Issue 94

Atta Kim

The cover image for this issue of Artkrush is a detail of Museum Project #149 by South Korean artist Atta Kim. The 2001 print comes from the Nirvana series of his larger Museum Project, which features often nude figures enshrined in Plexiglas. In #149, a Buddhist nun, stripped of her religious garb, remains prayerful nonetheless, surrounded by paraffin statues of the Buddha. As in Kim's other images, the effect here manages to be simultaneously surreal, unsettling, and calming.

Born in 1956 on Geoje Island, South Korea, Kim never trained professionally as a photographer, instead studying mechanical engineering at Changwon University. His photography remained a pastime until around the time of his 1987 series Psychopath — a study of the mentally ill that became his first exhibition. Since then, Kim has become South Korea's foremost photographer; among other honors, he became the country's first photographer to show at the São Paulo Biennial in 2002. Venues for Kim's solo exhibitions have included the Yechong Gallery in Seoul, Tokyo's Nikon Salon Gallery, and the International Center of Photography and the Yossi Milo Gallery in New York. His works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museet for Fotokunst, Odense, Denmark; the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul; and the Art Museum of Kyongnam Province, Korea.

Kim's autodidactic practice allows for idiosyncratic strengths. Beautifully executed, his work also thrills in its conceptual and philosophical frameworks. He cites as inspiration both German philosopher Martin Heidegger and Greek-Armenian transcendental mystic G.I. Gurdjieff. However, most forthright are Kim's references to Buddhist tenets of meditation and interconnectivity.

In The Museum Project, indistinguishable subjects are disconnected from time and place. In the Field series, prostrated nude figures interrupt a Korean thoroughfare in Museum Project #001, while others are anonymously stacked in a mossy forest in Museum Project #030. More than human beings, Kim's Plexiglas cases contain the essentials of existence: sex, death, violence, and prayer. Faceless sitters cuddle after making love in the Sex series, commit Seppuku in the Suicide series, and unveil wounds and prosthetic limbs in the War Veteran series. More recently, Kim has experimented with long exposures, turning sex into a green explosion and watching as ice sculptures of Mao, Marilyn Monroe, and himself melt into puddles. Regardless of subject, Kim's images encompass existential struggle, turning photography into the stuff of poetry. - Lauren McKee

Atta Kim
The Museum Project #149, 2001
46 x 64 in./ 122 x 162 cm
Courtesy the artist
All Rights Reserved