Airport, please! heading to Arles to see Requiem, Lee Ufan’s exhibition in Alycamps, a heritage site in Arles, France
LEE UFAN in Arles, France
On this occasion of the opening of the Lee Ufan Arles permanent exhibition, the LRFA blog is delighted to travel to Alycamps, one of the main heritage sites of the city of Arles, to see Requiem, an important set of 14 new works, created by the curator, Alfred Pacquement. Lee Ufan is the Korean minimalist painter and sculptor artist and academic, honored by the government of Japan for having “contributed to the development of contemporary art in Japan”.
Lee Ufan has respectfully invested these ancestral places by displaying his sculptures and paintings in the famous alley of sarcophagi that dot this city of the dead and in the Saint-Honorat church, an unfinished Romanesque building that concludes the tour.
From April 2022, Lee Ufan Arles, a permanent exhibition center for Lee Ufan’s paintings and sculptures, is accessible to the public in the Hotel Vernon in the heart of the city of Arles.This private mansion, built between the 16th and 18th centuries, was acquired by the Lee Ufan Foundation to become the venue for a presentation of the artist’s work in the same way as those already open in Naoshima (Japan) and in Busan (South Korea).
LEE UFAN: Marking Infinity at The Guggenheim Museum
In September 2011, Lee Ufan’s work impacted New York with an extraordinary exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum, an introduction for many to this artist. Marking Infinity presents the work of artist-philosopher Lee Ufan, charting his creation of a visual, conceptual, and theoretical terrain that has radically expanded the possibilities for painting and sculpture since the 1960s. Lee is acclaimed for an innovative body of work that revolves around the notion of encounter—seeing the bare existence of what is actually before us and focusing on “the world as it is.”
LEE UFAN: biography
Lee was born in southern Korea in 1936 and witnessed the political convulsions that beset the Korean peninsula from the Japanese occupation to the Korean War, which left the country divided in 1953. He studied painting at the College of Fine Arts at Seoul National University and soon moved to Japan, where he earned a degree in philosophy. Over the last 40 years, he has lived and worked in Korea, Japan, and France, becoming a transnational artist in a postmodern world before those terms were current. “The dynamics of distance have made me what I am,” he remarks.
In the late 1960s, in an artistic environment emphasizing ideas of system, structure, and process, Lee emerged as the theoretical leader of the Mono-ha (literally, “School of Things”), a Japanese movement that arose amid the collapse of colonial world orders, antiauthoritarian protests, and the rise of critiques of modernity. Lee’s sculptures, presenting dispersed arrangements of stones together with industrial materials like steel plates, rubber sheets, and glass panes, recast the object as a network of relations based on parity among the viewer, materials, and site. Lee was a pivotal figure in the Korean tansaekhwa (monochrome painting) school, which offered a fresh approach to minimalist abstraction by presenting repetitive gestural marks as bodily records of time’s perpetual passage. Deeply versed in modern philosophy and Asian metaphysics, Lee has coupled his artistic practice with a prodigious body of critical and philosophical writings, which provide the quotations that appear throughout this exhibition.
Marking Infinity is organized to reflect Lee’s method of working in iterative series and spans the 1960s to the present. Whether brush marks on canvas or stones placed just so on the ground, his markings in space elicit momentary, open-ended situations that engage the viewer viscerally. His distilled gestures, manifesting an extraordinary ethics of restraint, create an emptiness that is paradoxically generative and vivid. Relatum (formerly Phenomena and Perception A, 1969) presents three rocks laid on a latex band marked as a measuring tape. The weight of the rocks causes the band to stretch and buckle, disrupting the system of measurement it codes and reminding us of the capriciousness of rational truth: what you see is a result of where you stand.
Since his early Mono-ha period, Lee has restricted his choice of sculptural materials to steel plates and stones, focusing on their precise conceptual and spatial juxtaposition. The steel plate—hard, heavy, solid—is made to build things in the modern world; the stone, in its natural as-is state, “belongs to an unknown world” beyond the self and outside modernity, evoking “the other” or “externality.”
Arranging the plates in precise relationships to the stones, Lee’s Relatum series (1968– ) presents a durational form of coexistence between the made and the not made, the material and the immaterial elements of our surroundings. The series title is a philosophical term denoting terms, objects, or events between which a relation exists. In Lee’s mind, the occasion of the site-specific work and the network of dynamics it triggers is more important than the object per se, and we the viewer enter the scene as an equal part of the whole.
The show concludes on Tower Level 7 with an installation of Lee’s Dialogue painting series (2006– ). Lee has created a site-specific installation placing a single, broad, viscous stroke of paint on each of three adjacent walls of the empty room.Dialogue–space (2011) sets up a rhythm that exposes and enlivens the emptiness of the space, creating what Lee calls “an open site of power in which things and space interact vividly.”
—Alexandra Munroe, Samsung Senior Curator, Asian Art
LEE UFAN at PACE GALLERY, EAST HAMPTON
Pace is pleased to present an exhibition of new and recent work by Lee Ufan at its East Hampton gallery. Many of the featured works in the presentation—which runs from July 22 to August 8, 2021, and highlights three paintings alongside three watercolors—were created at the artist’s studio in Kamakura, Japan amid the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant worldwide disruptions.
In a contemplative essay penned in April 2020, when shutdowns were instituted in many countries around the world, Lee wrote to his global audience, “Presently I am secluded at home, absorbed in thought and gazing at the outdoors. While I abhor the new coronavirus, I am digesting the message it brought. The virus is artistic in that the fear and confusion caused by its incomprehensible nature makes the world look new.”
The upcoming presentation foregrounds Lee’s distinct approach to color and space in his paintings. Lee has said that one of his aims as an artist is to create highly abstract works that eschew realism and legible representation. As the artist put it in a 2018 interview on the occasion of his solo exhibition at Pace’s New York space, “If I make one stroke, there is suddenly a resonance in that space. I need to find the right place for that resonance … I hope viewers experience a moment where they can transcend themselves through the work.” This exhibition exemplifies the artist’s interest in inspiring viewers of his work to see the world in new ways.