Yoonmi Nam’s “Blizz” (2018-2022), a lithograph from her “Arranged Flowers” series, is displayed on the Artspace Project Wall. (courtesy of the artist and H&R Block Artspace)
Yoonmi Nam is a truly international artist. Hailing from Seoul, South Korea, she has studied in Korea, the U.S., Canada and Japan and exhibited throughout the U.S. and Japan.
Now she’s bringing her unique still-life style to the H&R Block Artspace Project Wall, which stretches into the skyline at Main and 43rd streets. Nam’s Project Wall is the inaugural piece in a series of pairings that will feature women curators and women artists. She was invited to participate by Raechell Smith, director/curator at H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute, who has organized this series to highlight women’s creativity amidst a fraught sociopolitical backdrop.
Smith notes, “I’ve long enjoyed Yoonmi’s work and, in particular, this series of lithographic images of arranged flowers, which speaks both of beauty and humor. There is a lightness in this work that feels to me like a small offering of wit and grace. I think we can all use a dose of that right now.”
While Nam primarily works in printmaking, she also utilizes materials like ceramics and glass to form her still-life works. Thematically, she portrays objects that are ubiquitous yet often disposable, including single-use cups and carryout containers. For Artspace’s Project Wall, Nam features a lithographic print, “Blizz” (2018), from her “Arranged Flowers” series. In it, a colorful, three-dimensional Dairy Queen Blizzard cup holds monochromatic, two-dimensional cut flowers. The buds and stems have been carefully arranged and styled in a vessel that was created to be discarded, which is so often seen as garbage. The image speaks volumes on permanence versus transience. Nam explains, “The flowers, once cut from their roots, have only a short remaining time to live, and they will quickly wither and die. But before they do, they are elegantly and elaborately arranged, as if time will stand still for them.”
It is a playful yet profound experience to consider the layers of meaning underneath the visual appeal of Nam’s work. One such layer is that of a foreign-born artist who had spent much of her life idealizing Western printmaking techniques only to gain an appreciation for Eastern techniques while attending graduate school in the U.S. This bicultural lens allows Nam to notice things that may not be evident to native-born residents. “The experience of living in the U.S. allowed me to look at my own cultural identity and experiences from a more complicated and nuanced point of view,” Nam notes. “The experiences of subtle contradictions and the sense of being neither this nor that motivate my artistic practices. The experiences of living in disparate cultures with different people and their histories allowed me to notice what often is unobserved in one’s own familiar spaces.”
Nam’s work deftly merges Eastern and Western with traditional and modern. She masterfully shows that seemingly contradictory themes can be held in the same image. As KCAI professor Eleanor Lim-Midyett says, “Like the sweet, creamy bliss of a Dairy Queen Blizzard, Yoonmi’s Blizz’ reminds us of the potential unexpected pleasure of unlikely pairings and captures the poetry latent in make-do still-life creations.”
Yoonmi Nam’s “Blizz” will be displayed on the H&R Block Artspace Project Wall, 16 W. 43rd St., through spring 2023. For more information, 816.561.5563 or kcai.edu/artspace. Nam’s work will also be featured in the exhibit “Found in Translation: Explorations by 8 Contemporary Artists,” opening Oct. 8 at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.