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Synecdoche (1991–present), by Korean-American artist Byron Kim (b. 1961), is an ongoing project of portraiture that now comprises more than 400 panels, each a single hue ranging from light tan or pink to dark brown. Finding sitters among strangers, friends, family, neighbors, and fellow artists, Kim records each person's skin color in oil paint mixed with wax that he applies with a palette knife on a single 10 x 8-inch panel, a common size for portrait photography. When the work is installed, the accompanying subtitle consists of the full names of the sitters, arranged alphabetically by first name.

Synecdoche was a watershed for the artist and has received much acclaim since its first showing in the 1993 Whitney Biennial. Subsequent iterations have been seen in installations and exhibitions around the world. The work can be installed in many ways, using some or all of the panels, in a grid of almost any size or shape.

Kim's work explores the history of abstract painting, the problems of color and vision, and issues of human identity and existence. The title—referring to a figure of speech in which a part represents the whole or vice versa—makes clear that issues of representation, both visual and democratic, are in play.

Reference Key: Sitter Names (PDF 640KB)


The artist; purchased 30 March 2009 through (Max Protetch Gallery, New York) by NGA.

Exhibition History

1993 Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1993, unnumbered catalogue (204 panels).
Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2008, pl. 75 (265 panels).
This is a Portrait if I Say So: Reimagining Representation in American Art, 1912-Today, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, 2016 (82 panels shown).


Donovan, Molly. "Byron Kim, Synecdoche." Bulletin / National Gallery of Art, no. 41 (Fall 2009): 24-25, repro.

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