The Architectonic Works of
Minku Kim


Minku Kim has made sculptures again, miniature and small (life
sized?) there might be 100 of them total, cast in plaster, concrete, chiseled
and carved. With few exceptions these sculptures are untitled. They are cubic,
cylindrical, cast from buckets and boxes, bisected and excavated to reveal
things like piping and other cardboard effects. The largest sculpture does not
exceed 3 ft sq. and the surfaces are applied to with a variety of paints,
resin, graphites, stucco, cement and maybe tar. The palettes are familiar to
him, although typical of his paintings more-so than his sculpture, which
perhaps only recently have started to camouflage within his studio.


Stylistically, the sculptures draw from the history of modern
sculpture; Kim samples from generations, regions and movements with a cool
distance. He combines Picasso, Moore, Brancusi, Genzken, which is to say that
he is interested… in what?


Because styles abound, I find it challenging not to view the
prehistoric influences without the rosy tint of primitivism. But more than
referring to prehistoric art proper it seems that he would like to invoke the
past through the process of excavation so prevalent in his work. Uncovering,
unveiling, digging and reconfiguration seem to be incredibly important, even
when we look at his present painting practices and their analogues. Such as in
his new series of reliefs, which deconstruct found wood and cardboard, and
create dynamic projections that very clearly embed material histories into
topography. These reliefs project from the wall, but as a spectator it is
equally compelling to imagine a sort of birdseye-view looking onto these


Minku samples from enough styles as to make it null, unique. It is
very easy to find oneself entangled in the history of modern sculpture that
inspires his work. This is not to say that the references are beside the point;
Minku is a diligent student of modern art. At times, the blends of these
styles, the new weight distributions, heights and scales are confusing. One is left
to wonder why he would make such small pieces rather than making a single large
piece. It is difficult to tell whether or not the sculptures are sketches --
proposals for monuments to come. In my opinion this is probably the most
interesting place to begin thinking about the work. If we are to assume that
these sculptures are propositional, there are some very interesting
implications for public art and architecture. To dismiss the work as simply
rehashing modernism is to deny its cool distance, techniques of appropriation
and reconfiguration as equally instrumental to urban development.  


On the other hand the sculptures and their complementary plinths -
keyed to the scale of a human body - can also serve to undermine the ominous
nature of corporate high rises and other ominous towers of our urban surround.
As the corporation is now a person in America, so should its “human”
vulnerability be imaginable to the ordinary citizen. Kim’s instrumentalizing of
modernist styles mirrors the construction of new, taller buildings constructed
to perpetuate the increasing demand for residential and financial space in the


The reconstitution of public and private zones follows suite. One
can easily imagine such buildings, perpetually in decline, augmentation and
institutionally frail, merely serving as pedestals for art of a monumental or
“architectonic” scale. Old warehouses and factories turned into showrooms and
studios, furniture made of recycled wood; the ethical implications for such
structures are distilled in Minku’s love of symmetry, history, his application
of paint and variety of surface treatments.


Imagining these sculptures as competing with architecture seems to
elucidate on an earlier series of works: Minku’s Steeple series, painted
in the hundreds from roughly 2010-2012. Minku photographed a church steeple
viewable from the window of his apartment in Baltimore, Maryland, and mounted
them onto an indefinite number of masonite panels. The subsequent oil
paintings, all titled I See It, You See It, Everyday, are small
meditations on the steeple’s form, as it is affected by the seasons, time and
day. These Steeples elegantly combine his interest in color and
architecture; he isolates this particular structural element and uses color - a
physical quality already so difficult for us to describe - to speculate on its
infinite variability. Roughly the size of postcards, they recall the collages
of Ellsworth Kelly who also used investigations in color to create monumental
proposals. Such as his 9/11 memorial: a skewed square painted over a photograph
of ground zero in the New York Times, representing a vast field of green grass
that would inevitably change colors with the seasons.


Such speculation will remain the topic of debate for the
unforeseeable future. Particularly in New York, where spaces are
re-appropriated for all manner of use, it is not so far fetched to imagine
public monuments only visible from afar, from an apartment window, the coasts
of the city, the skylines; birds eye views, balconies and rooftops. That public
access could one day imply immense distances and the use of binoculars rather
than full on immersion or choreography. These sculptures as proposals remind us
of the collective movement through cities as we circulate through public transit
and automobiles, or dance around them.


The sculptures imply a common ground between the skull and the
water tower, the water tower and the antenna, brain and body, vessel and
beacon. I’m reminded of students at the University of Chicago, who will sit and
read inside Henry Moore’s Nuclear Energy, a campus monument to the
Manhattan project. Or the crowds that flood Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate in
Millennium Park nearly every day of the year. Consider that One World Trade
dwarfs many other skyscrapers in Manhattan on account of its spire.  I
imagine Minku’s sculptures occupying the roof of the 432 Park Avenue and
closing the gap between the tallest residential building in the world and the
tallest skyscraper in America.  


Minku’s sculptures do not occupy plazas. They speak to the immense
crises of public and private space in Manhattan, where razing historic hotels
makes space for construction and novelty feels obnoxious and perhaps insulting
to New Yorkers. These monuments are built for the rooftops, the balconies and
skylines. They are cubic, inert, insulators and not conductors, transmitters
and not receivers. Like an Ellsworth Kelly collage, these small, personal
sculptures circumvent conversations with other public art; they are
architectonic, as opposed to monumental.


Still indexical of a skull or human scale, in Minku’s new
sculptures replace the cavities of a human or bovine skull (one of which he has
kept in his studio for roughly two years) with plumbing, drainages and rooms.
Atop a high-rise, they enjoy patinas of acid rain, wind, soot and tar. They are
painted, stuccoed and occasionally vandalized. When it comes time to clean
them, there is no “correct” treatment or approach, rather, de-skilled workers
of the future will paint the surfaces of Minku’s sculptures idiosyncratically,
to compliment their wear.


June, 2017

Max Guy