Kim Lim at Tate Britain:
Spotlight Room Review
by Matilda McEvedy
2nd March 2021
Reading time: 2mins
I visited the spotlight room at Tate Britain called ‘Kim Lim: Carving and Printing’. As the name suggests it focuses on the intersection between, woman artist, Kim Lim’s sculpture and printing practice.
I visited in October 2020, just before the UK’s second lockdown. Tucked away off a larger gallery called ‘Sculpture of the 1980s’, her sculpture could have felt underwhelming adjacent to these great looming works. But despite being smaller in size, Lim’s works pack a visible punch. The impact comes from the way she builds them from simple shapes, using them as foundational building blocks. Her work looks at form, space, rhythm and light, often exploring them in print before formalising the forms in sculpture, and vice versa.
My favourites were the wood and metal works Sphinx (1959) and Chess Piece (1960), seen in conversation with their print forms for the first time on the walls around them. I admired Lim’s ingenuity, merging 2-D and 3-D, or the physical material and the abstract concepts of rhythm and form.
Sphinx has portions of wood placed on top of one other in an intentional way. This brings together the organic forms into a static and ordered existence. Looking at it with the corresponding Sphinx (1960) lithograph print behind on the wall, I could see it reduced even further to three simple black forms. Her shapes don’t evenseem to touch, abstracted to the point that they seem to float on the paper.
The work Chess Piece resonated with Kim Lim’s quote featured in the room: “Rhythm is another preoccupation of mine - the physicality of the feeling of rhythm makes it very sculptural for me. Using it by repeating a form, a rhythm is built up which adds to the resonance of a piece...I sometimes draw from plants & rocks & bone structures and I’m constantly amazed by the rhythmic structures in nature.”
Chess Piece is again made through placing wooden blocks, totem-like, on top of each other, and the prints behind it this time (Bridge I and Bridge II), stressing this idea of playful rhythm. They almost looked like music beats or strokes leaning precariously against one another, and if you stand staring for long enough, the black notes do seem to pulse slightly.
Kim Lim holds the prize for the most works by a woman of Asian heritage, owned by British public collections, and yet she's still fairly unknown now. Tate owns a veritable treasure trove of her prints if you check their site. Recent reinterpretation and a major show of her work by Sotheby’s in 2018 has meant she is being talked about again. Tate’s Spotlight room shows her as the important artist she was, even if only celebrated after Sotheby’s.
Tate is working hard to draw upon its existing collections, let’s hope that the post-COVID approach of the institution brings more artists to light like Kim Lim.