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Frieze Week Seoul 2023

Explore More Art at Seoul’s Institutions, from Art Sonje Center to SeMA

Alongside the fair, the city’s museum exhibitions are exploring video games, urbanism and historical change this September

BY Chris Waywell in Frieze Seoul , Frieze Week Magazine | 08 SEP 23

Seoul Mediacity Biennale at Seoul Museum of Art

Titled “This Too, Is a Map”, Seoul’s Mediacity Biennale returns for its 12th edition in 2023. Confirmed participants include: Animali Domestici, Mercedes Azpilicueta, Kent Chan, Chan Sook Choi, Jesse Chun, Fyerool Darma, Torkwase Dyson, Ximena Garrido-Lecca, Femke Herregraven, ikkibawiKrrr, Francois Knoetze, Sasha Litvintseva & Beny Wagner, Anna Maria Maiolino, Sanou Oumar, Jaye Rhee, Bo Wang, Agustina Woodgate, Guido Yannitto and Shen Xin.

Elena Damiani, The Erratic Marbles V, 2022.
Elena Damiani, The Erratic Marbles V, 2022. Courtesy: the artist 

As the title suggests, this year’s biennale is themed around interconnectivity, networks and infrastructure, and this time it will participate in Seoul Art Week with selected projects and programs featuring in the Frieze and KIAF art fairs from September 6, before the biennale proper opens.

Under the new directorship of Rachael Rakes, this edition considers different ideas of linkages and breakages, from cultural diaspora and physical displacements, to borders and transnational systems, languages and coded communications—cartographies that subvert the supposed rationality of the map. Specific to its location, it also looks at the place that Seoul occupies within the post-industrial environment of 21st-century Korea, and as a global focal point for the arts. Start your cultural orienteering here.

Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) and other locations, September 21–November 19.Selected presentations from September 6

4th Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism at Seoul Hall of Urbanism and Architecture

Sky Pavilion, 2023.
The Sky Pavilion of the 4th Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: the artist 

Not about to be outdone in the biennale stakes, the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism has its fourth edition this year, hosting the “Seoul 100-year Masterplan Exhibition”. Directed by architect Cho Byoung-soo and curated by Eui Young Chun, Leif Høgfeldt Hansen, Sara Kim, Lim Jinyoung and Sang Hoon Youm, the biennale called for proposals in 2022, with the winning schemes now going on display. Across three key fields—ecology, topography and views—the projects address a wide range of planning issues facing the Korean capital over the next century, as well as the ways it can rationalize and improve upon the legacy of the past, especially with regards to the huge expansion the city underwent in the period following the Korean War. Specific areas of interest include the integration of the urban and the natural, creating better eco-friendly developments, future-proofing infrastructure and the renovation and repurposing of rundown or empty buildings. In the words of Cho Byoung-soo, “This open competition will serve as an opportunity to regain Seoul’s original identity, while reconfiguring it as a futuristic city, and unveiling its environmental / topographical features to the fullest.” See the future here, now.

Songhyeon Green Plaza, the area surrounding the Seoul Hall of Urbanism & Architecture. September 21–October 29

Kim Beom and Suki Seokyeong Kang at Leeum Museum

Suki Seokyeong Kang, Mountain — autumn #21-01, 2020-2021.
Suki Seokyeong Kang, Mountain — autumn #21-01, 2020–2021, painted steel, thread, chain, 128.3 ×  97.8  ×  40cm. Courtesy: Studio Suki Seokyeong Kang; photograph: Sangtae Kim 

The reimagined Leeum Museum is presenting two separate and intriguing-looking solo shows over the summer and autumn, from Korean artists Kim Beom and Suki Seokyeong Kang. With a career spanning more than three decades, Kim’s show represents a significant retrospective of his work to date. He is best known for his absurdist conceptual take on the domestic and quotidian as well as his witty way with titles, such as: Untitled (Front Toe of Lion Standing on a Miniature Axe That Was Lost by a Tourist from Hawaii)(2016).

Kang’s work also embraces the domestic and human-scaled in order to question the rules and codes that are embedded within cultural, communal and personal identities. Her practice includes painting, sculpture, performance, video and installation, and her use of the grid as an organizational framework is recurrent throughout her work. Traditional Korean musical notation and weaving are some of her key influences.

Thematically complementary, each of these exhibitions promises to be a fascinating overview of an important Korean artist.

Leeum Museum. Kim Beom (July–November) and Suki Seokyeong Kang (September–January 2024)

“Game Society” at MMCA

Lu Yang, Material World Knight , 2018.
Lu Yang, Material World Knight, 2018, video still. Courtesy: © 2018 Lu Yang

It’s 50 years since the birth of video games, so it’s hardly surprising that their influence is visible in everything from art to advertising, and increasingly driving the AI and virtual-reality debates. This important show at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art specifically looks at the role that video games now play in a post-pandemic, post-lock-down world.

“Game Society” investigates what happens when the virtual space becomes “real life”, when the ways we socialize are mediated by technology and how the increasing gamification of our everyday lives offers both challenges and opportunities for creative practitioners. The show features more than 30 works by contemporary artists who have been influenced by the language and aesthetics of video games, as well as nine actual games for you to play—just in case it’s all getting a bit conceptual and not hands-on enough for you. The games are borrowed from several important global collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC.

“Game Society” at MMCA. May 12–September 10.

Suh Yongsun: “My Name Is Red” at Art Sonje Center

Suh Yongsun, City-In the Car, 1989, 1991.
Suh Yongsun, City-In the Car, 1989, 1991, oil on canvas, 230 × 180cm. Courtesy: the artist 

Perhaps no Korean artist has been as active in documenting the transformation of their country as the painter and sculptor Suh Yongsun. For five decades he has explored the themes of “people, cities and history”: how individuals are part of—and yet stand apart from—communities, conurbations and the past. In his works, figures are frequently presented in disturbing and inexplicable dreamlike scenarios—with suggestions of totalitarianism, interrogations and incarceration—alongside a lyrical, mythic strain and recurring natural motifs, especially the pine tree.

Suh frequently looks to Western painting, particularly expressionism, and depicts remote historical events (including one of the best-ever paintings of Stalin in Postdam Conference [2012]). Yet his work is always infused with a poignant cultural specificity and his palette evokes Eastern pictographic traditions.

This show at Art Sonje Center presents more than 70 of Suh’s works, dating back to the 1980s, and invites a fresh understanding of his practice as related to, but distinct from, the conventional linear reading of modern Korean art history. In his life, as in his art, Suh remains a figure apart.

Art Sonje Center, July 15–October 22 (parts 1 and 2), September 15–October 22 (part 3)

This article first appeared in Frieze Week, Seoul 2023 under the headline “Beyond the Fair”.

Main image: Lawrence Lek, Nøtel (Seoul Edition), 2023, installation view, MMCASeoul. Courtesy: the artist and Sadie Coles HQ, London

Chris Waywell is Senior Editor of Frieze Studios. He lives in London, UK.