A turf war between South Korea’s galleries and auction houses intensifies, while a trade body warns of a “collapse” in the market regime


A South Korean gallery trade group is stepping up its fight against the country’s major auction houses, which it says are hurting their members’ businesses.

The Association of Korean Galleries first published a salvo more than two weeks ago alleging that K Auction and Seoul Auction had breached a “gentleman’s agreement” signed by the two sides in 2007, in which the auction houses agreed not to sell certain items that as such would be seen as competitive and detrimental to galleries.

But the association says the houses have nevertheless held “excessive auctions” and shipped work direct from artists, in violation of the rules.

Now the association plans to hold its own auction on January 26 to make a statement and regain some control. Sale includes works by Park Su-guen, Lee Ufan, Lee Insung, Son Sangki, Yoon Hyong-Keun, Park Seo-bo and Kim Chang-yeul and other artists.

A preview of the January 24-26 event at the Westin Josun Seoul Grand Ballroom, dubbed the “storytelling” show, emphasizes the gallery’s role in artist discovery and shaping discourse.

“From one perspective, some have claimed that holding an ‘auction’ against the ‘auction houses’ is a contradictory act and have the uncomfortable view that it ends up being a ‘turf war,’ a ‘rice bowl fight.'” The association shared in a message. However, the significant opinion has also made an idea of ​​the association acceptable given the reality of the art market in Korea.”

The association said previous requests for auction houses to pull out were ignored. The group “constantly sought cooperation and made great efforts to send out official documents and request interviews. However, auction houses only emphasized the ‘logic of the market’ and did not listen to it.”

© 2022 Artnet Price Database and Artnet Analytics.

The Artnet Price Database shows a significant increase in K and Seoul auctions in 2021 from just $70 million in 2020 to around $250 million, a more than three-fold increase.

Neither K Auction nor Seoul Auction responded to requests for comment.

Tensions between auction houses and galleries are nothing new in the art world. They often compete for coveted jobs and quarrel over prices and speculation. But the Korea Galleries Association says its grievances go beyond professional norms.

“The order between the primary and secondary art markets is collapsing because of recklessness Operation of the auction house,” says a statement from the association.

Image via Korean Galleries Association

Image via Korean Galleries Association

In a survey conducted by the group in the second half of 2020, 70 percent of members said they had “experienced or heard of damage from auctions”. Their main complaints were that the houses stifled the growth of young artists through direct sales, encouraged speculation and devalued artists, the statement said.

The trade association auction is not published the broadcasts of the sale, nor do they allow the public to view them unless invited by a member gallery.

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