Kim Ku-lim

Light Bulb


Not on display

Kim Ku-lim born 1936
Charcoal and acrylic paint on canvas
Support: 1454 × 893 mm
Presented by the artist 2019


Light Bulb 1977 is a painting in acrylic paint and charcoal on canvas that depicts a bare light bulb suspended from a ceiling which one presumes to be ‘cropped’ from the composition. To the right, an electrical cord hangs limply, its plug strewn across the barely discernible plane of a table top. Both elements are painted in a crude mix of white, black, grey and blue, whilst thinly applied yellow pigment apparently radiating from this can be read as light cast by the bulb. Surrounding these central elements, Kim Ku-lim has laid bare the materiality of painting by drawing directly onto the exposed grey canvas various diagrammatic doodles and scribbles in both English and Korean Hangul, thereby emphasising the conceit of painting as a subjective construction of reality. The work exemplifies a key concern for the artist in at the time of its making and subsequently – the semiotic relationship between the object as a depiction and the object as it appears in reality. Painted life size, Light Bulb inverts the artistic tradition of still-life painting, in which verisimilitude has been historically viewed in the western canon as the ultimate marker of artistic talent.

Another work made a decade later, Relation 1987 (also in Tate’s collection, Tate T15325), similarly interrogates the representation of forms in two and three dimensions, ambiguously presenting itself as both a painting and a sculpture since it not only incorporates real tree branches but additionally presents a drawn outline of these forms. Such works represent Kim’s desire to break down the supposed hierarchy between the artistic sphere and lived experience, setting up an interplay between reality and fiction, nature and civilisation. These are significant strands in his practice which has persisted in challenging the viewer’s fundamental assumptions about art-making and contexts for viewing. Kim Ku-lim occupies a unique position within Korean contemporary art as a pioneer in a range of disciplines including performance, painting, video and sculpture. His performance work is visually represented and recorded in archival newspaper clippings, three examples of which are held in Tate Library’s Special Collections: Body Painting 1969, From Phenomenon to Traces 1970 and Tying the Art Museum 1970.

Further reading
Sook-Kyung Lee, ‘Subversion and Enunciation in Ku-Lim Kim’s Performance’, in Kim Ku-Lim: Like You Know It All, exhibition catalogue, Seoul Museum of Art 2013, pp.6–19.

Katy Wan
November 2018

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