Ocula Insight

Younghee Sohn

Laura Thomson
Founder and Director, Art Busan, 20 May - 23 May 2016
Image: Younghee Sohn, Founder and Director of Art Busan.

On 20th May 2016, the 5th edition of Art Busan will open to the public in Korea’s vibrant southern city of Busan. Founded by Younghee Sohn, the fair has grown into one of the most significant platforms for contemporary art in the region.

2016 will be the largest edition of the fair to date with more than 190 galleries from 19 countries presenting works to an expected audience of 50,000 collectors.

We caught up with the Founder and Director of Art Busan, Younghee Sohn to talk about her original vision for the fair and how it has quickly grown to become a premier event on the art world calendar.

Before founding Art Busan in 2011, you worked in the corporate sector. Tell us about how you first became involved in the art market and how your background has informed the nature of Art Busan? 

Prior to founding Art Busan, I was marketing manager for an air filtering company which required me to make frequent trips to Europe where I had the opportunity to visit many art institutions and galleries, which naturally nurtured my passion and interest in art. 

As a significant part of my position was to liaise with domestic developers and present their products at industry fairs, it gradually dawned on me that the operation of art fairs wasn’t too different.  Furthermore, watching the tourism industry in Busan flourish, I felt a strong desire to see the cultural sector grow equally which was how the idea for the fair arose. 

The skills and experience gained in a corporate environment has definitely helped me and aided in the rapid growth and success of the fair.

2016 marks the fifth edition of Art Busan. What was your original vision for the fair and how has this evolved over the years?

When Art Busan was first conceived, my vision was to positively affect the culture of ‘the daily grind’ embedded in both the domestic and corporate sectors of contemporary society. The idea was to create a fair that not only the people of Busan could enjoy, but also art world professionals would find stimulating. Five years on, it is deeply gratifying to see Art Busan grow into what is considered to be the premier national art fair.

What do you feel have been the greatest achievements of the fair since its inception and what role does Art Busan play in the South Korean art market today?

Each year, approximately 50,000 people visit Art Busan, and while there has always been consumer potential, many of the visitors have lacked an interest in art in the past. Recently, visitors are showing more of an interest in collecting, and the number of new collectors are growing steadily which is reflected in the 60% rise in sales each year. Collectors who have previously gone abroad for new acquisitions are now coming to Art Busan which is good news for both the participating galleries and the collectors. As a result, international galleries now make up 40% of participating galleries.  

2016 will see 190 galleries from 19 countries participating at Art Busan. What considerations do the selection committee work with when selecting galleries to take part in the fair?

The quality of the art is of the utmost importance. Furthermore, members of the committee research extensively by visiting major international art fairs, always on the look out for leading galleries with inspiring programming and artists to invite.

What are some of the highlights, in terms of galleries and artists, that visitors can look forward to?

A feature that differentiates Art Busan from other fairs is the variety of special projects and exhibitions visitors can enjoy at the fair. Furthermore, we are conscious of the importance of facilitating and encouraging new collectors, and strive to present fine works of art at regulated, fair prices.  

I assume your audience is mostly Korean. What is the typical profile of Korean collectors? 

It ranges from new collectors who will contemplate throughout the duration of the fair to experienced collectors with a clear eye who will snap things up during the VIP preview. I think this is much the same in any fair.

What other events will be happening in Busan at the time of the fair that visitors should attend?

There are many exciting exhibitions in and around Busan that will be on view during the fair. I would highly recommend visitors to see Photographic Images and Matter: Japanese Prints of the 1970s at the Busan Museum of Art. While at the Busan Museum of Art, I would highly recommend visiting the newly inaugurated Space Lee Ufan which showcases 15 works donated by the artist. I also encourage visitors to see Present, an exhibition featuring works by Mel Bochner, Bharti Kher, Rita Ackermann, Hernan Bas, Gilbert & George, Elad Iassry and Zheng Jiang, at Johyun Gallery, Busan. Furthermore, Chun Kwang Young: A Retrospective will open the weekend of the fair at Wooyang Museum, Gyeongju, a city north of Busan but only a 30 minute journey on the KTX. 

There will be a free shuttle-bus going around the fair location, BEXCO, that visitors will be able to utilise. Please visit our website for more information. —[O]

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