Kim Whanki

By Schwabsky, Barry | Artforum International, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Kim Whanki


Schwabsky, Barry, Artforum International


Although the Korean painter Kim Whanki (1913-1974) spent significant portions of his career in Paris as well as in Seoul, this recent exhibition, entitled "Oeuvres inedites 1963-1973," corresponded to a period when he lived and worked in New York. The show primarily consisted of works on paper, but it also included a dozen canvases dated circa 1968. As Yves Michaud points out in his catalogue essay, during these years Whanki was able to synthesize Western - or more specifically, American - abstract painting with the Asian sensibility in which his esthetic was rooted.

While Whanki's earlier work remained tied to representational forms, as well as certain aspects of the School of Paris (Michaud remarks that Braque and Matisse, as well as Klee, were among Whanki's early models), in New York he reduced his pictorial vocabulary to a few basic abstract elements, primarily dots and lines. One assumes that he had been impressed by the vibrant color and formal clarity of the work of artists like Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland - and perhaps the dot paintings of Larry Poons as well - but there are some fundamental differences. For one thing, Whanki used highly diluted oil paint, which suggests that, thin as his paint may be, he did not aim at pure opticality, as the paint retained slightly more "body," more separation from the weave of the canvas, than the acrylics or magna used by the American stain painters. This in itself indicates how far Whanki stood from any strict purism. A more profound difference lies in the temporality of his paintings. With Louis and Noland there is an all-at-once aspect to the painting's impact - that instantaneousness prized by Clement Greenberg - whereas in Whanki's case there is always an implicit sense of movement and development. …

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