The artist’s Korean name is KIM Pohyun. He was born in Changnyeong County, Gyeongsangnamdo (South Gyeongsang Province), in 1917 and spent his childhood in Daegu. Kim Changdeok (1910-1983), one of the first-generation Korean artists to live in Japan, was his older brother. KIM studied at Meiji University School of Law and Pacific Arts School. In Japan, KIM met his first wife, who was originally from Gwangju. After Korea’s liberation, he settled in his wife’s hometown, Gwangju, and taught as a professor at Chosun University from 1946 to 1955. He led the founding of Chosun University’s Art Department and served as the dean. While active in Gwangju’s art scene, he was especially close to Chun Kyungja and was introduced to Kim Whanki and Nam Kwan from Seoul. In 1955, KIM was invited as an exchange visitor on a fellowship at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and moved to the U.S. In his early years in New York, KIM earned a living by painting ties at a necktie factory and later introduced the job to Kim Whanki and Kim Tschang-yeul.
The records of KIM’s active interaction with the local New York artists in the early 1960s remain impressive. He interacted with Edwin Ruda, whom he acquainted at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and became close friends with Yayoi Kusama through his introduction. He later made connections with the artists who gathered in New York’s Coenties Slip: Among them were Agnes Martin and Robert Indiana. KIM’s experience of helping Martin select works for the Whitney Museum of American Art’s group exhibition served as a momentum for him to direct Martin’s solo exhibition at Charles Egan Gallery in New York. From 1965, KIM stayed in Paris for a year and interacted with Nam Kwan, who was studying there at that time. In 1968, he returned to New York and met his second wife Sylvia Wald. Following her advice, he started to use the name ‘Po KIM’ as it was easier for the local people to pronounce. From then on, he held solo exhibitions across the U.S. such as in New York, New Jersey, Indiana, Ohio, Philadelphia, and in Germany, including Munich and Baden-Baden. He also participated in numerous group exhibitions.
In 1995, his name started to gain greater recognition from the Korean art scene – through his solo exhibition held as an invitational exhibition at Hangaram Art Museum in Seoul Arts Center. A critique was written by Barbara London – a prominent curator and critic who formerly worked at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1997, KIM participated in Asian Traditions/Modern Expressions: Asian American Artists and Abstraction, 1945-1970 at Zimmerli Art Museum, New Jersey. The exhibition featured around 150 works by 57 artists from Korea, China, and Japan, including 9 Korean artists such as Kim Whanki. In 2007, the National Museum of Contemporary Art (Deoksugung) presented With Agonies With Joys: 60 Years of Po Kim’s Art, a large-scale exhibition that organized KIM’s artistic practice over the past 60 years. In 2011, Po Kim and Sylvia Wald Museum of Art was established within Chosun University Museum of Art. In 2013, KIM received the Dongbaek Medal, Order of Civil Merit, for his achievements as an overseas Korean of national merit. In the same year, the couple’s exhibition, Po Kim & Sylvia Wald was held at Gyeongnam Art Museum. In 2014, KIM passed away at the age of 97. In 2017, Whanki Museum presented a retrospective exhibition, PO KIM: Then and Now for the centenary of the artist’s birth.