On Tuesday afternoon, the head of Pace Gallery, Marc Glimcher, was on the top floor of his elegant three-story pile in Seoul’s Hannam area recalling his firm’s first gallery in the city. “We started across the street, above the Volkswagen dealer,” he told a scrum of journalists. “A little room. We had to tip the paintings to squeeze them in.” He tilted his body to illustrate.
That was only five years ago, but it may as well have been decades in the past. Things change quickly in the capital of South Korea, and the art industry has been booming. In just the last 18 months, many other elite dealers have landed from abroad—Gladstone, König, Ropac, and Tang among them—and Glimcher’s gallery, which has nine spaces worldwide, has upgraded in high style.
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In May of 2021, Pace moved into the upper two floors of its current home, which was designed by Venice Architecture Biennale Golden Lion winner Minsuk Cho, and it has kept growing. When the Jo Malone store on the ground floor vacated, Pace scooped up that space, too.
“We believe very strongly that art needs a white cube, like this,” Glimcher said, motioning to the show of strangely wan charcoal drawings by Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie on the walls around him, “but it also now needs a black box for digital and technology artists and new-media artists creating environments.” That new ground floor is Pace’s black box, where a show by the Japanese tech collective TeamLab is on view.
TeamLab’s exhibition features digital work with astonishingly vivid flowers that change—they bloom, shed petals, fade away—in real time. (Jan Davidsz de Heem, eat your heart out.) For even the greatest art-tech cynic, it should be a joy to behold. “We are trying to stretch the understanding of the world, and that might eventually change how we see the work,” Toshiyuki Inoko, the group’s founder said, with interpreters translating from Japanese to Korean and English. (If you are an interpreter with art knowledge, business is also booming here.)
After that black-box addition, one more space remained in the building, which was “too tempting,” Glimcher said. And so Pace leased, that, too, and turned it into a combination art bookshop and teahouse. The gallery chief said that the idea came to him and Youngjoo Lee, who heads the Seoul outpost, while meeting with the collector Suh Kyung-bae, the chairman of the Amorepacific beauty empire, at his teahouse. (The firm owns the august tea brand Osulloc, which has many locations in Korea.)
Pace partnered with Osulloc to create a café, where one wall holds a sprawling painting of thin black and blue vertical bands by the Japanese artist Kohei Nawa. He was on hand on opening day, finishing the piece. The room looks out onto a central courtyard that will be used to display sculpture (right now, an installation by TeamLab fills it), and inside there are fine teas on offer—and tea-based cocktails. That cannot hurt sales at the bookstore, which also also sells relatively affordable prints by Pace artists.
After a few drinks, TeamLab’s main attraction should be especially alluring. It is a kind of 2.0 Kusama “Infinity Room,” a small mirrored chamber where tiny hanging lights exude a ghostly glow. The light takes the form of perfect spheres, floating in air.
“From the perspective of physics,” Inoko said, “it’s completely impossible to keep the light as a sphere.” But he has somehow found a way to make viewers believe that is happening. Which is apropos. When an art fair takes a risk on a new city, it is a good time to believe.