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Korean culture spreads its roots at the Parisian Art Basel fair

2023-10-20 Korea JoongAng Daily

Visitors fill the Paris+ par Art Basel on Oct. 18, the opening day, at the Grand Palais Ephemere in central Paris. [YOON SO-YEON]

PARIS, France — Amid one of the most geopolitically tumultuous times in the world, Korea and France find themselves working toward the same goal: reaching and solidifying their places as the art and culture capitals of their respective continents.

While Seoul strives to take over the crown of Asia’s art hub following the imminent vacancy of Hong Kong, Paris is also seeking to become the next leader of the European art market to compete with London.

And in the heart of the Parisian endeavor stand the seeds of Korean culture, sinking their roots down slowly but firmly in the faraway fertile soil and blooming with opportunities for the proliferation of K-culture, especially during the ongoing Paris+ par Art Basel, which begins its five-day run on Wednesday.

Two Korean brands are taking part in the second edition of the renowned Parisian edition of the Art Basel franchise: Arshexa and Kukje Gallery.

A visitor looks at a work by British artist Sarah Lucas entitled ″Six Sent Soixante Six″ on display in Sadie Coles HQ Gallery stand at the Grand Palais Ephemere as part of Paris+ par Art Basel show in Paris, on Oct. 18. [DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/YONHAP]

A work by U.S. sculptor Tony Matelli entitled ″Lion (Bananas)″ on display at the Tuileries Gardens in Paris on Oct. 16 as part of the Paris+ par Art Basel show in Paris [DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/YONHAP]

The Paris edition, now into its second year, will run for five days from Wednesday to Sunday at the Grand Palais Éphémère exhibit space in central Paris, just a week after London finished celebrating the 20th anniversary of Frieze from Oct. 11 to 15.

Arshexa is a Korean construction company that was founded in 2015 and is also a host partner of the Parisian Art Basel. Arshexa aims to build and run an art storage house — tentatively named the Arshexa Freeport Incheon Airport — in the city of Incheon, where Korea’s largest airport sits as one of the most prestigious in the world.

With plans to break ground next year and complete construction by the end of 2026, its goal is to build an 80,000-square-meter (approximately the size of 11 football fields put together) art storage space within the Incheon International Airport premises to ensure the safest and most cost-efficient storage and transportation service in Asia.

When complete, it will provide the largest storage space for artworks and other precious goods for museums, galleries, companies and private collectors alike, with minimal costs from having to move priceless products from the airport to other venues for exhibition or safekeeping.

Works by artist Yu Choong-hwan created to express the cycle of creation and destruction is held as part of a promotional booth for Arshexa, a host partner of the Paris+ par Art Basel, on Oct. 18. [YOON SO-YEON]

Korean ambassador to France Choi Jai-chul, right, stands for a photo with Arshexa CEO Andy Song, center, and artist Yu Choong-hwan at the Arshexa promotional booth set up at the Paris+ par Art Basel, on Oct. 18. [YOON SO-YEON]

Six pieces of video art by Yu Choong-hwan sit at the Arshexa booth at Paris+ par Art Basel to show the meaning of art, especially the cycle of creation and destruction. A promotional video of the Incheon storage house also plays at the booth to introduce the project to visitors of the fair and potential clients of the warehouse.

“Fifty percent of our capacity has already been reserved by clients around the world, even before construction began,” Andy Song, CEO and chairman of Arshexa, told the Korea JoongAng Daily during the VIP tour of the Art Basel on Wednesday.

“We plan to fill 85 percent of the space by the time we complete construction. We strongly believe that Incheon clearly has the upper hand compared to competitors such as Singapore, whose Changi Airport storage house is already nearly full, and Japan, which is vulnerable to geographical threats such as earthquakes.”

Visitors fill the Kukje Gallery booth set up at the Paris+ par Art Basel, on Oct. 18. [YOON SO-YEON]

Kukje Gallery also set up a booth at the Paris Art Basel, the only participating gallery from Korea, alongside 153 other galleries from 33 countries around the world. Kukje Gallery is the longest-participating domestic gallery in Art Basel, having been a part since 1998, and was also the only Korean gallery to take part in last year’s Parisian Art Basel.

Armed with a star-studded lineup of artists ranging from Korea’s Lee Ufan, Hague Yang and Kibong Rhee to Jean-Michel Othoniel and Anish Kapoor, Kukje Gallery's stand was already filled with potential buyers asking the price of displayed works when the VIP opening began Wednesday morning.

Making the exhibit all the more meaningful is “Écriture No. 230214,” a passionate red acrylic on ceramic piece made this year by late artist Park Seo-bo, who passed away on Oct. 14. Park, one of Korea’s most renowned masters of dansaekhwa (Korean monochrome painting), died at the age of 91.

“Ecriture No. 230214″ by late artist Park Seo-bo on display at the Kukje Gallery booth in Paris+ par Art Basel art fair [KUKJE GALLERY]

Jean-Michel Othoniel's installation piece ″Wild Knot″ on display at the Kukje Gallery booth in Paris+ par Art Basel art fair, along with paintings (from left) ″A Density of None - Grey″ by Kibong Rhee, ″Untitled 90-7-3″ (1990) by Chung Sang-hwa and ″From Point No. 770101″ (1977) by Lee Ufan [KUKJE GALLERY]

His “Écriture No. 230105,” also created this year, was also displayed at Perrotin’s booth. Park’s “Écriture No. 221220” (2022) was one of the 27 pieces Kukje Gallery sold during Frieze London last week.

Another artist in the spotlight is Frenchman Othoniel, who received a Légion d'honneur — a presidential award given to honorable figures in all sectors of society including art, science and politics — from President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday. He has been renowned for his approachable yet insightful installations such as "Kiosque des Noctambules" (2000), “Les Belles Danses” (2015) and “La Rose du Louvre” (2019).

“Korean culture is definitely finding its place in the heart of Parisian culture,” said Choi Jai-chul, the Korean ambassador to France.

“Just days ago, a K-pop concert titled ‘M Countdown in France’ was held right here in Paris. This morning, I went to a cosmetics fair named Comestic-360 where 13 Korean companies are taking part. The important thing now is to aim for a sustainable expansion plan in this center of the global culture, spearheaded by creativity and diversity.”



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