Minjae Kim and his artist mother share creative worlds

New York designer Minjae Kim and his artist mother share creative worlds at Matter


During New York Design Week 2022artist-designer Minjae Kim presents new furniture at Matter Projects alongside works by his mother, artist MyoungAe Lee

The relationship between mother and son is viewed through a creative lens in the latest exhibition of new work by artist-designer Minjae Kim. Staged at Matter Projects during New York Design Week 2022 and most notably alongside paintings by his mother, MyoungAe Lee, an established artist in their native Korea, Kim’s new explorations in sculpture, furniture and lighting follow an intimate line of thinking that articulates the dialogue between his and his mother’s creative practices.

In the last year, Kim has emerged as one of the most exciting design practitioners in the United States. Drawing from a solid background in architecture and design (he graduated with a master’s architecture from Columbia University and worked at the interior design firm Giancarlo Valle), Kim branched into developing his own artistic practice during the pandemic, reinterpreting traditional Korean materials and techniques to create his now recognisable carved wood and sculpted resin pieces. This exhibition in New York comes hotly anticipated after a lauded solo debut at Marta in Los Angeles last year, which delved into the duality of his identity.

‘I grew up watching [my mother] endlessly trying to balance her domestic role and her identity as an artist, which at certain points manifested into a form of guilt [in me]; feeling that raising me was somehow keeping her from being the artist she ought to be,’ Kim reveals. ‘This was a sentiment that I always had in my twenties, so when my work was beginning to get recognition, I naturally wanted her work to be part of my world. I had her work included in my first show at Marta, and if I had any press I wanted her paintings to be in the photos. It was always so exciting because I could really see her influence in my work when they were [shown] together. When Jamie [Gray] from Matter proposed a show in New York, I was ready to see this narrative unfold. I also wanted my mother, who lives in Korea, to see the world that I’m building and wanted her to be part of it. I couldn’t think of a better way to do that.’

‘I wanted to make pieces that directly respond to her work to really project her language within me’ – Minjae Kim

Kim’s new body of work features 18 new pieces, specifically four fiberglass chairs, an armoire, four floor lamps, two benches, a wooden chair, a quintet of cast aluminum chairs and a dining set, made in collaboration with Gray and Matter’s in-house design team, that together blur the boundaries between furniture and sculpture. Displayed alongside 15 paintings from Lee, marking her US debut, the exhibition creates a cohesive environment that visually represents the artistic experience of Kim’s childhood.

Kim says, ‘I wanted to make pieces that directly respond to her work to really project her language within me. I thought a lot about how she would take hours to shape an outline or to build a shade of a color in her work. Knowing her work will occupy the walls informed the layout and typology of [my] work, and also allowed me to feel more comfortable in using colours. I knew it would allow me to work much more freely.’

The breadth and production of the works on view demonstrate a clear progression in Kim’s practice. ‘I was able to grow my practice a bit since last year. Much of the work I showed at Marta a year ago was made in my basement and backyard before I even had a studio,’ Kim continues. ‘This time, I was able to yield a slightly bigger production with the help of many talented fabricators and vendors in New York and also some helping hands at the studio. I worked with Zak+Fox, Jouffre and also the production team at Matter Made to realise an idea for an upholstered armoire that is more than 8ft tall. It was incredibly exciting to be able to work with these pros who I had huge reverence for in the years I’ve worked as a designer in New York. It was a daunting concept to realise, but having them on my side really gave me the confidence to move it forward.’

There is no denying the love and reverence for mother from son that’s been put on view. While the two have been separated for most of the time since Kim set out on his solo career due to the pandemic, Kim says that Lee ‘flew in about ten days before the opening and that was the first time that she saw my body of work in a meaningful way’.

He says, ‘Seeing the work in real life answered a lot of questions she had from just seeing them through photos over the past couple of years. I think also watching this show come together helped her believe in my practice and ease the worry she had when I left my office job. It also showed her my understanding, appreciation and respect towards her work, especially with the new fiberglass chairs, which are my homage to her body of work. She told me jokingly that she’s expecting me to pay her royalty for this new body of work, which I definitely will.’ §


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