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Contemporary art industry experiences unprecedented growth in Korea: The expanding economy of creativity

2023.06.27 04:02:40 Junu Kim
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[Photo Credit to Pixabay]

The contemporary art industry is witnessing substantial economic growth, particularly in South Korea, where artists are earning more income than ever before.

Korea Art Management Service (KAMS) reports that the South Korean art market experienced a threefold increase in size last year, reaching an estimated worth of 920 billion won ($663.6 million).

Although South Korea represented a mere 2% of worldwide art sales in 2021, the local art market in Seoul has expanded remarkably , drawing a steadily increasing number of customers, predominantly from the younger generation.

Ato Song, an emerging contemporary artist, observed that a considerable proportion of the young art purchasers he met fell within the age range of 30 to 40 years old. 

These individuals tend to view art as a novel financial instrument, similar in nature to stocks or real estate.

In order to delve deeper into this burgeoning market, I conducted an interview with Ato Song, also known as TOOL BOY, an artist who is gaining global recognition and drawing collectors from all corners of the world.

Ato highlighted the fact that artists’ income can be extremely volatile, as earnings ebb and flow over time. 

He attributes the growth of the art industry to the wide array of art forms now available, which extend far beyond traditional paintings to encompass NFTs, jewelry, furniture, clothing, and even smartphone cases.

Ato's artwork consistently commands a price of $20,000 USD per piece, irrespective of the size of the work. 

While he appreciates the revenue his art generates, Ato emphasizes that not all artists enjoy financial stability, as achieving fame demands not only considerable time and effort but also a significant amount of fortune and luck. 

He noted that some artists achieve success faster than others, some become millionaires, while others never do. However, artists at every level have contributed to this ever-growing industry.

For Ato, years of dedication and perseverance were required before he could finally organize exhibitions and receive inquiries from potential buyers interested in purchasing his artwork.

To support himself while pursuing his passion, Ato held various jobs, such as graphic design, film translation, and interior construction - he would work two to three shifts each day to make ends meet. 

His journey reflects the initial challenges that many artists confront while attempting to establish a stable career in the arts.

Yes, the contemporary art market in South Korea, as well as globally, is experiencing rapid growth. 

This phenomena is being fueled by a new generation of art enthusiasts who regard art as a valuable investment opportunity.

This growth has enabled some artists, like Ato Song, to enjoy increased success and financial stability. 

Nonetheless, it is crucial to recognize that not all artists share this level of prosperity, as many continue to grapple with the demands of a competitive industry and the necessity of maintaining multiple income sources.

The growing art industry in South Korea serves as a testament to the evolving landscape of contemporary art and the potential opportunities that lie ahead for both artists and collectors.

Junu Kim / Grade 10
Yongsan International School of Seoul