Kim Lim, Candy, 1965. Painted wood, 59 x 183 x 17 cm. Photo: Courtesy Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London, © Estate of Kim Lim, All Rights Reserved, DACS 2023, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London

Kim Lim

Wakefield, U.K.

The Hepworth Wakefield

Space, Rhythm & Light” (on view through June 2, 2024) marks the first major exhibition of Kim Lim’s work in over 20 years. Featuring more than 100 works, accompanied by extensive archival materials and maquettes, the show presents a comprehensive survey of her oeuvre—from sculptures in wood, steel, marble, and stone to prints and cut-paper works shown alongside corresponding sculptures to reveal the interconnections of her two- and three-dimensional practices. The exhibition title provides an apt summation of Lim’s artistic concerns. For her, volume, mass, and weight were less important than “form, space, rhythm, and light.” The rhythms activated by light across a sculpture’s negative spaces could be manipulated in the same way as the form itself.

Lim, who died in 1997, was born in Singapore to Chinese parents. She traveled to the U.K. in 1954 to study art in London, where she was taught by Anthony Caro and Elisabeth Frink at Central Saint Martin’s School of Fine Art and later by F.E. McWilliam, who introduced her to the work of Giacometti and Brancusi, at the Slade School of Art. Lim was particularly well traveled, and between the 1960s and 1980s, she visited Japan, Cambodia, Malaysia, China, and India, often with her husband, the sculptor William Turnbull. On these trips, Lim absorbed a plethora of cultural and historic references that she then assimilated into her Minimalist approach to abstract sculpture.

Early in her career, Lim experimented with modular configurations in works such as Samurai (1961) and Ronin (1963), which acknowledge historical figures from Japanese history. These configurations often employ found elements, reassembled to prioritize the natural state of the materials. The bronze Pegasus (1962), with its two hemispherical, wing-like forms rising vertically from a stone base, epitomizes the sparse elegance of her sculpture. The title may allude to the winged horse of Greek mythology, but the sculpture’s hinged wings could, ostensibly, be moved or reconfigured. Candy (1965) depicts those same forms in wood, though horizontally inclined and painted in bright yellow and orange, while in Blue Note (1966) they appear as negative spaces. Color is a dominant feature of Lim’s early sculpture, granting works such as Candy and Blue Note a sizzling presence.

Her practice became more conceptual during the 1970s, resulting in several series of work exploring rhythm and repetition. In the “Intervals” series, which includes sculptures as well as works on paper, negative space is given as much prominence as volume or density. The screenprint Intervals (Blue) (1972), for instance, deploys a mesmeric repetition of lines, and, although inherently rigid in structure, the alternating blue and white ripples can be seen to evoke dappled light effects on water. The repetitions in Intervals (Blue) are also found in wooden sculptures such as Intervals I and Intervals II (both 1973). These serial arrangements of modular structures offer immense flexibility in terms of their presentation, revealing a playful aspect that became integral to Lim’s approach.

In the 1980s, her work became more overtly aligned to the natural world. She began to carve stone as a way of synthesizing into a singular piece what she had formerly constructed out of assembled elements. This is particularly apparent in Kudah (1989), named after the Indonesian word for the knight in chess. Lim was fascinated by chess pieces—as seen in the earlier Chess Piece I and Chess Piece II from 1960—and the criss-cross patterns created when they traverse the board. Her use of lines also translates to the late carved sculptures, which are often given poetic titles that link them directly to the natural world. Wind-Stone (1989) and Rainstone (1994) are both incised with surface grooves that appear to have been created by the forces of nature, rather than by the artist’s hand.

Day (1966), an arc of white-painted steel, is a simple form that, paradoxically, transcends that simplicity through ethereal luminosity. One of Lim’s largest sculptures, it is also one of the most deceptive, seemingly dissolving into a sliver when viewed from the side. This outdoor work, sited in The Hepworth Wakefield Garden, was first shown in “Sculpture in the Open Air,” at Battersea Park, London, in 1966. Although Lim exhibited widely during her lifetime, interest in her work diminished after her death. This retrospective offers a long-overdue opportunity to trace her experimental, yet unified body of work through four decades of practice.