Interview with Tina Kim
Amongst the world’s leading galleries for modern and contemporary art, Seoul’s Kukje Gallery and New York’s Tina Kim Gallery boast mother and daughter directors that have jointly been in the art business for some 40 years. Paul Laster recently caught up with Tina Kim in New York to discuss the galleries’ histories, their joint programs, and her thoughts about the Gulf Coast’s developing art scene.
How did your mother first get involved in art and when did she open Kukje Gallery?
My parents were avid collectors. As my mother developed her eye and her passion for art grew she began to think seriously about opening a gallery; it started as a small space where she organized special exhibitions with artists she collected herself.
She was very forward thinking and was one of the first to show international artists in Korea. She opened Kukje Gallery in 1983. Since then, she has played a pivotal role in developing the audience for art across Asia.
What kind of art did she initially show?
She started showing mostly master contemporary Korean painters and sculptors and later expanded her program to include international artists.
How did you get involved with the gallery?
I learned a lot from watching my mother as she began the gallery. I moved to New York to attend New York University in order to gain a Masters in Arts Administration. I later worked at Sotheby’s, as well as at Paul Cooper Gallery and the Whitney Museum of American Art. These experiences informed my development and were very important, but eventually what made the most sense to me was to open my own gallery.
When did you open Tina Kim Gallery and why did you open it in New York?
I started Tina Kim Gallery 2001. I opened it in New York because I felt that the city was the centre of contemporary art scene. Also, I wanted to broaden the audience for Korean artists in the West and—because I travel so often—it is really the best place to be based.
How do Kukje Gallery and Tina Kim Gallery interact?
We are in constant communication, organizing exhibitions together, planning for art fairs and supporting our artists’ many ambitious projects, as well as publishing catalogues and broadening our client base.
What can you tell us about the design of your spaces?
The quality of exhibition space is very important and all of our galleries place a premium on framing the artwork. We have just opened a third exhibition space in Seoul called K3, designed by the award winning architectural firm Solid Objectives.
We also organize exhibitions that focus on master designers, such as Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand, as well as emerging talents like Joris Laarman. We do these shows in collaboration with Vintage 20 and my husband Jaewoong Chung. So architecture and design is a big part of how we approach visual art.
How would you describe your two gallery programs?
Tina Kim Gallery and Kukje Gallery have a two-fold approach. We focus both on the secondary market—exhibiting such modern masters as Willem de Kooning, Alexander Calder and Gerhard Richter—and present project based exhibitions that showcase celebrated contemporary artists, including Gimhongsok and Kibhong Rhee.
How many international art fairs do you do yearly and which ones?
Our galleries jointly participates in nine fairs, including Frieze London, Frieze New York, Art Basel, Art Basel Miami Beach, Art Basel in Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi Art, FIAC, TEFAF, and the Armory Show. We also strongly support fairs in Asia like KIAF and Art Stage Singapore.
Does your program at art fairs differ from the exhibition program at the galleries?
Yes. For each fair we prepare a different program that best suits the fair’s audience. We represent a very wide range of artists, including a number of prominent estates. Also, some fairs offer the opportunity to commission site specific works from our artists, which is always an exciting opportunity… so the booth is always changing to reflect these concerns.
When did you first exhibit in the Middle East and what motivated you to participate in Abu Dhabi Art?
Last year was our first year. We recognized the strength of the emerging interest in the Middle East and wanted to showcase our artists. It was clear that a highly selective and focused group of galleries representing the very best of modern and contemporary work was being brought to Abu Dhabi and we wanted to be part of it. Furthermore, we are very impressed by the quality of museums that are opening in the Middle East. It is an exciting time.
What has your experience been at the past Abu Dhabi Art fairs?
We were very impressed with the collectors and their sophistication… they were very well informed and committed to collecting. It is the start of an important new chapter in the international art world.
Have you travelled in the region?
I have travelled to Dubai and Doha and was very impressed by the sophistication and incredible speed at which these cultural centres are evolving. I was also really struck by the tremendous beauty of these places—the cities, the people and the traditional culture. There is a long history of aesthetic refinement that I was inspired by and I enjoyed educating myself about these more local traditions. Every place has its own particular aesthetic and it is important to respond to that and to know what a local culture finds beautiful.
Do you show artists from the region?
Yes. We have a long relationship with the Egyptian artist Ghada Amer. What I learned after traveling in the Middle East is that the use of language—and specifically the tradition of calligraphy—is very strong and rooted in the Islamic tradition. Learning more about this gave me greater insight and appreciation for Amer’s use of text. Traveling in the region and especially visiting the Islamic museum in Doha was very educational and was a terrific experience.
What are your thoughts about the recent development of art centres in the area?
It is very exciting what is happening in the region and in places like Dubai and in Abu Dhabi. They are building world-class museums such, as the Guggenheim, as well as supporting international exhibitions like the Sharjah Biennial in the UAE. It really is putting the region on the map as a destination for artists and many artists have a strong interest in showing in the region.
Are you seeing strong private collections developing as well?
Yes. The collections are really beginning to garner attention and it is clear that there are some special individuals who are going to commit to building world-class collections. As this interest grows and becomes more international in scope, it will be good for both the world art market and the local cultural milieu.
What are your thoughts about the modern and contemporary art scene in the Gulf Coast?
The Gulf region has the potential to become a centre of contemporary art in the future because of the strong commitment to building museums and the number of private collectors. The art fair, too, can begin to play an important role as it sits between Asia and Europe. Coupled with the climate and incredible architecture and local culture, I think it could become a real destination.
With that in mind, what will you bring to Abu Dhabi Art this year?
We will again bring contemporary master artists, including works by De Kooning and Calder, as well pieces by Lee Ufan and Ghada Amer. We are very excited that this year we will also be presenting a special project with Haegue Yang, who has been collected by major museum around the world. The work will be an ambitious installation, as well as a performance, so it will be a tremendous opportunity to present her work to a new audience. ab
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