At 88, artist Kim Yun-shin is not ready to put down her chainsaw

For the last four decades, 88-year-old Kim Yun-shin has wielded chainsaws as her 'brush' to sculpt a series of freestanding wooden assemblages. The late-blooming artist experiences many of her “firsts” in her six-decade career this year: joint representation by two mega-galleries, Lehmann Maupin and Kukje Gallery, and her inclusion in the prestigious Venice Biennale’s flagship International Art Exhibition. Newsis

The unexpected emergence of late bloomers is always a breath of fresh air in the art world. And it appears there’s a new “kid” on the block: 88-year-old Kim Yun-shin.For decades, the now octogenarian artist has wielded chainsaws as her signature “brush” to sculpt a series of freestanding wooden assemblages, whose intriguingly organic forms are reminiscent of sprouting plants, holy totem poles or human figures.Yet, much of her creative toil remained hidden from the spotlight of the Korean art scene and market. Why? Because she had been a “missing” figure, quite literally, since her rather spontaneous relocation to Argentina in 1984.It wasn’t until her inaugural retrospective in Korea, “Towards Oneness,” hosted at the Nam-Seoul Museum of Art last year, that brought belated attention to her idiosyncratic sculptural practice.That’s why it feels all the more surreal to Kim as she experiences many of her “major firsts” in her six-decade career this year: joint representation by two mega-galleries, Lehmann Maupin and Kukje Gallery, a solo exhibition in New York City, and even her inclusion in the prestigious Venice Biennale’s flagship International Art Exhibition.”It’s the first time in my life that I’ve seen so many journalists here to see me. It could also very well be my last,” said the spirited artist, donning a black trench coat and a pair of checkered Vans, at Kukje Gallery in central Seoul, where her solo show of 51 wooden sculptures and paintings opened. “I feel a bit overwhelmed at all these changes, but at the same time, I’m truly grateful for this final chapter of my life.” Born during Japanese colonial rule in 1935 in Wonsan, Gangwon Province in present-day North Korea as the youngest of six children, Kim crossed the border with her mother to the South following the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950.

She received her BFA from Hongik University, becoming one of the first women to formally train as a sculptor in the country. She then pursued further studies in sculpture and lithography at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1964.But her globetrotting didn’t stop there. Two decades later, despite her stable career as a university art professor, she decided to travel halfway across the globe to South America.So, why Argentina, of all places?Buenos Aires was not Paris or New York. It wasn’t among a handful of cities that were on the radar of the modern Korean art world, where the creatives were still struggling to find their voice amid military dictatorship, postwar reconstruction and breakneck-paced economic growth. The artist herself had no idea where the country was until her niece, who had moved there earlier, invited her for a brief visit.Upon her arrival, what immediately caught her eyes were the endless stretches of flat land and the dense, towering trees — an unimaginable sight in Korea at the time, where large swathes of the woodland were destroyed during the war.A sense of rejuvenation began to fill her — a feeling that she hadn’t experienced in a long time in a country in postwar survival mode.“I was previously in the collective mindset of trying to survive in the land that has been razed to the ground. But being in this place, I felt so peaceful and calm,” she recalled.She knew that choosing to stay behind in this part of the world ran the risk of gradually being forgotten in the art scene in her motherland. But it was also a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get her hands on hardy, robust materials she had only dreamed of — from algarrobo and quebracho to palo santo wood.Ultimately, Kim decided to make 메이저 Buenos Aires, the land pulsating with a new rhythm and vitality, her adopted hometown.

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