Artist, activist and teacher Kim Yong-Ik is due to make his first mark in the UK thanks to a dual showing this autumn. His 40-year artistic career has spanned South Korea’s governmental shifts from dictatorship to democracy, and his ensuing artistic interpretations have had a deep effect on Korea’s art historical trajectory.
The complementary shows will have the Korean Cultural Centre UK (KCCUK) featuring new site-specific paintings that engage with the exhibition space, and Spike Island, meanwhile, will provide a survey of his works since the 1970s. Spike Island showcases works produced under the Dansaekhwa movement – Korean monochromatic painting – that serve to underline Kim’s questioning of contemporary art and its forms. One of Kim’s most noted contributions was his late 1970s Plane Objects series, unstretched paintings using their materiality to challenge the formal picture plane.
Although included in the inaugural Young Artists Exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul in 1981, Kim’s political activist motivations began to take precedence and soon his works were packed away in an act of opposition to the military dictatorship at the time. This move is now largely viewed as a precursor to the direction his practice would take in the following decades.
KCCUK’s role looks to a moment when Korea’s scene was dominated by two contrasting art forms – Minjung (people’s art) and Korean Modernism – Kim’s oeuvre resonated with both due to the shared interest in institutional critique. However, his foray into conceptualism, as with his 1980s geometrics of 1990s polka dot works, differentiated and ultimately characterised Kim’s practice. As his emphasis on simplicity and honesty developed, Kim stated, “A good artwork would be ok even if it’s a bit torn or soiled or broken.” Many of his most recognisable works featured a juxtaposition of precise forms against imperfect canvases, before eventually diving deeper into artistic provocation by breaking away from the canvas altogether to turn space into a relief, redefining the notion of what images must, or need to, exist upon.
This tendency towards reform is visible in his more recent initiatives, including the numerous texts he has produced on the future of museums and art education, his participation in the artist resistance movement Gwangju Biennale Normalisation Art-wide Committee, which criticised the bureaucratisation of a biennial by “government-friendly artists and critics,” or by 1999, along with Lee Yeong-wook, Hwang Se-jun and Park Chan-kyung, the founding of art space pool, Korea’s first artist-run venue.
Kim Yong-Ik will show 26 September-4 November at the Korean Cultural Centre UK, London; and 30 September-17 December at Spike Island, Bristol. For more information, visit London.korean-culture.org and Spikeisland.org.uk.