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Frieze Los Angeles 2023

The Good Liver Showcases Simple Pleasures

A store in Los Angeles’ Downtown bucks existing retail categories, inviting its visitors to ‘just take their time’

BY Eva Recinos in Frieze Los Angeles , Frieze Week Magazine | 10 FEB 23

Walking into The Good Liver, a downtown Los Angeles general store, it’s hard to resist the urge to pick up every object on the shop’s clean, open shelves. This carefully curated space boasts items from around the world: from a charming vintage Finnish money box in the shape of a bear, to German hand-forged cutlery and dyed fabrics from Thailand. It feels like a design gallery in a museum or indeed a gallery – except at The Good Liver, you can (and should) touch the exhibits.

Brass Triangle Hanger from The Good Liver, Photo: Sergiy Barchuk.
Brass Triangle Hanger from The Good Liver. Photograph: Sergiy Barchuk

The Good Liver’s founder and owner is Bert Youn, whose main career is creating cartoons as an animator, story artist, writer and director. He discovered his fascination with well-crafted items during visits to Japan and Korea; he was drafted into the military while visiting his parents in the latter, spending two years in service and using that time to think about the next steps in his creative career.

Youn often helped friends with magazine photoshoots and videos, lending a hand with styling and sourcing objects which he found 'through traveling and online digging'. Eventually, this sparked an idea: an online shop where he could list his favorite finds. It went live in 2014 and, less than a year later, the brick-and-mortar iteration of The Good Liver opened. ‘Online pictures didn’t really do them justice,’ says Youn, ‘the beauty of the items could only come through actually seeing them in person, touching them, feeling the weight and really seeing the details of how everything was made.’

For Youn, part of the value of the objects is the stories they tell about the people and places that produced them. A ceramic tableware series from Iruma, Japan, for example, shows the earthy effect that happens when ‘ash is added to Shigaraki clay,’ as detailed in the product description; a minimalist brass wind chime comes from a fabricator founded in 1609 in Takaoka, Japan, whose ‘master craftsmen’ carefully render each piece. ‘I needed another outlet for a different kind of storytelling, that could benefit from my expertise acquired from my primary job,’ he says. ‘I just wanted to take that further.’

Korean Bronzewear Plate from The Good Liver, Photo: Sergiy Barchuk.
Korean Bronzewear Plate from The Good Liver. Photograph: Sergiy Barchuk

Browsing through the shop’s inventory, I’m drawn to some Japanese brooms made from bound Tampico fibers, and a soap tray carved from Kiso Hinoki wood: everyday essentials, elevated through their use of materials and thoughtful modern design. This commitment to simplicity is continued in furniture pieces Youn himself designed specifically for the space. Whenever he found the budget and time, he collaborated with friends to make each piece, uniformly fashioned from American red oak. ‘I try not to overshadow the products we sell with the furniture we design,’ says Youn. ‘They’re simply designed so that they’re like a frame for the goods.’

The shop counts on word-of-mouth recommendations to draw in design enthusiasts; the team does little online marketing. Yet, art lovers and shoppers alike may have come across Youn’s curation of goods in other ways. In 2018, for example, he presented a selection of items at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, themed to coincide with their restaging of Harald Szeemann’s exhibition ‘Grandfather: A Pioneer Like Us’ (1974). (The ICA has featured pop-up shops from experimental retailer Days LA and independent bookseller Marfa Books Co.). Youn also collaborates with Kettl, a New York-based company that brings Japanese matcha to the US. He carries their products and organizes events in the shop; recent activations include a matcha tasting and brewing class, and Korean tea tasting.

Iron Household Scissors from The Good Liver, Photo: Sergiy Barchuk.
Iron Household Scissors from The Good Liver. Photograph: Sergiy Barchuk

The tea ceremony is a fitting parallel for The Good Liver proposition: while Youn stays busy, with imminent plans for a second retail location to house items that don’t quite fit the existing store’s categories, his ultimate aim is for visitors to slow down, and ‘just take their time’ to experience and enjoy the beauty of the everyday items he finds so fascinating.

This article first appeared in Frieze Week, February 2023 under the headline 'Simple Pleasures'

Main image: Brass Candle Holder from The Good Liver. Photograph: Sergiy Barchuk

Eva Recinos is a journalist and creative non-fiction writer. She lives in Los Angeles, USA.