It is an undeniable fact that capitalism has perverted what it means to survive, both physically and socially, and it is through Kim’s work that we can begin to see the ways in which this system has altered our sensibilities.
One beauty of the human mind is its capacity for critical thought. Our ability to observe, question, and create solutions has afforded us agency in the shape our lives take, individually and as a whole. As noted by 17th century English poet John Donne, “no man is an island.” Here, Donne is alluding to the reality that nothing can be accomplished without symbiotic relationships between people; we need each other. Inevitably, the pressures of this innate interdependence coupled with the profundity of our minds, led us to create systems through which we could regulate this reliance. The adaptation of monetary systems to structure our economic activity, however, has introduced an exploitative factor into our interactions—hence capitalism.
The Contemporary Art Modern Project is pleased to present Couture Capitalism, an online exhibition featuring works by South Korean oil painter Youngil Joseph Kim that shines a light on the corruption of capitalism through the lens of city life and fashion. Not only do urban spaces house the majority of capitalism’s major players—company headquarters, big banks, stock markets—the people living within these spaces are disproportionately exposed to advertisements, and consequently most charmed by consumerism. We live in a time where some of us will pay for the newest Gucci before we pay our rent. It is an undeniable fact that capitalism has perverted what it means to survive, both physically and socially, and it is through Kim’s work that we can begin to see the ways in which this system has altered our sensibilities.
At first glance, Kim’s work read as photographs, captured while window shopping in a city. A photograph, especially of something as ubiquitous as a store window, can often feel like an observation. With his work Forgetting - City Life 45, for example, one can understand it as a documented moment, but when it’s realized that it is an oil painting, an entirely different consideration of intention comes forward. Painting, especially in the hyperrealistic manner that Kim engages the medium, evokes a sense of production or creation. Kim renders his scenes stroke by stroke, color by color, paying close attention to detail. In many ways, this is the same fashion, no pun intended, that window display designers approach their tasks as well. A well placed plant, relaxed looking mannequins under a chic brand sign and fluorescent lights—city window displays are as contrived as Kim’s paintings.
In its entirety, Couture Capitalism offers a peek behind the curtain, a chance to face the proverbial wizard and realize the depth of his charade. Kim’s opulent store windows, complete with all the fixin’s, replicate one real world mechanism through which the capitalist system sets the human standard—a standard we unconsciously strive towards each day. By removing the store window vignettes from the cityscapes they are designed for, and presenting them on canvas instead, the system’s charm is distilled. The viewer is allowed to feel enticed by the clothing and overall ambience of a store, but in the same moment, they are denied the ability to “consume” and make a purchase. The tension felt by this vain provocation is the normally obscured hand of capitalism, the energy we all know too well that disguises itself as free will, but truly is just a manipulation of our sensibilities.
Statement and Curation by Brianna Luz Fernandez