REVIEW: Kim Yong-Ik Exhibition, Spike Island

This article was first published on 2nd October on Bristol 24/7. The full article can be found here.

Draped on walls, hung from ceilings, lying like islands, crouching in corners: Kim Yong-Ik’s I Believe My Works Are Still Valid, now on show at Spike Island, invites us to read into the life of a South Korean artist across a broad array of work.

Housing work from 1970 to 2017, Spike Island’s white, open-plan space perfectly suits Yong-Ik’s style of art, where viewers do well to juxtapose and cross-reference. New meanings emerge as different works sneak into eyesight, lurking in foregrounds and backgrounds.

The text-heavy exhibition guide and map provided on admittance is a much-needed resource. Individual works are not numbered or commented upon. Even the Korean text, used extensively by the artist over his own work, is untranslated.

Nevertheless, the exhibition is not a lost cause for those unfamiliar with late Korean Modernism. The range of styles and materials speak for themselves, providing continual variety and interest. The fact that Yong-Ik is a prolific commentator on his own work means that there are plenty of jokes, parodies and puns, made at his own expense, to amuse even a first-time viewer.

Self-questioning has always been central to Yong-Ik’s work and life. Born in Korea in 1947, the artist has always refrained from affiliating himself with any particular movement or cause. In 1981, this led him to exhibit his canvases folded up and hidden away in delivery boxes, labelled only with titles and dimensions, in protest of the military dictatorship in South Korea. A stack of these boxes feature at this exhibition.

The evening preview on September 30 was very well attended, with crowds moving through the expansive rooms throughout the night. The smell of fresh paint still assailed the visitor. As if transported into the artist’s own studio, it’s an apt reminder of Yong-Ik’s methodological approach, to keep art in a state of constant [re-]creation, being weathered, lost, destroyed and re-made.

Be sure not to miss the hanging crate on entry. This work, named Aerial Burial, contains all of the artist’s exhibition catalogues and writings. They hang in this wooden coffin, unattainably swinging over the heads of those entering and exiting the exhibition. It seems to signpost the autobiographical nature of the exhibition. A kind of premature post-mortem to the artist’s work.

Also not to be missed is Visual Pun, a series of four-coloured pencil sketches. This work offers a clue, for those navigating the exhibition, that this is a self-reflective showcase, and everywhere there are visual puns, normally punning off an older work, a neighbouring work, or one that catches your eye as you turn a corner.

A clever, masterfully-curated exhibition that entertains and amuses.

I Believe My Work Is Still Valid continues at Spike Island until December 17. For more info, visit

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