Byron Kim

Synecdoche [Whitney Artists]

Not on view



Oil and wax on wood, forty parts

Dimensions variable, each panel 10 x 8 in.

Accession number

Synecdoche project, 1991-present

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of the Peter Norton Family Foundation

Rights and reproductions
© artist or artist’s estate


On first glance, Byron Kim’s Synecdoche appears wholly abstract, comprising a grid of small panel paintings whose format alludes to the monochrome works of Ad Reinhardt and Brice Marden. However, the creamy beiges, warm browns, and blush pinks have their roots in reality: every one represents a portrait of an individual’s skin color. Each subject would sit for fifteen to twenty minutes for the artist, who closely examined a patch of his or her skin before blending an assortment of paints to replicate the exact shade. The panels are ordered alphabetically according to the sitters’ surnames, rendering Synecdoche a sort of abstracted group portrait. Kim is a Korean-American artist, and part of the strategy of this work is to invite us to consider what, exactly, skin color signifies—in this context and others (his title is that figure of speech in which a part stands in for a whole). In imparting a representational dimension to the modernist form of the abstract monochrome, Kim is also engaging a word play whereby two meanings of the term “skin,” the coating on a canvas and human epidermis, collide.