh air and fresh perspectives from new horizons.

Olivia Salazar-Winspear

Olivia Salazar-Winspear is a journalist specializing in arts and culture. Working in both television and text, her interests meet in a Venn diagram of London, Rio and Paris or - if you like - Fine Art, Cinema and Literature.