The Graphic Designer of the Museum, Na Kim
Written by Kim Man Na
Graphic designer Na Kim has recently signed an exclusive contract with Kukje Gallery. Why did one of the nation’s leading art galleries offer to work with an artist who is a designer by trade? “Galleries are often commissioned by some corporations to build sculpture or installation works, but it seems that designers may be more flexible to work with than fine art artists,” she said humbly. But there is much more to it.
Gukje Gallery is famous for maintaining the world class quality of its exhibitions. Na’s artwork has been invited to various shows at galleries and museums: Stage Experiments at the Bauhaus, and THE SHOW-ROOM, a collaboration with the art shop at UUL both at the Korea National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, solo exhibitions at Doosan Gallery in Seoul and New York as a Doosan Artist Award winner in 2013, and many group exhibitions at Kukje Gallery. Clearly, the designer has been establishing herself as an artist for the last 5 years since she came back from her studies in the Netherlands. She majored in product design at KAIST and then graphic design at Hongik University, where she worked as an assistant to professor and renowned typographic designer Ahn Sang-soo. She had considered going to school in abroad, but she decided to stay since she believed studying Korean typography should come first to work as a graphic designer in Korea. One of her most memorable work was the Korean pavilion project at Venice Biennale of Architecture 2004 while Korean commissioner was the late architect Chung Gu-yon.
“We, students, had a meeting with the professor once in a week, which lasted a full year. The whole process was a significant experience for me, and those students are now actively working as architects and designers in many countries. We give each other a hand.” After carefully exploring schools in Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands, Na Kim decided to go to Werkplaats Typografie, Netherlands. As its name means a ‘typography workshop’, the school focuses on practical assignments and projects commissioned by clients instead of on theory-centered programs. The 6 years in the Netherlands can be described as a time of fieldwork rather than classes, as her routines involved giving a presentation to the clients and visiting printers.
“My first challenge was to deviate from the rules and standards I took for granted as a designer in Korea. I started to build up from scratch, trying to think out of the box.” Her work is strongly associated with graphic elements such as lines, figures, colors and patterns. She was never drawn to photography or illustrations that give concrete and specific information. Na Kim rather borrows frames and formats from industrial products. “Most shapes like a circle or a square have their own reasons for their figures like some circle has a 2cm diameter for a reason. I would borrow some existing frames and forms but apply different rules to them, which helps me build my own layers. The virtue of modernism movement is not what it created, but its progressive attitude and mindset for that time. All work is a series of choices and decisions. Whenever I feel stuck between choices, I try to go with the functional and rational attitude.”
After winning the Doosan Artist Award, she held a solo exhibition in New York in 2015. With the theme of the role of designers in the show, she published a book titled <SET>. “Book is a familiar medium, but I wasn’t confident to make a book, so I asked a Belgian designer Joris Kritis with whom I studied in the Netherlands. I was acquainted with during my studies in the Netherlands. It’s sort of a sample book. I removed original texts and rearranged the visual elements by categories. I enlarged the book to the wall size and displayed it in the hall so that viewers can feel like they are reading through a whole book after they make a round of the hall. How about painting murals instead of attaching sheets? It was a fresh attempt that made me think of materialistic objects in a new way, and not having anything left with me after the exhibition finished.” Na Kim said she finds it personally more meaningful to actually do hands-on work rather than pondering on where she may stand in the context of art history.
*Manna Kim is a feature director at HERITAGE MUINE.