Kim Whanki’s Diptych Set to Become Most Expensive Korean Work of Art Ever Offered by An International Auction House

Highlighting this autumn season, Christie’s presents a diptych by Korean abstract painter Kim Whanki. Estimated at HK$48m-62m (US$6m-8m), the diptych is set to be the most expensive Korean work of art ever offered by an international auction house.

05-IV-71 #200 (Universe) by Kim Whanki|Estimate: HK$48m-62m

Kim Whanki was a pioneering abstract artist of Korea

Best known for his works that epitomise archetypal Korean aesthetics, Kim Whanki was a pioneering abstract artist of Korea. He belongs to the first generation of Korean abstract artists, mixing oriental concepts and ideals with abstraction.

Following his return to Seoul in 1953, Kim began exploring classical Korean art practices and motifs, referencing, in particular, Joseon-dynasty (1392-1897) white porcelains, Goryeo dynasty (918-1392) celadon, and traditional literati paintings in his work. Kim was interested in capturing the poetic emotion and spirit imbued in the naturalism of Korean aesthetics.

Spanning 254 x 254cm, 05-IV-71 #200 (Universe) is the largest of Kim’s paintings, with the greatest range of tone created using a single colour. The cobalt dots are iconic to the artist’s final and most accomplished creative period which spanned from 1970 to 1974. The composition displays Kim’s technical dexterity and ability to control the density of paint to create a blurred effect, achieving a magnificent feeling of infinite space and depth.

Part of 05-IV-71 #200 (Universe) by Kim Whaniki

The diptych was acquired directly from the artist by a close friend, Mr. Matthew Kim and Ms. Chae Kum Kim, and the piece has resided in their private collection for the past 40 years. It will go up for auction at Christie’s in Hong Kong on 23 November for HK$48m-62m, marking the painting’s auction debut since its completion in 1971.

In spite of the increasing attention to Korean art following the rise of Korean culture, Korean art is still trying to make its way to the mainstream in the global art market. Recently, Christie’s Hong Kong has been actively tapping into this market and launched a selling exhibition titled A Narrative of Korean Art: from Celadon to Abstraction and Beyond this February. It featured approximately 50 specially curated works spanning more than 1,000 years of Korean art history from the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392 CE) to present times. Christie’s decision to pick Kim’s 05-IV-71 #200 (Universe) to lead its upcoming auction also shows its devotion to bringing Korean art to the international auction stage. 

Francis Belin, President of Christie's Asia

Park Seo-Bo (b.1931), Écriture No. 231-85, 1985|A Narrative of Korean Art: From Celadon to Abstraction and Beyond

Chung Sang Hwa (b.1932), Untitled (87-10-6),1987|A Narrative of Korean Art: From Celadon to Abstraction and Beyond

Christie’s has placed greater attention to Korean Art after Francis Belin took up the position of President of Christie's Asia. Let’s see how he further push the wave of Korean art to the next level in the art market.

Kim Whanki (1931-1974). 05-IV-71 #200 (Universe)

Size: 254 x 127cm (each panel); 254 x 254 (overall)
Provenance: Purchased directly from the artist by Matthew Kim and Chae Kum Kim
Estimate: HK$48,000,000 - 62,000,000

Auction house: Christie’s Hong Kong
Auction date: 23 November 2019