Minjae Kim furniture explores identity and belonging

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

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

‘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

‘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.’ §

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