Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Observations on the Art Market 5.15

Sometimes it seems as if the goal of every artist isn't to create art but to own a gallery to hang their still yet to be created art in. Jonathan Grossmalerman has said that artists today ask themselves what good an artist is without a gallery and the answer is always not much. He sarcastically added maybe the fact that no one wants to show your work is a sign.

I can't say the thought of owning a gallery has never crossed my mind but I always leaned towards dreams of curating in a museum of some sort. If I did open a gallery I know just the place to do it. Seoul, as in Korea. There is a total lack of galleries in Korea supporting local artists. Even the vaunted Larry Gagosian doesn't have a gallery In Korea and it seems every time I open an art mag he is opening a gallery in some dark alley somewhere. At a time when Asian markets are exploding (China, Hong Kong) Korea is the most isolated art market in the world. As an example Hwang Dal Seung is one of the largest gallery owners in Korea and the driving force behind the largest Korean art fair yet the Asian Hotel Art Fair is held in Hong Kong.

There are a few reasons for this. The first is the unique philosophy of many Korean artists. They are more interested in the creation of the art and the personal meaning it may have than any public reaction. It's unique in that it's not the prevailing philosophy today but it's something I totally understand because often I think the same way.

The other reasons have more to do with the traditions and legalities of the Korean art market, or maybe I should say lack of legalities. A few years ago it was found Shin Jeong-ah, an art professor and curator, had forged her academic record and embezzled gallery money for which she spent two years in prison. At the same time works by artists such as Kwon Ok-yeon and Do Sang-bok were put up at auction but than exposed as forgeries. The auctions were canceled at the last minute. These are just a few examples but there are many others.

Samsung, LG, and Hyundai and three of the largest corporate sponsors of art in the world but in Korea itself art transactions are very secretive. Until 2011 there were no taxes at all on works of art or art transactions, now any work over 60 million (approx. $50,000) is taxable but not if involves a Korean artist. At the same time the law also allows works of art to be regarded as corporate assets so in most cases individuals aren't responsible for the taxes the very same law levies. Korean art collectors don't release specific price or transaction information so I have no clue how taxes are going to be collected.

Traditionally art is a favorite form of bribe in Korea because there is so little oversight. One of the more prominent cases involved Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee who resigned in 2008 and was convicted of operating a bribery slush fund. He was later pardoned by the South Korean government and returned to his position at Samsung.

More recently art has become the favored way to launder money* in South Korea. This has become a world wide problem, The New York Times ran an article on it just days ago, but South Korea's tradition of secrecy aggravates the problem.

So upon further review maybe my Seoul gallery is a bad idea.

*A non-Korean example happened in New York last month when charges were filed against the New York dealer Helly Nahmad charging that he worked "to launder tens of millions of dollars on behalf of the illegal gambling business." Also there is a book being published this month on this subject, "Money Laundering Through Art: A Criminal Justice Perspective" by Fausto Martin De Sanctis. De Sanctis has a Doctorate in Criminal Law from the University of São Paulo’s School of Law and is currently on a Brazilian court specializing in money laundering.