Suyoung Kim's (김수영) paintings have predominantly focused on high-rise buildings, closing in on their facades over time to create works that scrutinise the geometric elements of architecture as well as broader conceptual frameworks. Kim's work often explores the boundaries between the figurative and the abstract while experimenting with the idea of representation.
Upon receiving her BFA from Seoul National University in 1994, Kim moved to Germany to study first at Hochschule für bildende Künste Braunschweig then at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf from where she graduated with an MFA in 2004. In her early works painted in Germany such as RWI Headquarters 2 and 3 (2002), the building is seen from a distance and with a reflection of a nearby structure in its glass facade. With a reduced palette of grey and white that blends the building with the light grey sky in the background, Kim captures the characteristics of her subject—vertical columns that seemingly penetrate the entire establishment and rows of small, rectangular windows—while emphasising the materiality of paint.
Around 2003, Kim shifted towards painting close-ups of the facades of buildings. Her subjects primarily comprised architecture in a style known as the modern or International Style, which developed in the 1920s and 1930s and was defined by the use of then-new materials of mass-produced iron and steel, reinforced concrete and glass. With an emphasis on the potential of its materials, International Style resonated with Kim's concerns for the properties of her medium of paint. Paintings from this period include Weissenhof House 1 (2003), depicting the renowned white facade of a 1972 project designed by Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Cité du Refuge (2004), based on Le Corbusier's first urban housing project. In both works, Kim replicates the repetitive elements of her subjects with a focus on their modern architectural system of standardised units and dimension, creating images that are increasingly flat, minimalist and grid-like rather than representational. Her attention to the formal structures of her subjects triggers associations with the typological photographs of industrial buildings by Bernd and Hilla Becher, who also studied at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and founded the Düsseldorf School of Photography in the 1970s. Kim's interest in modern buildings continued after she relocated to Seoul in 2004, where she began painting the same building at different times of the day. In the close-up of the facade in Dongbu Insurance buildings 11am (2008), for example, each colour is sharply divided from the next whereas in Dongbu Insurance building midday (also 2008), the subject is seen farther away and its colours are less cleanly applied. The paintings are, however, recognisable as the same establishment by their distinctively shaped windows—square with rounded corners on the top—which Kim individualises by using different tonalities and details.
Over time, Kim has become even more focused on the formal elements of her painting than the subject itself, gradually removing representation from her oeuvre. In a painting titled Two Sides (2010), the canvas is divided into two planes of an unmodulated turquoise on the right and a grid-like facade of an anonymous building on the left. This is in stark contrast to The Headquarters Hankook Newspaper (2006), which features a similar composition but hints at an identifiable subject. Kim further renders her works neutral by titling them in numbers such as Work No. 46 (2017) or Work No. 52 (2018), in which several facades are depicted in a row.
She has held solo exhibitions at ONE AND J. Gallery, Seoul (2013, 2011, 2008); Kumho Museum of Art Seoul (2007); Alternative Space LOOP, Seoul (2004) and Galerie Ricarda Fox, Essen-Werden (2002) among others. Her work has also been exhibited at Seoul Museum of Art (2011); Busan Museum of Modern Art (2005); Space CAN Beijing (2014); and National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon (2003) among others, and is in the collections of SeMA; Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong; and Artist Pension Trust Collection, New York.
Kim lives and works in Seoul.