On the Nature of Fabric
The catalog accompanying the 2000 exhibition at the Goethe Institute in Santiago de Chile presented the first assessment of the works of Min-Seon Kim. Born in 1966 in Seoul, a graduate of the Hong-Ik University and the Kunstakademie Münster, Kim developed her own signature in the first half of the 1990s. Characteristic of the paintings documented in the 2000 catalog is the focus upon and the ultimate isolation of natural shapes and objects. Although at first she provided a background in which objects were embedded or stored, even then the objects were overly powerful, occasionally coming into confrontation with other things. However, beginning in 1998-99, the background became more abstract, withdrawn, moving almost in the direction of "pure" painting and containing its own nuances. As before, the background gave the object stability and solidity, but left the site unexplained. Attention is paid to the motifs, which are iconographically significant. In their presentation - overly large, focused within the painting, correlated with the format (which usually lacks a cut-off point), the perspective changing within a single work - the motifs have their own magical, object-related aspects; they remain mysterious and precisely detailed. At the same time, they are reticently balanced in their precision. Yet the way the painter deals with contouring and the formulation of shadows expresses painterly and perceptive, psychological standpoints, where the reality within the picture replaces the act of reproduction.
The objects themselves are marked by an auratic state that is overwhelmingly influenced by motifs and compositions that either directly or indirectly refer to East Asian culture. The reserved use of color speaks further of this - the subtle white shades, the depiction of porcelain, and the use of gold tones drawn in detail upon the vessels, which slightly blur into liquidity. A barely visible gradation of light in the direction of (supposed) colorlessness and transparency leads to a suggestion of fragility, but also of uniqueness, preciousness. Here, opulence is accompanied by concentrated reduction, but also most certainly by a feeling of generosity and emptiness. Centering is subtly relativized; the objects are easily pushed off their axes. The light comes from outside the picture, wrapping the painting in an even brightness. Contemplation and space-and-timelessness are noticeable in all of these pictures. As if in their own world, far away from ordinary events, the eggs, the feathers, the vessels with pictures of fish and dragons might seem odd; the golden cane laid upon white gloves can also be understood as the revelation of (physical) volume - an aspect that is further strengthened in the more recent paintings. Narrative structures are announced; the meaning of a moment appears. The pictures might indeed be reports of human encounters, but leave them to allusion and imagination. And the objects themselves might symbolize people and their sensitivities. They describe atmospheres, in a way that conceals more than reveals. Carolin Ortner-Görtz aptly wrote, "The motifs of a foreign culture circle... around general human realities: farewells, desire, yearning, the ego" (Rheinische Post, April 18, 2001).
In this, Kim also remains true to the more recent works, which can be seen in this catalog. Yet new aspects have been added; from a certain point of view, Kim ventures further, has radicalized her previous attitude toward painting.
The paintings Rangordnung (hierarchy) and 99 Jahre (99 years) date from 2001. Even though Kim's works are always individual pieces and she avoids any kind of serial work, these pictures belong in the same context. They reflect a similar object with analogous structures, depicted from above or with a slight view into something opposite; this, combined with the size of the pictures, lend them monumentality. Nevertheless, the Far Eastern dragon motifs on the plate and bowl have a fleeting effect, almost like a memory that appears and disappears in the same moment. The view from above is somewhat askew, mirroring the round form as an oval; the circular arrangement of the dragon hints at states of stillness and the movement of Yin and Yang, as well as categories of infinity. Beginning and end circle into each other. The reptile with layered scales, stretching and moving - a movement achieved through contraction and elongation - has the quality of a gentle Far Eastern pen-and-ink drawing. The porcelain expands to the edges of the picture; the slightly rectangular format robs the vessels of their power. Concentrated upon white and blue shades, the palette remains reduced, and is infinitely pure in its gradation, which goes beyond the possibilities of light, shadowing, and shading, thus describing closeness and distance, presence and absence, materiality and immateriality, with a reference to the symbolism of the colors. Surfaces and space discover each other at the same time, and Kim depicts the sides of the vessels as broad, separating contours. 99 Years shows an interplay between inside and outside; there is a suggestion of transparence in the bowls here. Appearance and disappearance become a unit, set in front of our eyes; claim and possibility are described, whereby the ritual composition of the vessel, its function and use, can no longer be categorized. Kim's works display a mastery of form, and a certain concentration upon social and cultural contexts. Here, as in all of her paintings, the title adds another dimension; it addresses the contents, which are often private memories and experiences - though it never forgets that it describes a painting and is thus a simile.
Another work, Sunrise, from 2001. Last shown at the Düsseldorf open studios show, the yellow in the enormous work shimmers like pollen on a wooden floor. There is a fundamental dominance in this color that (like Runge's Grosser Morgen) has its origins in a sun or a blooming flower and yet it can be associated with a functional object, is reminiscent of religious custom, in the way that yellow glass can seem like gold.
The interior structure recalls flames; add to this its graphic clarity, and it recalls an aureole. Yet here, a change in perception occurs: the interior background, shaped like a half-circle, swells inward, surrounded by tongues of flame. The yellow appears to be like serrated teeth biting into the levels, its crystalline surface contrasting with the sculptural, teardrop shapes of the sides of the object. This work can be classified as a contemporary variation on a still life, and the metaphorical relation appears directly in the shape of a sublime elevation with an intrinsic existential meaning.
More and more, Kim allows the surrounding background in this kind of picture to recede without completely eliminating it. Due to her preference for white shades, the color gradation becomes increasingly detailed. The object itself is composed as a volume, ultimately considered a sculptural fact. An example of this is the picture Betrunkener Kobold (drunken imp) (2001), in which the supposedly white background almost disappears, thus permitting the form's contours to shine even more intensively, as if highlighted. However, the shape that might be hiding in the cloth remains vague; in its modeling, it appears to be a secretive form made of fabric, a rounded shape, perhaps in a cowering position, or sleeping, hugging itself. In slight torsion, the folds drape over each other. All of the events occur in the knots, where the degree of realism is heightened. The light blue fabric covers a tangle of hidden tendrils, interrupted by folds made of darker, shadowy lines. It is ultimately impossible to decide the meaning of the golden lines, so it remains a symbolic possibility. On a more profane, sensual level, the lines recall embroidered velvet pillows, a further questioning of materiality.
Recently, all of this flows into the round pictures, in which Kim continues to explore her previous preference for circular, bulging forms, now showing them exclusively and contrasting them with plain wall surfaces. Still characteristic are the simultaneity of the supposed simulation of reality and the decidedly painterly impression of colors, light, and shadows. Remaining "vessels," the gathered fabrics are hermetic; at the same time, the haptic, pliable material becomes a kind of skin. The velvety color, combined with a pattern or visual presentation, is accompanied by an emblematic kind of drawing, which provides indirect hints about the shrouded object. Altogether, Kim is closer to Pop Art than verity, and yet her painting remains independent of all styles, completely settled in the present day.
Nonetheless, she achieves directness, especially with the partly reserved, partly glowing color and the placement of the folds, whose symmetry and intrinsic mirroring quality admittedly convey an irreal character. Here, too, everything remains orderly and clear; harmonic moments dominate, though the uncertainty in reference to the covered object, which is both present and absent, might be disquieting. However, from picture to picture, Kim changes the direction of the fold. Certainly, the painter's interest might be in Far Eastern aesthetics, where fabric, surfaces, and their folds play a role; in dealing with shadows and the antagonism between the colored space and the space that remains white, the blank space. In Min-Seon Kim's paintings, the quiet pause makes everything significant. As hermetic as they are accessible, in their claim to exist as they are, the pictures confront the viewer, as they deal with the world not only in which we live, but also from which we take things that occupy our interest.