Let Flowers Speak: New Work by Hee Sook Kim

* * * *

After making a body of work called Devisadero (2010), some of the greatest winter paintings made in Taos since the first art colony arrived there at the turn of the last century, Hee Sook Kim stopped working, a "fallow field" period in a sense, a time to reflect and consider what might be next, both personally and artistically. One year later, during a particularly harsh Pennsylvania winter, she studied gardening. Purchasing book after book, pouring over the details, taking notes, sketching, and ultimately preparing to create her own garden. By early spring, the work had begun. Digging out natural beds in some places, building raised beds in others, trips to nurseries time and time again. Planting seeds early, grown plants and flowers later, the garden grew to such dimensions that eventually it overflowed--flowers and plants in profusion of extreme beauty, an all-encompassing "too-muchness," almost unbearably so.Cultivation by the artist became a new creation: a real garden, with an underlying wildness just barely contained and controlled, the passion of making so intense it carries almost an erotic power. An excessively passionate cultivation of nature, a madly flowering garden that once made on earth by the artist herself has inspired another garden--an unearthly one--conceived by the eye and soul of the artist, another paradise altogether, a place where flowers speak. 

to be

is to know

what knowing



has a power

no garden


the wind

is a language


not spoken.


takes two

let flowers


Joseph Beuys Lasst Blumen Sprechen from 1974 (which I translate as "Let Flowers Speak") can be seen as pointing to something that resonates in these new works by Hee Sook Kim, created during a residency at the Youngeun Museum in Gwangju Korea in the summer of 2011. Beuys takes the mundane form of the post card and, in this case places upon it an expression related to cliché. "Lasst Blumen sprechen" is usually translated as "say it with flowers" and thus useable for the purposes of commerce--birthdays, anniversaries etc.--for which flowers would be purchased as a means of "saying" something more beautiful than words or even actions make possible.But by putting it on a postcard and claiming it as "art" Beuys enacts a kind of transformation of the mundane and the machinations of commerce. Beuys had just returned from a visit to the United States where he would likely have heard commercials, "say it with flowers," made by flower companies and seen on television and print advertisements. He would also likely have seen the recent work of Andy Warhol using flowers as subject matter. And the subject of flowers, so fraught with the weight of history, in particular art history and in many cultural contexts throughout the world, could also be regarded as mundane in a sense. And in need therefore of perpetual transformation. The making of art.

The new works found in this exhibition are a garden of flowers, an imaginary garden created and cultivated by the artist Hee Sook Kim. Spending time with these works, whether it be a one-on-one encounter with each individual piece or letting the totality of all of them wash over you, in combination producing an almost intoxicating flood of color and sensation, is itself a transformation. Both of the individual materials themselves (flowers as figures abstracted into essences) and in the larger sense of how the artist has created her own garden of the imagination. For in the literal sense these are obviously not "real" flowers. Nor is this a "real" garden.

The wonder of art, especially in the hands of a masterful and mature artist like Hee Sook Kim, is the ability to create and make real those things only imagined by most of us. Listen to these flowers, as the artist so obviously did, and you too will hear them speak. "Whispered truths." Magic. Look carefully and long enough and feel your own imagination grow. And bloom.

rustling quiet


of flying bird

the wind blows

high atop the mountain


free above what waits below

a calm envelops

real or not

it speaks

of flowers blooming

ah what magic



Christopher Shultis

Bundang, Korea (July, August 2011); Ardmore PA (December 2011)

Using Format