Release Date: November 30, 2009
Synecdoche, Watershed Work by Byron Kim, Installed at the National Gallery of Art
Washington, DC—Synecdoche (1991–present), a recent acquisition by Korean-American artist Byron Kim (b. 1961), has been newly installed in the East Building's modern and contemporary art galleries. Synecdoche is a continuing project of portraiture now comprising 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 installed, the accompanying subtitle consists of the names of the sitters, arranged alphabetically by first name.
Synecdoche was a watershed for the artist, having received much acclaim since its first showing in the 1993 Whitney Biennial. Subsequent iterations have been seen in installations and exhibitions around the world.
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. The work can be installed in many ways, using some or all of the panels, in a grid of almost any size or shape. The acquisition of Synecdoche was made possible through the Richard S. Zeisler Fund.
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