Styles contrast in Kim exhibit

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Styles contrast in Kim exhibit

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The use of color in the paintings of the Korean-American artist Byron Kim is a matter of social content. In his “Synecdoche,” an enormous grid consisting of hundreds of panels in colors ranging from pale white to pink to dark brown, Kim filled in each panel to match the skin tone of his friends and acquaintances.
Kim took a step further with murals for an exhibit at the Whitney Museum in 1999. Kim created abstract wall paintings made with dust collected from the museum’s vacuum cleaners.
His approach makes him a unique artist in the convention of minimalist art in Western art history, which has traditionally viewed painting as an aesthetic subject rather than a political one.
In “Byron Kim: Recent Photographs and Sunday Paintings,” currently on display at the PKM Gallery, it looks as if the artist seeks for broader meanings of painting as a medium by placing photography next to his paintings.
The attempt to mix the two mediums in one show is intriguing in Kim’s works, mainly because painting and photography have historically been used to suggest different meanings. Photography was often used to represent a historical narrative while painting seemed to embody the personal. Photography has usually been associated with fact and the conscious while painting referred to nostalgia and sentiment.
In his current exhibit, Kim again attempts to subvert this tradition by personalizing a historical medium while politicizing a sentimental medium.
In “What I see,” for example, the artist has created a large photographic panorama by pasting and rearranging hundreds of photo cutouts from snapshots he has taken of his own life, such as family picnics in the park or places that he’s visited.
He first projects his personal vision onto the photograph, then complicates and reconstructs the narrative of those images even further.
In “Sunday Paintings,” on the upper gallery of the current exhibit, the artist does the opposite. He takes small panels in intimately scaled cubes, and writes personal journals of each day over paintings of the sky, based on direct observations of the colors outside his studio.
The paintings offer an amusing parallel, because from afar they reference the fascination with nature in the romantic landscape paintings of some of the noted British painters, such as John Constable or JMW Turner. In reality, however, the text in Kim’s paintings, which documents daily incidents and memories, displays the personal history of an artist of color who was never part of Western art history.
Overall, the exhibit raises a question of beauty. The audience is left to ponder the aesthetic pleasures of art, until the work awakens us to recognize that beauty may have blinded our ability to confront the critical content of reality.


by Park Soo-mee

“Byron Kim: Recent Photographs and Sunday Paintings” runs through May 27th at the PKM Gallery.
For more information, call 02-734-9467.
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