KIM TSCHANG-YEUL (1929-2021)
KIM TSCHANG-YEUL (1929-2021)
KIM TSCHANG-YEUL (1929-2021)
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KIM TSCHANG-YEUL (1929-2021)
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This lot will be removed to our storage facility a… Read more
KIM TSCHANG-YEUL (1929-2021)

Waterdrops SH 83003

KIM TSCHANG-YEUL (1929-2021)
Waterdrops SH 83003
signed in English and Hanja, titled and dated 'SH 83003-1983 T. Kim' (on the turnover edge)
oil on hemp cloth
51 1/4 x 76 3/4in. (130.2 x 195cm.)
Painted in 1983
Private Collection, Korea.
Gallery Juyoung, Seoul.
Private Collection, Asia.
Anon. sale, Phillips London, 9 March 2018, lot 160.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Special notice
This lot will be removed to our storage facility at Momart. Christie’s will inform you if the lot has been sent offsite. Our removal and storage of the lot is subject to the terms and conditions of storage which can be found at and our fees for storage are set out in the table below - these will apply whether the lot remains with Christie’s or is removed elsewhere. Please call Christie’s Client Service 24 hours in advance to book a collection time at Momart. All collections from Momart will be by pre-booked appointment only. Tel: +44 (0)20 7839 9060 Email: If the lot remains at Christie’s it will be available for collection on any working day 9.00 am to 5.00 pm. Lots are not available for collection at weekends.

Brought to you by

Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord Director, Senior Specialist

Lot Essay

Spanning almost two metres across, Waterdrops SH 83003 (1983) is a captivating large-scale example of Kim Tschang-Yeul’s iconic water-drop paintings. These unique, meticulous trompe-l’oeil works, begun in Paris in the early 1970s, combined Taoist philosophy with ideas drawn from the American and European avant-gardes, and secured Kim’s place as one of the most significant Korean artists of the post-war era. In the present example, the lower third of the composition glitters with beaded droplets: they hover against the raw hemp-cloth ground, their every shadow and sparkle painted with extraordinary, dewy realism. The upper part of the canvas, meanwhile, bears only the trace of departed drops, whose evaporation has left behind a poignant, mottled patchwork of watermarks.

Kim was born in 1929 in Maengsam, a town that is today in North Korea, and came of age in an era marked successively by Japanese occupation, communism and civil war—the latter of which he witnessed at close hand as a soldier. During the mid-1950s and early 1960s he painted in an abstract mode as part of the Korean Informel movement, responding to the tumult of the time with lyrical, gestural paintings. With the help of a Rockefeller Foundation Grant, he moved to New York in 1965, and four years later relocated to Paris, where he would remain for the rest of his life. Liquid motifs began to appear around that time in his amorphous, graphic compositions, which were marked by the Op art, Pop art and Minimalism he had witnessed in New York. His eureka moment came one bright morning in his studio in 1972. Kim saw a canvas which he had cleaned the previous night by spraying it with water: the jewel-like droplets gleamed in the sunlight. ‘It was spectacular’, he remembered. ‘It was like a symphony … I took pictures of them and started thinking about how to express them on a canvas. Then began my lifelong task’ (T. Kim, quoted in J. Woo, ‘Artist Kim Tschang-yeul erases dark memories by painting water drops’, Yonhap News Agency, 11 October 2016).

In 1973, Kim debuted his first water-drop paintings at a solo show at Knoll International in Paris to huge acclaim. An early visitor was Salvador Dalí, who wrote in the guestbook cela égale en magnificence la Gare de Perpignan—‘this equals in magnificence the train station of Perpignan!’ (T. Kim in conversation with V. Chui, Ocula, 22 November 2019). Kim devoted himself single-mindedly to the theme for the next half-century. In his use of figurative imagery, he diverged from his Korean contemporaries in the Dansaekhwa movement—Lee Ufan, Park Seo-Bo and others—whose works were defined by monochrome, abstract concerns. He shared, however, in their unswerving approach to a singular mode of work, deriving endless nuance from his central painterly premise. For artists who had lived through such a volatile and traumatic period in their country’s history, such immersion provided a therapeutic, meditative outlet of consistency and calm. Kim understood his subject matter in relation to the principles of Taoism, which compares water’s power to purify and dissolve with the erasure of ego, and the leaving behind of bad memories. In the present painting, the beautiful impermanence of Kim’s motif is palpable. So lifelike are the droplets that it feels as if a knock to the canvas could make them cascade to the floor, or a beam of sunlight vanish them into thin air.

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