Inside the Collection

Recent acquisition: New Armor stool by Kwangho Lee

Bronze chair with Korean ott-chil lacquer seat
‘New Armor’ Bronze stool/blue, bronze, lacquer (ott-chil) by Kwangho Lee, South Korea, 2014, Photo: Ryan Hernandez, MAAS

The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences recently acquired the ‘New Armor’ stool by South Korean contemporary designer Kwangho Lee, which reflects the ‘Return to Craft’ movement as featured in the Powerhouse Museum exhibition Common Good. The exhibition profiles contemporary designers who are preserving their cultural heritage through collaborative projects with artisans, craftspeople and manufacturers.

Bronze chair with Korean ott-chil lacquer seat in photography studio
‘New Armor’ stool by Kwangho Lee in the MAAS photography studio, Photo: Keinton Butler, MAAS

In a world of rapidly evolving design and technology, we could be at risk of losing our cultural heritage. Skills and knowledge previously passed down from generation to generation are rapidly becoming redundant, arguably leaving us poorer in historical wealth.

Man welding a bronze chair
The ‘New Armor’ series constructed in Seoul, South Korea, Photo: courtesy of Kwangho Lee

The ‘New Armor’ stool by Kwangho Lee demonstrates traditional craft techniques and pays respect to Lee’s family’s heritage. Lee grew up on his grandparent’s farm just outside of Seoul, and this experience has guided his design practice. As his grandfather did, Lee uses materials that surround him and develops them through traditional methods to find their natural beauty.

Bronze chair with Korean ott-chil lacquer seat
‘New Armor’ stool by Kwangho Lee, MAAS Collection: 2017/58/1, Photo: courtesy of Kwangho Lee

The design of the ‘New Armor’ stool references the wartime uniform from the Korean Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1897). Each material was specifically selected for this historical illusion. For example, the primary material of the chair, bronze, was the first alloy created by humans, whilst the curved features of the chair such as the arching backrest and stool base are visibly recognisable from the shoulder and abdomen of the heavy, metallic wartime suit. The ‘New Armor’ stool appears as if each component was a relic from history, dug out with care to expose the hieroglyphs of a different era and re-configured into a contemporary setting.

Bronze chair with Korean ott-chil lacquer seat
‘New Armor’ stool by Kwangho Lee, ott-chil lacquer detail, MAAS Collection: 2017/58/1, Photo: courtesy of Kwangho Lee

On the seat of the stool, Lee applies sheets of traditional hanji paper laminated by a high gloss lacquer known as ott-chil. Once hardened, the material is distinguishably durable but still allows the texture of the paper to manifest on the surface. Lee’s bold design is a balance between his personal and national history, combined with his present-day reality.

Common Good exhibition poster from March 2018
Common Good exhibition poster from March 2018, designed by Australian design studio U-P, featuring the ‘New Armor’ stool, Courtesy MAAS


The designers in the ‘Return to Craft’ area of Common Good are bringing exposure to historical crafts, ensuring that the designer’s local culture is passed on for generations to come. Kwangho Lee’s ‘New Armor’ series has successfully re-imagined artisan crafts, which have evolved over thousands of years, into a contemporary context.

Written by Megan Meredith, Curatorial Volunteer, working under the supervision of Senior Curator Keinton Butler

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Common Good

Senior Curator Keinton Butler discusses the impact of contemporary design practice in Australia and neighbouring regions in the exhibition Common Good.