Minjae Kim

Coolstuff Team
June 21, 2024

Meet Minjae, an artist, designer, and furniture maker whose playful works we’ve loved for quite some time. We caught up with Minjae during his recent residency at the Ace Hotel Brooklyn to hear about his latest work and how it all started in his art-filled home.

Photos by Dominik Tarabanski

How did you get your start as an artist & designer?

My background is actually in architecture. Growing up, I wanted to be a painter like my mother, MyoungAe Lee, but in my teens she persuaded me otherwise and nudged me towards architecture. Moms just love architects. I went on to study architecture in college, while also exploring other mediums and taking painting courses. I continued with this and came to New York almost 10 years ago to get my master's degree in architecture, and after graduation worked at Studio Giancarlo Valle. 

Over the years of studying architecture I also learned how to make furniture and kept it as my passion on the side. Whenever I found time between my architecture projects at school or work, I would work on small furniture projects. I liked the satisfaction of carrying a project to completion on my own, while giving me another creative outlet whenever I had little ideas. During the pandemic my day job was cut short and it gave me the extra time to really develop my own language. Eventually, I was able to produce enough work from my backyard and basement to get my own solo show at Marta in Los Angeles in 2021. 

Tell us about your Ace Hotel artist residency!

Nana and Noah from Fort Makers reached out sometime last year and told me there was an opportunity to do a residency at Ace Hotel Brooklyn. At first, I wasn’t sure it made sense to do a residency in the city I already lived in, but I came to realize that the added hotel space would provide an opportunity to invite my parents living in Korea to New York for a month and have them interact with my work in a way that they hadn’t been able to previously. Splitting my living and working into a hotel environment, while also having my parents in town was a huge challenge, but was rewarding, in the way that it gave me the feeling that I was living my life to the fullest. 

Initially, when I moved into the hotel, I had the idea of making a chess set during the residency. I knew I wanted to make work that related to the crises in the world and chess seemed like an appropriate translation of that, which was also suited for a hotel lobby. I had already begun exploring mold-making and was practicing resin casting at my studio, so I knew I could create the clay positives in a hotel room, without making too much of a mess.

What’s your favorite part about the New York creative community? 

I came to the U.S. from Korea in my teens and spent most of my twenties here, which perpetually places me between the two cultures. I often identify myself as an outsider wherever I go, but New York seems to numb that sensation because there are so many of us like that here. Delving into one's identity all the time can be quite distracting and New York is a good antidote for that. 

What's the main inspiration for your pieces?

There seems to be more than enough pain and anger to go around in the world and I've been looking for a medium to channel that without removing myself too much from the furniture and object work I've been doing over the years. As cliche as it is, they say chess is a miniature of the world we live in and among other similar typologies it seems to be the most expressive and figurative of emotions that we live with. I was drawn to the scale of the game and also found it to be emblematic of the social hierarchies that we live with in so many ways. 

Do you have a favorite series of work that you've created?

The work that I enjoy the most to this day is probably the sculpted chairs. It's such a simple formula, but the end results are virtually infinite. I hope I never stop making them.

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