Like so many artists and art dealers, Kibum Kim—a lawyer, a faculty member of Art Business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, and the co-founder of NEWD Art Show—recently made the move west to Los Angeles. Drew Sawyer chatted with Kibum about his new project space Skibum MacArthur, the LA art scene, and Negotiated Resale Rights agreements.
Drew Sawyer—There’s been a lot of ink spilled over the L.A. art scene recently. What made you decide to move to the Southland?
Kibum Kim—There is such great energy in L.A. right now—a sense of cultural flourishing that extends beyond the art world to fashion, food, design, music. Of course, many have anointed L.A. as the next art capital. I do think all the elements of great art schools, museums, artist communities, and now galleries and collectors are coalescing into a vibrant, robust art scene with a distinct west coast sensibility, and I wanted to take part in this special moment. The weather obviously doesn’t hurt either.
Drew— You just opened a project space called Skibum MacArthur. First, does L.A. need another gallery/project space, especially considering the slew of New York and European galleries opening there? Second, tell me more about the name.
Kibum—Generally, I think the more venues and opportunities for artists to show the better. There has been a spate of established galleries from art capitals opening spaces in L.A. recently, but I feel what I’m trying to do with Skibum MacArthur is of a different nature. It is not a commercial gallery, and I don’t necessarily see myself becoming a dealer. If anything, I’m excited for Skibum MacArthur to join the dynamic conversation of artist-run galleries and project spaces in L.A.
Context is super important to me, and I believe alternative spaces provide an important context, at a certain remove from the market, in which to exhibit and engage with art. I plan to focus on longer-than-typical solo shows by artists who haven’t shown extensively in L.A. that I connect with both for their art and as people. The project is a labor of love and I hope to run the space with a sense of autonomy and fun that translates to a compelling platform for artists.
I also want to add that I think Skibum MacArthur is of a piece with what we’re seeing with the new gallery outposts here in that L.A.—with its particular alchemy of geographic, social, and economic conditions—allows for one to fashion the kind of art space you want. What the Maccarone gallery in Boyle Heights and the upcoming Hauser & Wirth complex are doing seem really ambitious and forward-thinking, and I hope to manifest my own vision for what a project space can be.
In choosing a name for the space, I wanted something mnemonic so it would be easy to remember. “Ski bum” without the ‘S'” is how I explain my name when I first meet people. MacArthur because the space is in MacArthur Park, with its own fascinating history. And growing up in Korea, General MacArthur was a seminal historical figure, so it’s a name that feels funnily familiar to me as well.
Drew—Why did you choose to work with Benoît Platéus for your first show?
Kibum—Benoit’s paintings in the current show BTS examine the image vernacular produced and propagated by the film industry. Mounting old movie posters backwards onto the canvas, he paints over the ghostly abstracted image, obscuring signifiers like human figures and text. The resulting paintings appear to promise narrative content with their familiar filmic compositions but elude easy interpretation.
Benoit’s work has long been interested in abstracting images we encounter through popular media, and I felt this body of work particularly related to L.A.—this crazy postmodern city of myths and dreams–and the image culture the city has disseminated through Hollywood in ways that resonate with me. The paintings are also just beautiful, and it’s such a joy to walk into what is now my office and appreciate the work anew every day. Benoit and I first met in L.A. last year (he was doing a residency at Danny First’s studio and I was visiting from New York), so in a way it feels like we’re coming full circle by doing a show here as well.
Drew—You’ve said that all sales at the space will be accompanied by a Negotiated Resale Rights agreement. Can you explain what that is and why you think it’s important?
Kibum—Essentially, Negotiated Resale Rights is a contractual agreement—created and managed by Xipsy—that should a collector decide to sell the work at some point, she will share a small part of the upside (if there is one) with the artist. In Europe and some other countries, resale royalties are statutorily mandated; in the U.S. it is not (though there is a law here in California that has largely been unenforced since its passage in the 70s and whose constitutionality has recently been challenged in courts). I actually think it is preferable for collectors and artists to voluntarily enter into agreement rather than legislation that in many ways tends to be paternalistic towards artists and antagonistic towards collectors.
Realistically speaking, most of the artists I work with at Skibum MacArthur will be emerging and some of them may not even develop secondary markets for their work. Still, maybe NRRs are not for everyone. But, for me, the point is that the NRR affirms and strengthens the connection and commitment between the collector and artist. What I love most about the art world is the incredible generosity of spirit and resources that undergirds the whole ecosystem, and I want Skibum MacArthur to engage with the market in ways that highlight and honor that generosity, and perhaps reconsider how art is disseminated.
Drew—You also co-founded the art fair NEWD. Do you see this space as related to the fair? Do you plan to hold an L.A. version?
Kibum—I definitely see Skibum MacArthur as an extension of what my partner Kate Bryan and I started with NEWD. It’s about providing a different, compelling platform for art, celebrating a community, and hustling like hell for what we believe is great art. We first offered NRRs as options for sales at NEWD as well and were thrilled by collectors’ enthusiastic adoption.
As far as L.A. NEWD goes, we would love to plan one since L.A. has such a vibrant scene and rich history of alternative spaces. But first things first, I need to build some Ikea furniture and learn how to drive and sort out my life!
Drew—Finally, do you miss New York already?
Kibum—Of course. I moved to New York right after college and the city really put me through the wringer—made me question my value system, broke me down many times over—but in doing so it opened my mind to such creativity, ideas and critical rigor, strength of spirit, and diverse ways of life and thought that have pushed me to strive to be a kinder, more humble, and self-aware person. I will always love New York, but I go back often enough. I just really miss the people I love.