Photography by Sean Davidson
Minjae Kim is a NYC-based + Seoul-born designer whose current repertoire includes furniture, objects and sometimes site specific installations. Often when we think of furniture, it’s through the context of use. Instead, Minjae creates a world in which his pieces are akin to charming characters and feel more like you’re inviting an exciting new friend or funny uncle to live with you. For Minjae, the past 2+ years of being sequestered at home has allowed him space to experiment and find his voice outside of his formal architecture background.
On view now (hurry only for another week!) is Minjae’s joint exhibition at Matter NYC with his mother, MyoungAe Lee — a painter showing work in the US for the first time. Below, he shares with us what it was like growing up with with an artist mother and how his big BB bag can still turn up surprises.
Can you describe the path that led to the work you do now?
Currently I make furniture which sometimes veer into sculptural objects or site specific installations. But all of them are attempts to create an environment. My background is in Architecture and I always struggled with having control because the scale rarely allows you to have it especially if you're a young designer. During pandemic I found myself with more time to work on small scale furniture which gave me some traction enough to have my own practice. So now I'm slowly scaling back up which is very exciting.
Can you share a bit about your upbringing and childhood?
I was born in Seoul, Korea at the very end of 80's to a painter and a priest couple, aka my parents. Thanks to my Won-Buddhist priest father we got to move around a lot, which even took our family to England for a year when I was 6. That had a profound impact on me because my painter mother got to take me to all the amazing museums across Europe. It also helped me with English which came so handy when I moved to the U.S. in high school as an exchange student. I also spent a lot of time by myself as an only child. Luckily enough my mom got me into drawing early on, so I had plenty to entertain myself as a kid.
What informs your material choices?
When I was beginning my practice, a lot of it had to do with availability and malleability because I had very limited tools, space, and budget to work with. The big reason that I got into fiberglass was because as long as I had time and space, I could make whatever shape desired and it's also very durable. Now I'm able to extend my material choices a bit more, but I do like my comfort zone. Or I'm just lazy.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I'm catching up on commissions that I've been ignoring when I was working on the Matter show. Today I worked on a few floor lamps. I'm also trying to find time to make some cabinets for myself because I recently moved to a new apartment. It's hard to find time to make work for yourself. Makes me feel so guilty!
Can you tell us what you carry in your Building Block large tote bag?
I seem to carry every baggage of my life in my Building Block large tote bag. The particular day we shot what was in my bag I got to see all the pamphlets and the receipts that I forgot about. I took the bag with me when I was in Korea to visit the US embassy for my new visa and there were these brokers that were giving out pamphlets for international moving service or immigration lawyers. Also my mom gave me a bunch of probiotics which I never took and just kept in the bag. We were also having some cake at the gallery that day so I had a knife with me. I usually don't carry it with me.
What is a profession / job other than your current situation that you've always dreamed of having.
I really wanted to be a painter. In fact my painter mother talked me out of it. But I did study painting briefly in college and I'm thinking that perhaps theres a little bit of room for that in my practice moving forward.
How do you feel, at your age, right now?
I'm 32 now. I'm often overwhelmed with work or life, but I know for sure that life can surprise you with a slip at any moment. Today I was thinking that although I'm stressed and tired, life can't get much better. That would be illegal.
What about your life now, would be most unexpected to your younger self?
Oh I haven't really thought of what I expected in life as a younger self. There was a point when I was 14 or so when I thought it'd be cool to be a car designer. At the time I also learned that I could just order all these catalogues of cars from dealerships so it's fair to say lowkey I was obsessing on cars. I still don't know how to drive and am not close to owning a car at all anytime soon. I'm sure that was very unexpected at the time.