The Beauty of Immortal Things
The exquisite Flight (Lot 612) hovers in the divine liminal space between figuration and abstraction: in it we witness the great Korean master poised to “take flight” in his seminal lifelong artistic journey towards pure geometric abstraction. The graceful crane, a traditional symbol of longevity and loyalty and a common trope in Eastern artworks as well as Kim’s pre-1960s figurative works, is rendered in elegantly pared down lines reminiscent of the delicate folds of Japanese origami; while the entire landscape is executed in a uniquely flattened perspective that reveals the artist’s emergent abstraction tendencies. Most importantly, the blue and purple dotted line that underscores the lower half of the canvas is one of Kim’s most iconic and emblematic patterns, constituting an extraordinary predecessor to the artist’s later dot paintings.
The current lot was executed in the 1960s, a critical transition period before Kim diluted his pigments for his New York period works, which displayed thinner sheens of paint. The painting’s gentle hues and tenderly alluring forms exude a timeless sophistication reminiscent of the delicate patterns in oriental ceramics, while the work’s surface texture itself emanates a divine porcelain-esque quality. A dealer once commented that Kim’s paintings were “beautiful, full of poetic and mysterious sentiments” with surfaces that “reminded him with the skin of ceramic”;1 while the master himself said: “all things I paint are inspired by white porcelain, including color”. A great lover of ceramic jars and vases, Kim was an avid collector. His wife once said: “From 1944 to 1950, almost every evening, he brought home at least one jar or wooden ware…To Whanki the jars are living, breathing creatures”. Such objects appear in vast numbers in pages upon pages of Kim’s sketchbook, under the title “Sketches of Immortal Things”.
At once distinctly representative of Kim’s much-coveted figurative paintings, and formally prophetic of Kim’s later artistic developments, the current lot constitutes an extraordinary transitional work embodying the core essences of Kim Whanki’s extraordinary oeuvre. The tranquil moonlit evening comes to life only with the simple colors of blue, green, purple and white, epitomising and foretelling the minimalist monochrome aesthetic of Korean Dansaekhwa. Kim’s later monochrome dot paintings received phenomenal international acclaim; throughout his career, however, Kim placed great importance in preserving and nourishing his Korean identity. The artist once said: “I can’t seem to separate my art from Seoul… I like the work I’ll be painting from now on. Simple composition, the subtle color of blue—only I can create my world”.2
 Kim Hyang-an, “Pusan Period: 1951-1953”, p. 133
 Oh Kwang-su, Kim Whanki: A Critical Biography, Youl Hwa Dang, Korea, 1998, p. 97
Kim Whanki (1913-1974, South Korea) graduated from Nihon University in 1936 and taught at the Fine Arts Department of the Seoul National University from 1946-1948 and Hongik University from 1959-1962. In 1960 he was elected as the President of the National Federation of Arts in Seoul and in 1963 the President of the Fine Arts Association of Korea. Kim belongs to the first generation of Korean Abstract artists who mixed oriental concepts and ideals with abstraction. In 1963 Kim moved to New York, the same year he participated in the Sao Paulo Art Biennale as both a commissioner and artist – the first time Korea ever participated in the event. Even after his death in 1974, a slew of commemorative exhibitions were held in both New York and the Sao Paulo Biennale in 1975. The Whanki Museum opened in Seoul in 1992.