Minjae Kim, I Was Evening All Afternoon
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Minjae Kim
I Was Evening All Afternoon
July 10 – August 29 2021

‘A Poignancy of the Familiar’

Marta is delighted to host the first solo exhibition of works by New York-based, Seoul-born designer and furniture-maker Minjae Kim. “I Was Evening All Afternoon” opens to the public on July 10 and is on view at Marta’s Los Angeles space through August 29, 2021.

In 2019, Kim began making works from his home studio that would come to define and establish his burgeoning solo practice, and has since developed a unique visual and material language that skillfully and unexpectedly incorporates hand-carved wood, fiberglass, and lacquer across seating, lighting, case pieces, and a menagerie of objets. The works in “I Was Evening ...” deftly reference and mimic several traditional typologies of Western furniture that have always fascinated Minjae in their specificity and idiosyncrasy.

In the far corner of the gallery, a sculptural beechwood desk interacts with a chair inspired by the one found in Sigmund Freud’s Vienna office; elsewhere, an interpretation of a chaise lounge dialogues with a lacquered cabinet and fiberglass vase; up front, a low-slung praying chair rests atop a vintage rug displaying a knowing confusion of Asian and Art Deco motifs. This one space, with its gently-prescribed set of activities, can be understood as a theatre for life.

“In his carved works of wood and fiberglass, Minjae makes a poignancy of the familiar,” writes Su Wu. “By allowing rituals of life and their affiliated embellishments to be misconstrued, Minjae’s furniture turns the Western decorative canon into a romantic imagination — inverting the modernist appropriation of non-Western aesthetics.”

Minjae Kim (b. 1989, Seoul) lives and works in Ridgewood, Queens. An alumnus of the Architecture program at Columbia University’s GSAPP, Kim has recently spent time working with AD100 design firm Studio Giancarlo Valle, and has been featured prominently in trade publications Architectural Digest, Pin-Up, Milk, and the forthcoming Cero, as well as Tatiana Bilbao’s Two Sides of the Border. “I Was Evening All Afternoon” is Kim’s first-ever solo exhibition.

Download the Press Release.

Vignette No. 1

Installation view, north-facing.

Vignette No. 1

Minjae Kim
Untitled Floor Lamp, 2020
Douglas Fir, Lacquer, Quilted Fiberglass
10.0 × 11.0 × 66.0 in
38.0 × 41.0 × 81.0 cm

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Minjae Kim with Natalie Weinberger
Ikebana Lamp, 2019/21
Ceramic, Brass, Resin, Baroque Pearl
12.0 × 12.0 × 28.0 in
31.0 × 31.0 × 71.0 cm

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Installation view, northeast-facing.

Minjae Kim
Matisse Desk, 2021
Solid Beechwood, Lacquer
53.5 × 36.5 × 30.5 in
136.0 × 93.0 × 78.0 cm

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Freud Chair, Sconce Pair.

Minjae Kim
Freud Chair, 2021
Mahogany, Lacquer, Quilted Fiberglass
27.0 × 21.0 × 40.0 in
69.0 × 53.0 × 102.0 cm

Edition of Three

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Minjae Kim
Pair of Sconces, 2021
Plaster, Brass, Douglas Fir
Ea. 8.0 × 4.0 × 17.0 in
Ea. 19.0 × 5.0 × 43.0 cm

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Installation detail, Ikebana Lamp.

Vignette No. 2

Installation view, east-facing.

Praying Chair, Work 1802 by Myoung-Ae Lee.

Vignette No. 2

Detail, Praying Chair.

Minjae Kim
Praying Chair, 2021
Douglas Fir, Lacquer, Quilted Fiberglass
15.0 × 16.0 × 32.0 in
38.0 × 41.0 × 81.0 cm

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Minjae Kim
Carved Coco de Mer, 2021
Found Wood, Lacquer
13.0 × 14.0 × 6.0 in
33.0 × 36.0 × 15.0 cm

Myoung-Ae Lee
Work 1802 – Coexistence, 2018
Mixed Media on Shaped Canvas
24.0 × 28.0 × 2.5 in
61.0 × 71.0 × 6.0 cm

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Minjae Kim
Incense Tray, 2021
Douglas Fir, Lacquer
7.5 × 5.8 × 1.8 in
19.0 × 15.0 × 5.0 cm

Edition of Five

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Minjae Kim
Column, 2021
Oak, Lacquer
10.0 × 7.0 × 26.0 in
25.0 × 19.0 × 66.0 cm

Detail, Incense Tray atop Column.

Installation view, southeast-facing.

Column, Incense Tray, Untitled Self-Portrait.

Minjae Kim
Untitled Self-Portrait, 2021
Vintage Stereoscope, Bamboo, Lacquer, Douglas Fir, Found Brush
9.0 × 12.0 × 32.0 in
22.9 × 30.5 × 81.3 cm

I Was Evening All Afternoon
Su Wu on Minjae Kim

For his debut exhibition in Los Angeles, the Korean-born designer Minjae Kim says the “items that embellish the typology came together naturally,” and “in that sense not much was left behind.” That is also how I might describe that summer. In those months after we met we would walk through Mexico City, sometimes for hours, in a state that I’ve now come to think of as existing between the ordinary and the extraordinary, lost in the thrall of the unfamiliar. We examined everything we didn’t know and so we examined nearly everything: loofahs by the kilo and shrimp by the glass and the word for the day after tomorrow. Maybe being an immigrant is always a kind of investigation, a life of heightened attention and meaningful details. Or maybe seeing things unfamiliar is Minjae’s disposition, and you, too, should get yourself a friend for a few months or for a life, who makes every encounter a wonder. One day that summer, Minjae called to say that he had found a clothing store that reminded him of me, that I might like, and so off we went. We walked for what seemed like a long time and then, in front of a display of tracksuits, he said we were there. He had thought I might like a small store in a rough neighborhood selling little kid school uniforms, and he was right. Minjae once told me a story about climbing a hill near Seoul and looking over the city where he grew up. At night, the city glowed distinct colors, only a river separating the orange incandescent light of the older part of town from a newer, modern blue.

In his carved works of wood and fiberglass, Minjae, too, makes a poignancy of the familiar. By allowing rituals of life and their affiliated embellishments to be misconstrued, Minjae’s furniture turns the Western decorative canon into a romantic imagination—inverting the modernist appropriation of non-Western aesthetics. How might someone not from here make a beautiful absurdity of writing desks, praying chairs, and chaise lounges—of letter writing, kneeling to pray, or fainting—just as Picasso or Breton appropriated histories and forms they did not fully understand? “For the longest time until someone knowledgeable enough enlightened me, I would just clown around enjoying the element of mystery,” Minjae says, of the antique found objects he has collected that will also be in the exhibition. “I can think of a couple ways that this relates to the work I’ve been making,” he says. “One is the idea of mysticism and play. The other relates to my lack of genuine understanding of aristocratic objects.” It is as Wallace Stevens wrote in “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” a poem (inspired by haikus) that makes of attention an unfixity, and from which this exhibition takes its title:

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow,

Stevens writes and such as it is in Minjae’s work, the effect and the aftereffect tied into a single moment, a causality without clear origin or influence.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

In Minjae’s pieces, materials such as lacquer, which is both a traditional technique and a somewhat dusty fantasy of chinoiserie, move away from the precision that is the hallmark of the export craft. Instead, the surface treatment hides knots in the wood and disguises scale, compressing the histories of a “specific object” into more of a character or a “cartoon,” as he explains. The lacquered chairs sit in conversational circles on Art Deco rugs from the early 20th century, made in the United States, and decorated with loose East Asian motifs. Fluency, after all, is knowing the meaning, but privilege perhaps comes in not caring too much about this. To be an outsider, as we were that summer is, in other words, a freedom: from knowing how you should be. But Minjae’s pieces can also highlight the concurrence, familiar to many immigrants, of simultaneous care and improvisation. “I figure out precision work in the beginning with the idea in mind to hide it,” explains Minjae, who trained as an architect at Columbia University before turning to furniture design. Like the world he inhabits, Minjae’s pieces exude surprise, or perhaps comedic mix-up, a comfortable awkwardness. “It’s funny how I felt like I’ve pretty much covered it all when I realized the identity of these pieces could represent work, leisure and religion like some all-encompassing slogan for human life—eat, pray, love—which makes the room sort of a theater of life,” Minjae wrote me recently, upon seeing a year of ideas and moments coalesce into this exhibition, his first at MARTA. “You can almost picture the person around it and the more character the object has, the easier it becomes.” 

His pieces, then, “perform as a cohesive room,” in which we are invited to “imagine a character going through different acts of the day”—like our own ongoing re-stagings of meaning. Through these works, and their expressive natures, Minjae makes a compelling case for a world of ongoing fluidity, of celebrating any lifetime of befores, so many befores, with a certain infidelity to references. When there is “no room for error,” life can become discouraging, he says. “I am trying to argue against that, so design becomes more approachable.”

Su Wu
Mexico City
May 2021

Vignette No. 3

Installation view, west-facing.

Vignette No. 3

Installation view, southwest-facing.

Minjae Kim
Fiberglass Vase, 2020
Quilted Fiberglass
15.5 × 4.5 × 17.0 in
39.0 × 11.0 × 43.0 cm

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Minjae Kim
Untitled Chaise Longue, 2021
Teak, Lacquer, Quilted Fiberglass, Cottonwood Headrest
55.0 × 19.5 × 33.0 in
140.0 × 50.0 × 84.0 cm

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Minjae Kim
Untitled Pendant Light, 2021
Bamboo, Pomegranate-Dyed Silk, Brass, Mahogany
24.0 × 24.0 × 36.0 in
31.0 × 31.0 × 71.0 cm
Overall height of fixture is customizable.

Open Edition

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Minjae Kim
Untitled Cabinet, 2021
Douglas Fir, Mahogany, Lacquer, Enamel Paint
25.5 × 10.0 × 28.0 in
65.0 × 25.0 × 71.0 cm

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Minjae Kim
Carved Fish, 2021
Found Wood, Stain
1.75 × 0.75 × 4.75 in
4.5 × 1.9 × 12.1 cm

Marta

Marta is a gallery that hosts works at the meeting points of art and design. Founded in Los Angeles in 2019, the gallery makes space for artists to experiment with the utility of design, and for designers to explore the occasional abandonment of function. Marta’s curatorial and publication programs take interest in both the process of an object’s creation as well the narrative of its creator(s). Marta embraces the intersection of disciplines, advocates for diversity in design, and promotes access to the arts.