Kenzo Minami

Posted inDesigner Profiles
Thumbnail for Bill Blackbeard's Final Splash Panel

At the end of this yet-to-be-named decade, designer Kenzo Minami wants to look forward. The visual theme of the 2000s, he tells me over coffee in the East Village, has been about looking back at the styles of the 20th century and remaking them for our own uses. But there hasn’t been anything totally new yet: We’ve just been repeating ourselves.

Elemental, 2009

So for his latest show, “Remakes,” opening September 9 at the Gallery at Soho Grand in New York City, Minami has scaled back what he calls his “bento box of ideas,” in which many different stories were crammed into intricate constructions of graphic forms. Instead, he’s abandoned focal points, the “chess of balancing things out”: Once you decide where you’re going to place something on the page, he says, it’s a simple system of putting the other items at various degrees from each other so that the composition’s formal aspects work together. And though works such as Broadcast (below) still traffic in playful graphic-design tropes—color bars and wheels, pantone swatches—the end result, such as Elemental (above) is more of a meditation on repetition of forms.

Broadcast, 2009

A self-taught graphic designer who studied product design at Parsons and Western philosophy in Japan, Minami has been commissioned by Converse, Raf Simons, MTV, Mercedes-Benz, and many others. He gained considerable notoriety in 2003 when Nike asked him to complete a mural painting in the company’s first art project space in New York. In 2005, he was featured in the “I Am What I Am” campaign for Reebok alongside Basquiat, and his Kenzo Minami Dunny, created in collaboration with Kidrobot, is in MoMA’s Architecture and Design collection.

5 to Midnight, 2009

Despite these accolades, Minami says he hasn’t always been able to communicate what he actually means. For “Remakes,” he’s gone back and literally remade certain pieces. Others are the original versions of pieces that, for whatever reason, he changed in subsequent iterations. Cluster One, for example (below), is the original, color version of a piece called Cluster Two, which sold at Milk Studio a few years ago. “Sometimes you just do what people expect of you,” he says. “Or maybe I was not as confident to judge my own work, not as trusting in my own intuition.”

Cluster One, 2009

Clearly, the end of a decade is a time for reflection, and the nine pieces in “Remakes” illustrate Minami’s existential question on the relevance of design as we move into the 2010s. He has become interested in materials, and he has a piece in the upcoming MAD Paper Ball at Museum of Arts and Design, celebrating the museum’s one year anniversary. But one of his favorite pieces was one that he completed the last: The ninth piece is called Ten, which doubles as a Roman X and the Chinese/Japanese character “Ju” tilted 45 degrees, which also means “ten.” Explaining this layered concept, he says, “I wanted to end with something not just about looking back on the past, re-doing/rebuilding/remaking, but something which will go beyond—the one which goes beyond Nine. I wanted to have one piece which conceptually does not belong to this current show. If anything, it belongs to the next one.”

Ten, 2009