di Valentina Buzzi

Huh Need-you 개인전 ‘친애하는 공포에게 Dear Fear’, 2020, 전시전경, photo by. CJYARTSTUDIO (c) Courtesy of Geomang Creative Studio

“Love the discussion above, it got me thinking: Probably the most distinctive feature of an upcoming age could be that it’ll be post-materialistic. People used to paint things with gold or in a large scale to drive value, and now we’re experiencing a complete reduction to the core of every art piece. You can look at it from everywhere, experience it for free and you don’t invest in the material work but in the immaterial essence behind it. People love things they can buy and show off with. The digital renaissance might question exactly that and liberate us from the materialistic approach. Now we could ask ourselves, what do we aim for with NFTs? Do we see them as a digital thing of their own related to the immaterial new arts pace or as a signifier of a conventional material artwork?” 

From VasariDAO

In the latest year, especially since the pandemic, the art market has embarked in significant phases of re-thinking, re-developing and revolutionising itself. Among these processes, we have been all invited to reflect on established practices and ongoing issues. In response, new phenomena have emerged and new buzzwords have found their place within the discourse.

Within the different themes explored, one of the most discussed sees the artists and their relationship with the market, with new directions brought by the advent of crypto-art, decentralisation and NFTs, another by rising considerations on shifting away from a strong sales-driven art world, which develops at the cost of artists’ sustainable career. 

Even in the context of the capitalist-led and over-heated Seoul art market, we find inspiring practices which work in order to re-establish a sustainable system aiming to put artists first. As much as this may sound oxymoronic for many, we sat down with Jae Hyun Lee, Founder and co-CEO of the newly established artist agency Geomang Creative Studio, to discuss his own take on the discourse. 

Jae Hyun Lee – Founder and co-CEO of Geomang Creative Studio


The Seoul art market is a peculiar one: reflecting the fast-paced economic development of the country over the last decades, today is as hot as ever, with many primary access of leading artists almost unreachable, and art fairs often “sold out” since day one. It is a money-business, as art has always been – we don’t deny it – yet, there is such a sales-driven focus, that the sustainable growth of the artists themselves is often put at risk. Furthermore, the lack of a long term “support base” for emerging artists, or for those fresh of art school (academia rarely prepares for real life when it comes to the arts), complicates things:  “Because how the whole society and system work, people tend to look towards artists in a certain way, and because that look (or, in a Foucauldian way, gaze) has been distilled for so much time – it gets internalised by the artists as well, whereas I feel like it should be changing, and I tend to work towards that goal”.

Jae Hyun Lee is clear in explaining the leading issue: without a healthy support of the artists, there is no healthy art market. His view is therefore condensed in the act of “putting artists first”,meaning approaching and understanding art management as an horizontal co-creative base which grows, sustainably, long-term, with the artists themselves. Hopefully, this sustainable practice could help the market flourish in healthier ways. 

Geomang Creative Studio has been investing in this vision for over one year, mostly with artists based in Seoul, but working borderless – thanks also to the process of decentralization led by crypto-art . Teaming up with a local curator, Jae developed a business model and plan which aims to work towards “a system to systematically fix the way artists are perceived socially and worked with ”. 

EJ Hyun, Strawberry Mark_mixed media (c) Courtesy of Geomang Creative Studio

The main goal is that of growing as a collective, to collaborate together and embark this journey as a whole, rather than having a definitive hierarchy.  The secret ingredient is to focus on the concept of a community, as “today people’s access to the art community is getting weaker compared to how the money flow is getting higher”

As Jae explains, “A positive feedback we had from our artists and collectors, is that the firsts want to communicate more with their audience, and the latters want to know more about the artists’ practices and process. Today, the way artworks are made goes beyond a painting on canvas, there is a lot of material (or immaterial) process and experimentation that the artist does. And enabling that to be visible to the public is a key step, the second point is allowing a conversation to flow”.

The idea of creating an horizontal and communicative environment, which – he admits – is very difficult within the current heated art market, is the reason why the studio turned to look also at NFTs, a system which follows per se an idea of decentralized atmosphere and community-driven art: “the whole NFT concept is based on the idea that the community has to work together for the artist to survive – and not simply that the artist’ making will be rewarded by asset and ownership as a whole”.

Of course, this is not that simple: there is a common acknowledgment on how the physical art world was mimicking its hierarchical agenda in the digital escape. Yet, Jae makes a focal point: “what we have observed is the lack of understanding of what the crypto-community is as a whole cultural capital. Crypto Culture itself is rooting into the annychilist internet age, a kind of culture that gathers around github,reddit, or discord, where everybody is rooting for open source, transparency and ethics”. This perhaps is what mainstream main galleries or mega-players are missing.

This idea lead to the creation of VasariDAO, a decentralised platform which engages with its community (made of artists, collectors, crypto investors and passionates) in thought-provoking questions which sparks debates and dialogues, such as the one that opened this article: “Can NFTs be the renaissance of our time” – “several weeks ago” – says Jae “we had a debate on platonian aestheticism, and everyone was trying to understand what the ideal experience of the digital art world was in comparison to the traditional art world”. 

If we think at the juxtaposition of concepts such as NFTs and Renaissance, we may want to recall a leading aspect of that period of the 15th century: art patronage, a concept that has recently been revitalized when it comes to art collecting, alluding to a vision which sees a sustainable way of collecting whose main point is to support the artists’ growth. It is not distant from what Geomang Creative Studio is trying to attempt by creating a fertile environment where artists and their community connect. 

Eunjin Kim, 신의 자리 _선명한 찰나 2 (c) Courtesy of Geomang Creative Studio

Jae also has a clear value–based view on the artist to work with:  “As for now we have about 7 or 8 artists which have signed with the agency, and the age difference is pretty heavy – the painter we are exhibiting right now is in her 50s, and her paintings are exemplary of a craftsmanship that i never experience before – whereas other artists are more experimental with mediums and fresh out of college. We don’t really look at the age or experience, but rather at the values we want to express and share. In our main page on our website, we have a sentence which says “are you unsure about your place within the universe? Let’s find the answer together” and I think that this is the kind of direction we wanted to jump off of, we are talking about how the treatment of artists should be systematically built, and I think it all comes from this grey area of people not knowing how to begin. And within that process, we have to enjoy this grey area together”.

There is a further important aspect which is enabled by this management approach, which sees the revitalisation of the figure of an artist as a complex individual. In the current socially conscious and politically charged art environment, there is a rather reductionist attitude when it comes to artists and their work: we are often abandoning the complexity of the artist as an individual to rather use more instrumentalized categories as our lens of reading: black artists, queer artists, Asian artists…we like to put them in a box, and many times this practice is highly instrumentalised by the mainstream market. 

Goyoson, Michel, 2021, 전시전경, photo by. 양이언 (c) Courtesy of Geomang Creative Studio

Starting his career in the artworld as a painter, Jae has a precise view on such concepts: “when i was in art school in the US, I thought that the whole idea of making something political was the leading point, but my art was often instrumentalized: for some time I had this gut feeling that I could not make artworks anymore as it was immediately read through the lens of being an asian or asian–american artist. I wanted to find a way to act upon it in a better way, not merely leaning towards art for art’s sake, but trying to keep this strong value for image and aesthetics, and the complexity of oneself and their art: I found that my best position was that of staying in the background and help”.

It is thus not strange to see how the current artists’ portfolio of Geomang focuses on the idea of the “uncertain”, explored through the most various interpretations and mediums by the current 8 artists they represent:
Ej Hyun, Eunjing Kim, FWB, Goyoson, Huh Need You, Tiffany Kim and Yaloo.

The quote at the incipit of this article reports one of VasariDAO’s engaging discussions, which allowed us to consider the thought of a new kind of possible renaissance in the arts, which might be nurtured both by the digital renaissance itself and by a new way of working with artists: with Jae, we looked at key ingredients to sustain such view: putting artists’ first, growing together with them, reintroducing complexity, pushing decentralization and globalism beyond instrumentalism, and – of course – bringing back a patronage, which is revolutionary itself as it comes in form of a co-creative effort. Geomang Creative Studio is putting effort in all of these aspects, and we quite like the direction it is leading.

Yaloo_Homo_Paulinella_Installation view at Platform L contemporary Art Center_2020(c) Courtesy of Geomang Creative Studio

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