On ViewYoungeun Museum Of Contemporary Art
Korean Neo-Modernist: Osmosis Sculpture and Painting
March 25 – June 18, 2023
Gwangju, South Korea
The sculptor and painter Kim Young Won is considered by many residents of Seoul to be one of their major living artists. His art is the kind of work that needs to be seen—not on the screen, but directly according to its physical presence. It is within this context that the force of Kim’s work, recently shown at the Youngeun Museum of Contemporary Art in Gwangju City, Gyeonggi Province, delivers a distinct sense of both phantasmagoria and Qi-energy to the viewer.
At the outset of his sculptural career Kim was working with traditional bronze-cast figures. These would eventually give way to a series of experimental sculptures and bodily abstractions in which the figures no longer appeared to correspond to people as we are accustomed to seeing them in the everyday world. To grasp these works in all their clarity is to understand them in the context of a kind of high-minded virtual perspective, somewhat removed from the more explicit Freudian Surrealism advocated nearly a century earlier by artists such as Andre Breton, Giorgio de Chirico, Alberto Giacometti, and Max Ernst.
The more recent work by Kim moves in a different direction, giving more attention to his own body—he “performs” in relation to hanji paper or canvas and moves intuitively while focusing on his hands, elbows, shoulders, and torso, turning and twisting against his chosen format. These partially conscious or unconscious movements ultimately focus themselves into abstract paintings by defining their presence in a space beyond the exhaustion of westernized modernist expressionism.
While hanji and canvas dictate the surface qualities upon which the artist’s painterly abstract gestures are performed, Kim’s sculpture, such as the columns in Empty—Energy 1’2’3 (1994), cast in bronze, constitute the sculptural evidence of a performance with meditation as well. The rhythmic tactility found in Kim’s art is directly related to the rhythmical consequences of the artist’s primarily conscious movements. It is these movements that lead to some of Kim’s most evenly gestural marks: there is here an aspect of Qi-spiritual energy to be seen in the artist’s work.
Given their relationships to one another, as seen in full-view paintings of the installations within the museum, the energetic compulsion behind Kim’s works, whether on paper or bronze, heralds a characteristic sensibility that is difficult to ignore. The dimensions of his work come together to the extent that they are distinctly performative. Kim’s art echoes beyond the norms of traditional eastern art as it engages definitive aspects from western art as well.
Viewers of Kim’s paintings and sculptures may appreciate the subtle distinctions between works such as Qiosmosis D22K.S22 (2022) and Qiosmosis D22K.S52 (2022). In each painting, there is a color field ground with a single-colored brush work painted over it. For example, Qiosmosis D22K.S22 has a blue monochrome color field with a single white brush abstraction, while Qiosmosis D22K.S52 has a yellow monochrome color field with a single black brush abstraction. In each work, the width of the brush plays an equivalent, if not expressive role.
A more expansive display of Kim’s paintings may be found in the wall display titled Qiosmosis. There are eighty paintings on paper divided into five sections, each section containing sixteen paintings, color-coded from left to right as follows: White, Blue, Red, Yellow, Black: the symbolic colors of the five elements of Eastern philosophy (metal, wood, fire, earth, and water). Each painting follows Kim’s standard monochromatic underpainting with an abstract calligraphic sign painted over it.
The title of this display of paintings is a combination of two words, namely Qi, meaning the source of spiritual energy, and osmosis, a scientific word used to define the “process by which molecules of a solvent tend to pass through a semi-permeable membrane from a less concentrated solution into a more concentrated one.” It is well known that Kim meditates each day. His advanced work as a painter and sculptor is contingent on this process. The construction and meaning of the word “Qiosmosis” most accurately captures the artist’s work through a concentration of body and mind, a fulfillment of who we are as human beings.