Minjae Kim furniture explores identity and belonging

Minjae Kim's ‘I Was Evening All Afternoon’ exhibition at Marta, Los Angeles (until 29 August 2021) reimagines archetypes from Western furniture design

Furniture pieces combining materials such as mahogany, quilted fibreglass and plaster
Installation view of Minjae Kim’s ‘I Was Evening All Afternoon’ exhibition at Marta, Los Angeles (until 29 August 2021), featuring furniture pieces combining materials such as mahogany, quilted fibreglass and plaster
(Image credit: Minjae Kim)

The ideas of identity and belonging are subtly expressed by the Korean-born designer/artist Minjae Kim in a new body of work being unveiled at the independent gallery Marta in Los Angeles (on show until 29 August 2021). Entitled ‘I Was Evening All Afternoon’, which nods to a line in Wallace Stevens’ poem ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’, Kim’s debut exhibition in LA poetically navigates the idea of being in two places at once, whether its as an insider or outsider, an immigrant or a native, or being seen as familiar or exotic.

These may seem like high ideals to articulate in object form, but in Kim’s hands, they spring to life in the shape of reimagined archetypes of Western furniture design. A stout writing desk, made from solid beechwood and lacquer, is composed with figurative cut-out forms that nod to Matisse (to whom it is imagined for). A chaise longue, imbued with a palpable delicacy due to Kim’s use of quilted fibreglass for its seat and back, cuts a strong and luxurious figure with its lacquered teak headrest and legs. 

Designer Minjae Kim in his studio surrounded by pieces from the exhibition at Marta Los Angeles including chaise longue, cabinet and wall piece in light blue

Minjae Kim in his studio with pieces from the collection

(Image credit: Minjae Kim)

‘By allowing rituals of life and their affiliated embellishments to be misconstrued, Minjae Kim furniture turns the Western decorative canon into a romantic imagination — inverting the modernist appropriation of non-Western aesthetics,’ says writer and curator Su Wu, in the essay she penned in collaboration with Kim that accompanies the show. She recounts Kim saying, ‘For the longest time until someone knowledgeable enough enlightened me, I would just clown around enjoying the element of mystery. I can think of a couple ways that this relates to the work I’ve been making. One is the idea of mysticism and play. The other relates to my lack of genuine understanding of aristocratic objects.’

By allowing rituals of life and their affiliated embellishments to be misconstrued, Minjae's furniture turns the Western decorative canon into a romantic imagination - Su Wu

Kim is no stranger to the Western design lexicon. Based in New York, where he studied architecture at Columbia University and then went on to work at the design firm Studio Giancarlo Valle, Kim possesses a unique vantage point that oscillates between an East Asian perspective and the Western gaze. By deploying traditionally Asian decorative techniques, like lacquer and carved wood, alongside more industrial processes and materials, each piece exudes an inviting idiosyncrasy and a magnetic awkwardness that simply draws the viewer in for more.

Installation view of Minjae Kim lounge chair, vase and ceiling lamp on show at Marta in Los Angeles

Vase made of quilted fiberglass, ceiling lamp in bamboo, pomegranate dyed silk, brass and mahogany, and chaise longue in teak, lacquer and quilted fiberglass

(Image credit: Minjae Kim)

‘Minjae's interpretation of these typologies is less about explicitly 'disrupting' them and more about understanding them and their users, seeking acquaintance with the real or perceived lifestyle that surrounds them by going through the laborious steps required to make them,’ says Heidi Korsavong, who founded Marta with partner Benjamin Critton. 

‘I figure out precision work in the beginning, with the idea in mind to hide it,’ Kim shares. ‘When there is ‘no room for error’, life can become discouraging. I am trying to argue against that, so design becomes more approachable.’

Lounge chair, ceiling lamp with white shade and visible in a corner is a dark wooden cabinet with orange interior

Installation view at Marta, Los Angeles

(Image credit: Minjae Kim)

Dark wooden cabinet with orange interior

Cabinet made of Douglas Fir, mahogany, lacquer with orange painted interior

(Image credit: Minjae Kim)

Two chairs made of dark wood and beige coloured quilted fibreglass

Left, the ‘Freud’ chair, made of mahogany and quilted fibreglass. Right, the ‘Praying’ chair, in quilted fibreglass with Douglas Fir base

(Image credit: Minjae Kim)

A lamp with black stem and yellow shade, and an ikebana arrangement in a vase on the table

A floor lamp made of Douglas Fir and quilted fibreglass, created for the exhibition, shown alongside a ikebana vase originally conceived in 2019 and now transformed into a lamp

(Image credit: Minjae Kim)

Ikebana arrangement in a lamp

Ikeban Lamp, created in collaboration with ceramicist Natlie Weinberger

(Image credit: Minjae Kim)

Light blue wall piece and a wooden plinth with incense dish

Kim’s oak ‘Column’ and douglas fir incense tray shown alongside an artwork by Myoung-Ae Lee titled ‘Work 1802 – Coexistence’

(Image credit: Minjae Kim)

Pair of white bean-shaped plaster lamps with black cords and light visible behind

Sconces made of plaster, brass and Douglas Fir

(Image credit: Minjae Kim)

Detail of an ikebana lamp with light bulb attached to a brass rod and leaves visible under the light

Detail of ‘Ikebana’ lamp

(Image credit: Minjae Kim)


Minjae Kim, "I Was Evening All Afternoon" is on view at Marta until 29 August 2021


1545 W Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, California
90026 – 3333


Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.