“Many people are curious to know how I express artistically as a businessman and at the same time, as a collector. They want me to tell some dramatic story or a vivid moment in my life that triggered this passion in me to become an artist.” The eternal smile underneath the stylish fedora is only the tip of the iceberg that is Kim Chang-il. With a multi-million dollar company, three contemporary art galleries and five museums across the nation under his name, Kim speaks with fluidity and sobriety about his work. This energy flows throughout all aspects of his life. In fact, Kim’s professions as a businessman, an art collector and an artist should not be looked at separately. The basis of these dimensions is his originality in the pursuit of simplicity. Kim defines simplicity as a particular that requires concentration on the most valuable thing. This particularity for him lies in art and this is what makes Kim the unique CI KIM in the universe of businessmen, collectors and artists.
Kim first started collecting art at the age of 27. Walking down a small gallery street in Seoul, the landscape and figure paintings by Korean modern ink painters such as Kim Kichang, Lee Sangbeom, Byun Gwansik, Jang Unsang and others caught his attention. Now looking back to the beginning of everything, Kim sighs at the conservative tendencies of many Korean art collectors, with whom he once identified, to limit themselves to one region from one instance in the history of art. Kim travels to the corners of the world, he met the YBA artists, partied with Neo Rauch and Matthias Weischer, made long-lasting friendships with Kohei Nawa and Subodh Gupta. As his horizon broadens, his collection expands. With over 3700 pieces to call his own, Kim deems that this chase after Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Gerhard Richter Cindy Sherman, Nam June Paik and other artists in the hall of fame, is an outcome of his self-discovery.
In all honesty, Kim’s selection and taste in contemporary art is intuitive and instinctive. His affinity to a certain piece of artwork is determined at first sight: “I select soulful artworks where I do follow my inner counsel.” Kim’s collection is perhaps the incarnation of Chicken Soup for the “Artistic” Soul – tugging at the heartstrings of the mass with contemporary art. He has also quite successfully done so with his galleries and museums. The Arario Museum in Space, Seoul opened its doors in 2014 and houses more than 200 pieces by 43 international artists from Kim’s collection in an exhibition named Really?. The whimsy in the title winks at people’s initial reaction towards Kim’s eclectic choice of artworks. He likens himself to the conductor of an orchestra, like in the 1940 Walt Disney animated film Fantasia, he animates the exhibition of artworks, the lighting, the total experience in his museums. Kim constructs his museums in abandoned structures that once carried significant memories to the neighbourhood or even the nation, building his ideals of sustainability and a brave new world of past and future coexisting in harmony.
To quote Kundera in his 1984 masterpiece, “for there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.”; Kim is susceptible to the weight as life surrounding him expires. He turns to art in its purity and its trustworthiness. He confides in a work of art, in its flawless aesthetic beauty without the peripheral engagement of the story behind. As if situated in the eye of the storm, in the calmness he seeks to minimise the artificial, to reveal the natural beauty of life, to find himself, to find CI KIM.
Language is like a window to the internal workings of the human mechanism. Perhaps lost in translation, it is rather curious to witness Kim’s sense of obligation that he “ought to discover young talented artists at a national as well as an international level”, his sympathies for the “mediocrity of the existing buildings that are disappearing one after another”, and that he has fallen victim to art evident from his choice of Marcel Duchamp as his inspiration.