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Threshold : Byron Kim 1990 - 2004

September 15 through December 12, 2004

Threshold: Byron Kim 1990 – 2004
First Major Solo Museum Exhibition for Abstract Painter

Berkeley, CA, July 2004 — The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) presents Threshold: Byron Kim 1990 – 2004, on view from September 15 through December 12, 2004. Organized by BAM/PFA's Senior Curator Constance Lewallen, and guest curated by Eugenie Tsai, Threshold is the first solo museum exhibition of Kim's work. The exhibition offers an overview of the artist's career, focusing especially on his significant body of easel paintings, presenting four major bodies of paintings that Kim has produced since 1989.

An "unlikely blend of abstraction and representation, of conceptualism and sensuality, is what makes Kim's work so compelling," writes Constance Lewallen in the Introduction to the exhibition catalogue. Kim's paintings are visually subtle compositions that merge aspects of Minimalist abstraction with evocative representation, while confronting issues of race, community, and cultural biases.

Byron Kim is one of the most important American artists who came of age in the early 1990s. For the past decade he has maintained a steadfast commitment to exploring the potential content of abstract painting, drawing on post-war traditions of monochrome painting exemplified by Ad Reinhardt's black paintings and Brice Marden's waxy fields of color, as well as by Mark Rothko and other New York School painters of the abstract sublime.

Color in its various aspects — as fact, as signifier, and as metaphor — continues to dominate Kim's work. The exhibition includes works from several series that have occupied Kim during the last decade. These include small canvases whose colors pinpoint particular events and places in his childhood, such as Miss Mushinski (First Big Crush), 1996, and 1984 Dodge Wagon, 1994; a series based on celadon pottery of Asia (Koryô Green Glaze #1, 1995–96), and wall-sized landscapes inspired by poet William Wordsworth (I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, 1997). His recent Sunday Paintings—sky studies à la John Constable—include the addition of text, forming a kind of personal journal for the artist.

Following its debut in Berkeley, Threshold: Byron Kim 1990–2004 will tour to South Korea and to museums across the United States, with showings at the Samsung Museum of Modern Art, Seoul (March 10 — May 8, 2005); Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, in La Jolla, CA (May 29 – September 4, 2005); Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Greensboro (October 23, 2005 – January 22, 2006); Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle (March 17 – May 28, 2006); and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, AZ (October 14 – January 7, 2007).

Byron Kim's work first came to prominence with the inclusion of his painting, Synecdoche (1991–present), in the 1993 Whitney Biennial. A grid of hundreds of 8 x 10-inch panels — each painted a single shade of peach, beige, or brown, matched to people's skin colors and rendered from life by the artist — Synecdoche is in essence a group portrait that expands to address issues of race and community.

Kim wrote about this work in progress in "An Attempt at Dogma" (Godzilla Newsletter, 1992):
In a sense these paintings are representational, even figurative.… 'Synecdoche' as a whole will have the look of a huge, formalist painting. This tradition in art has been an elite tradition, and the group of people allowed to gain prominence within the bounds of this tradition is a highly exclusionary club. Like all good abstract and romantic monochrome paintings (and as its title suggests) "Synecdoche" will imply a much larger, boundary-less work. While I want these chips of brown and beige to push in and pull back and give visual pleasure, I also want them to have the mundane flicker of an art that is inclusive as a matter of fact.

Eugenie Tsai writes in the catalogue: "At first glance, this grid of colored rectangles looks like an abstract monochrome painting, but as it portrays people, it might more accurately be termed representational or even figurative. Still, it can't properly be called representational, because it utilizes the visual language of abstraction. It becomes clear that, although the painting fits partially into each category, it doesn't fit entirely into either. Instead, it occupies a unique position between the two, what Kim calls a 'threshold.' A position he has consciously attempted to occupy throughout his career, without attaching a name to it until recently, the concept of 'threshold' provides a lens through which to regard this overview of Kim's paintings."

Byron Kim, who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, was born in La Jolla, California, in 1961. He studied art at Yale and at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, and, Tsai writes, "came of age as an artist in the early 1990s, a moment when buzzwords like 'multiculturalism' and 'identity politics' ruled the day, and artists and institutions attempted to come to terms with the thorny relationship between power in the art world and the politics of race." Kim was thus in tune with other young artists, including friends Glenn Ligon and Janine Antoni, who were investing Minimalist strategies with issues of ethnic and racial identity and personal biography.

Guest curator Eugenie Tsai is an independent curator who lives in New York. She is a former senior curator and associate director for curatorial affairs at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where she oversaw the permanent collection and organized exhibitions and artists' projects for the museum and its branches. Tsai received her doctorate in art history from Columbia University. She is the author of Robert Smithson Unearthed (Columbia University Press, 1991), and writes for Time Out New York and Art AsiaPacific. She is organizing a retrospective exhibition of Robert Smithson's work for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.


In the Museum Store

Threshold: Byron Kim 1990–2004, illustrated exhibition catalog, with essays by Eugenie Tsai, Constance Lewallen, Anoka Faruqee, and Byron Kim, and a conversation with Kim, Janine Antoni, and Glenn Ligon. ($25, paperback).