Kim Ku-lim: ‘Trying new things is my job’

By Lee Woo-young

Pioneer of avant-garde art presents works since 2000 at Arario Gallery

  • Published : Jul 23, 2014 - 19:37
  • Updated : Jul 23, 2014 - 19:38
Artist Kim Ku-lim has been at the forefront of contemporary art in Korea. He has taken on unprecedented, experimental artistic practices in the conservative world of Korean art.

He is the first to have tried many of the independent genres of avant-garde art. His 1970 performance in which he set fire to a vast lawn and then watched the grass grow again is the first example of land art ever practiced in Korea. His 1969 film “1/24 Seconds,” which consisted of 24 still images shown in a one-second time frame, is now regarded as the first experimental movie in Korean film history.

His previous exhibitions shed light on works mainly made in the 1960s and 1970s, including a retrospective at the Seoul Museum of Art in 2013. This summer, Kim will present his latest works for the first time at his solo exhibition at Arario Gallery Seoul. At the gallery’s Cheonan branch, his works from the 1970s to the 1990s are on exhibit in the form of an archive exhibition.

Age doesn’t keep the 78-year-old artist from pursuing “something that’s never been tried.”

His radical collages and paintings feature various images of body parts and objects from magazines and photographs. Since 2000, he has portrayed plastic surgery through his art.

Kim said he was shocked by so many advertisements of plastic surgery clinics in Seoul when he arrived in Korea at the turn of the 21st century. He had left the country in the 1980s in search of broader artistic experience and lived in Paris and New York. 
Artist Kim Ku-lim. (Arario Gallery)

A TV program that covered a retired singer who turned into a “plastic surgery monster” made him realize its “horrifying nature” and influence on society.

“I used to enjoy watching people come and go at a coffee shop. But in Korea if you sit at a coffee shop, you see all these mannequins that seem to have been produced at a factory. And this reality triggered me to create the plastic surgery-themed works,” Kim said at the press preview of his exhibition last week.

Kim has added twists to the collage series “Dark Rose.” He attached provocative photos to the pages of the books of Confucius and Mencius. It looks kitschy, like pop art.

“I was going to throw away the books. But I had them for so long that I felt I couldn’t just dump them in the trash. So I recycled them for my collage,” he said.

His recent works after he returned from the U.S. are quite different from what he created during his 20-year stay overseas. 
“Yin and Yang 8-S 149” by Kim Ku-lim. (Arario Gallery)

Kim strived to explore the fundamentals of the universe, based on nature and yin and yang. His 1987 “Landscape” painting is far from the radical art he has made recently. The forest and blue sky with a real twig placed on the canvas offer comfort and calm. The “Yin and Yang” series sought a balance in a world conflicted with different values and opinions.

“I could see how I was affected by the environment,” he said. “But I don’t really pay attention to being avant-garde. I don’t care about what others think of me. What I care about is trying new things.”

Kim Ku-lim’s solo exhibition runs through Aug. 24 at Arario Gallery Seoul. His earlier works are on exhibit at Arario Gallery Cheonan from July 29 to Oct. 5. For more information, visit www.arariogallery.com.

By Lee Woo-young (wylee@heraldcorp.com)