Spotlight Seoul

»We want to make it our mission with König to inform and educate our visitors about the different art movements. It's also something completely new for the local audience. Before, they had few opportunities to see European artists in Korea.«
– Soo Choi

»We want to make it our
mission with König to inform
and educate our visitors about the different art movements. It's also something completely new for the local audience. Before, they had few opportunities to see European artists in Korea.«
– Soo Choi

The residential and commercial architecture of Nonhyeon-dong in the Gangnam district, as seen from a rooftop in the Sinsa area.
© Photography Jae An Lee

In September of this year, the art world descended on Seoul as the Korean capital played host to the inaugural edition of Frieze Seoul. König Seoul welcomed fair visitors and others, including pop celebrities, to its own showing of Matthias Weischer’s exhibition, Mirrors and Things, as well as to a new installation of sculptures on its rooftop terrace. While Seoul might have been new to many who arrived this fall, the city’s art scene has been developing for years, and no one knows this better than Soo Choi, who runs König Seoul, a permanent outpost of the gallery. The buzz around the city and its rapidly expanding art market offered a perfect opportunity to showcase the gallery’s unique spaces, including the surrounding neighbourhood.

Exhibition view of Matthias Weischer, Mirrors and Things, KÖNIG SEOUL, 2022
© Photography Jea Ann Lee

The art world has a new destination: Seoul! This year, the South Korean capital hosted the first-ever edition of Frieze Seoul. Over 110 of the most influential art galleries from all over Asia took part. “The size of the fair – although smaller than other prestige fairs, which often include more than 200 galleries – is actually an advantage,” said Patrick Lee, Director of Frieze Seoul. “It allows for real discoveries.” That one of the most important fairs should be located here at precisely this time is not at all surprising. Seoul is one of the most exciting cities in Asia and has been on the upswing for decades thanks to its booming economy.

Galleria Department as viewed form the rooftop of KÖNIG SEOUL, K-Star Road in the Apgujeong area of the city and the facade of the MCM Building housing KÖNIG SEOUL, viewed from the street.
© Photography Jae An Lee

The positive developments have also enabled the infrastructure and architecture to catch up; they’ve now reached world-class levels. Only last year, the Lotte World Tower, the fifth largest skyscraper in the world, was completed. Buildings such as the 63 Building and the contemporary Dongdaemun Plaza by the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid create an exciting cityscape without displacing the historic city centre and classic artists' quarters, such as the Mullae Arts Village.

Flagship location of Positive Hotel Cheongdam.
© Photography Jae An Lee

Sustainability is also high on the city’s agenda, with architectural examples such as the eco-friendly Kolon One & Only Tower by Morphosis Architects leading the way. But there’s something else that makes this country so exciting: its technological advances, which, in turn, attract the art scene. Moving image works and digital media have been of interest here for some time and help explain the interest in NFTs and innovative data sculptures. But Seoul also has a strong presence in the traditional art sector: “When people come here, they are surprised at the level of development of the art infrastructure – museums, galleries, non-profits,” said Lee.

In recent years, the number of museums, corporate institutions, and non-profits has continued to grow significantly. A long-standing figure in Seoul’s art scene is Soo Choi, who runs not one, but two art galleries on opposite sides of the Han River. Since 2017, she has been showing exhibitions by Korean artists, such as Hyungkoo Lee and Haneyl Choi at P21, in the city’s Itaewon district. And since last year, she has been managing the new Seoul branch of König Galerie in the vibrant Cheongdam-dong neighbourhood, located in the main district of Gangnam. In addition to galleries, Cheongdam-dong is also home to large luxury stores, fine-dining restaurants, and upscale bars. König Seoul is located above the MCM Korean flagship store, and the spaces include a rooftop sculpture garden. König Galerie has a longstanding partnership with the Munich brand MCM, which helps to make the perfect connection from Berlin to Seoul.

Director of KÖNIG SEOUL, Soo Choi.
© Photography Jae An Lee

It is a rarity in the art world that one individual represents two galleries simultaneously, but Soo Choi sees great potential in her dual roles: “I really enjoy the fact that I can be involved in both programs and make a difference in two different areas.” Also, being trusted by a major gallery while still pursuing her own goals means a great deal to her. When she started in the art field five years ago, there weren’t many opportunities for young creatives. She is passionate about providing a platform for Korean artists and integrating them into the art world. “I want to showcase the best of the Korean art scene,” Choi says. Anyone who talks to Soo Choi quickly senses her passion. She wants to get people excited about art and give them more access – which is why she's such an ideal fit for König. “We want to make it our mission with König to inform and educate our visitors about the different art movements,” she explains. “It's also something completely new for the local audience. Before, they had few opportunities to see European artists in Korea.” It’s an exciting process in which visitors can effect a great deal of influence on what is shown and the gallery owners can learn a lot from them. Based on the reactions to the shows at König Seoul, it is clear that there is ever greater potential to respond specifically to the market in Korea and its needs.

Seoul continues to evolve, and it is clear that the growing interest in contemporary art is a vital part of this development. Soo Choi is encouraged by this. “Seoul residents are more interested in going to museums and galleries. It used to be very difficult to attract people. We want to make it very casual and informal, which is why we don’t charge an entrance fee. Everyone is welcome here,” she explains. In the past, galleries were perceived as rather intimidating, but this inhibition has been fading in recent years. With Frieze Seoul just a first beacon of what is to come, König Seoul has a bright future in the capital city, and the coming years will reflect the powerful dialogue between collectors, visitors, and galleries, of which König is no doubt a part.

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