Home United States USA — Korea As Art Dealers Descend on Seoul, One Looks Farther South

As Art Dealers Descend on Seoul, One Looks Farther South

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Hyeryung Ahn is preparing for a major expansion of her Leeahn Gallery in the South Korean city of Daegu.
On a recent morning, Hyeryung Ahn sat in the top-floor office of her Leeahn Gallery in the art-filled Seochon neighborhood of Seoul, discussing how she balanced her dual roles as a collector and a dealer in the Korean art world.
“I don’t necessarily need to manage my time,” Mrs. Ahn said playfully. “Most of the great things I have collected have been impulse purchases. I can’t help it.”
A few of Mrs. Ahn’s holdings were arrayed around her, such as a Franz West sculpture resembling a paint-spattered boulder and a compact mountain of white cubes by Sol LeWitt, both protected inside translucent cases. Behind her was a luminous painting that suggested weathered, black and white coral — hanji paper layered atop charcoal, then hit with a wire brush by Lee Jin Woo. He is one of the half-dozen artists, all Korean, represented by Leeahn, which Mrs. Ahn opened in 2007 in the southeastern city of Daegu. (Her three-floor Seoul location followed in 2013; an Antony Gormley sculpture of a nude man stands on its roof.)
An Andy Warhol show inaugurated the Daegu headquarters, establishing Mrs. Ahn, 64, as a source in South Korea for work of artists from abroad. American giants like David Salle, Alex Katz and Elizabeth Peyton have had their first solo outings in the country with her. Now, as galleries from outside South Korea quickly enter the nation — Pace Gallery, Tang Contemporary Art, Lehmann Maupin and Gladstone Gallery have opened branches, or relocated to far larger venues, over the past year in Seoul — Mrs. Ahn is building big in Daegu. The city, which is about two hours away from Seoul by high-speed rail and home to 2.5 million, has far fewer exhibition spaces than the capital. Leeahn plans to unveil an expansion there in the summer of 2023, with 15,000 square feet across five floors designed by the architect Pil Joon Jeon, and a show by the German artist Imi Knoebel.

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