Kim Whanki recently made national news when one of his untitled paintings broke an art auction record, selling for 8.5 billion won ($7.87 million). The previous record of 6.55 billion won ($5.9 million), set in April of last year, was also for one of his paintings. In fact, the five most expensive Korean paintings ever sold at auction all were created by this modern master.
For those curious as to why this abstract expressionist is surging in international popularity, a quick visit to the Daegu Art Museum will make it clear. A well-curated exhibit is running through August 19th, and the chance to see for yourself what Kim Hwanki has to offer. One of the most enticing aspects, however, is that there is no certified correct answer to the question “why?” Each viewer will find her or his own answer, perhaps in the mystery of the only painting from his later period to be given an actual title, or a connection with extinct Korean vowels, or even a passing reference to the simple lines of traditional Korean clothing. Kim Whanki’s art holds all of these stories, and more. It is no wonder that people pay top dollar for it.
The exhibit is curated chronologically, so visitors can see Kim’s process as he finds his voice. Through his experiments with cubism in Tokyo and Paris, where the influence of Matisse—both in forms and materials—can be clearly seen, to his later works, the Kim Hwanki exhibit doesn’t just display art; it tells a story. Neither has that story yet ended. With his domination of Asian art markets, and his unmistakable influence on living Korean painters, there is still much about this artist to be said.