Contemporary art: Sang Woo Kim exhibits at Sébastien Bertrand

Sang Woo Kim’s gaze stares at the world

Published today at 4:34 p.m.

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See and be seen. The look is undoubtedly the sense which offers the most direct relationship with others and it is also through it that we are most quick to judge. During his childhood in England, Sang Woo Kim’s different physique caused him to experience discrimination; and her beauty, as an adult, was so scrutinized that her image escaped her. These social experiences developed in the South Korean artist a fascination with the eyes, a motif that he displays through a series of self-portraits and paintings at Sébastien Bertrand.

The Eaux-Vivienne gallery devotes its two spaces to the painter born in Seoul in 1994, who has the particularity of leading a career as a visual artist and a model – on his Instagram account there are also photos of his paintings and shootings for Hermès, Burberry and Balenciaga. Entitled “Glance” (“glance”) and “Ways of seeing” (“ways of seeing”), this double hanging challenges the visitor in his very capacity as spectator.

“Moment of 007”, 2024, pigment transfer on canvas.

Powered into difference

Arriving as a baby with his family in the United Kingdom, Sang Woo Kim quickly became the victim of jokes because of his slanted eyes, through which he “couldn’t see”, the mockers claimed. Propelled into difference by the Western gaze, he never ceased to reappropriate his identity through the act of painting, by depicting precisely the particularity at the origin of his ostracization: his eyes.

If all of his work is autobiographical, the artist has recently taken up the genre of self-portrait to push his quest for the self even further. Brought together under the title “Glance”, the theme occupies the first space of the gallery. With these literal representations of himself, often framed very closely and executed with a line oscillating between hyperrealism and quasi-impressionism, he encourages the public to think about his interpretations, by holding up a slightly provocative mirror: it is the face and not the style which makes a being coherent.

“Clearer 004”, 2024, oil on canvas.

Sometimes static, sometimes in movement, not hesitating to appear prosaic or vulnerable – we see him wearing glasses, putting on a contact lens or appearing with a swollen eyelid – he depicts himself with complete objectivity, in a fluctuating daily life, brushing paints the reality of his person that the fashion world has glorified too much. Because here is the second image distortion that Sang Woo Kim must face: as a model, he has no control over the perception that others have of him. The self-portrait, in a way, puts the “I” back in the middle of the face.

“Closer 005”, 2024, oil on canvas.

Visual stimuli

The second room highlights the notion of otherness. It is no longer his own eyes that the visual artist apprehends, but those of others, continuing his reflection around the “gaze” while looking at the world in turn. Using a pigment-to-canvas transfer process inspired by the “pictorial impressions” of Robert Rauschenberg in the 1960s, which he made manually from printed photos, he brought together archive images collected from all kinds of sources. Taken from films, books, magazines, Reddit feeds or iPhone photo libraries, these snapshots of looks are manipulated and reframed in order to respond to each other.

Sometimes alone, sometimes joined in series of three or five, the paintings refer to multiple references (archaeology, classical painting, medical imagery), creating formal games and color matches, in a dominant of blue, black and white . We cannot help but think of the multitude of visual stimuli that the contemporary circulation of images imposes on us. By capturing them in the present moment, Sang Woo Kim questions their nature and warns against the manipulations to which our senses are too often subjected.

“Ways of Seeing 007”, 2024, pigment transfer on canvas.

Until July 20 at the Galerie Sébastien Bertrand, 16, rue du Simplon, Tue-Fri 2 p.m.-7 p.m. or by appointment.

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