Magazine of art press and reviews from London
David Franchi – Wednesday, 3rd June 2015.
The exhibition of Lee Ufan was an astonishing event, at the Lisson Gallery, London. Bringing to London a body of new works, the Lisson Gallery exhibition confirmed Lee Ufan to be a great artist.
The works displayed were a dozen, between paintings and installation. In the basement there was a projection of a documentary on Lee Ufan’s life.
Lee Ufan is an artist of multiple skills. Painter, sculptor, writer and philosopher, he came to prominence in the 1960s, as one of the major exponent of the avant-garde Mono-Ha (Object School) group, the first Japanese art movement to achieve international recognition. The Mono-ha movement discarded Western approach of representation, and focused on the relationships between materials and perceptions rather than on expression or intervention. The artists of Mono-ha made works of raw physical materials that have scarcely been manipulated.
The work of Lee Ufan is considered minimalist. He pays attention in the utilization of gesture or representation in search of the utmost effect or quality. His work consisted of one, two, or three short, broad brushstrokes placed so as to call to mind resonance and echo within the surrounding white space.
On display at the Lisson Gallery, it was his most recent series of ‘Dialogue’ (paintings and watercolours). These works are carefully made of singular sweeps of paint, each built up over an extended period of time by accumulating smaller strokes, using the brush slowly. Each replication is a sort of ceremony Lee Ufan realises, and it is connected to a sense of infinity, which is for him a feeling related to the space, and is composed by a relationship between elements.
Lee Ufan explains: “My idea of infinity is different to most people. Most people think about infinity like a concept, you
think of Einstein: but most of my work it does not express the concept of infinity. For me it’s just a smallest hint, a suggestion, of what infinity is: which is the vibration that happens in the relationship between time, space, coming together, and creating this vibration. It’s what you feel when those things come together, that’s what infinity is. For example, last year, I created sculpture at the Palace of Versailles, and Versailles is perfectly designed. But when people go there, they only look at these elements instead of the design. I created a giant arch and under the arch there was a steel carpet. When people walked along the carpet under the arch, they could see the sky, they could see a vast space and that ‘wow’ moment that was infinity that they were feeling. So not focusing on the design that are perfect, but on that open space that’s where you feel infinity. It’s not a concept, it’s what you feel in spaces and it’s always changing.”
Ufan considers infinity the cradle of art, and gives more details: “As you can see my work is very simple. It didn’t start right that way. It became more and more simple. It’s just the basic elements now. I’ve reduced the amount that I touch the works more and more, and the parts that I haven’t touched increase. So there is a meeting between my touched and the parts that I haven’t touched and that meeting point creates vibration. So if you come in here and it’s quiet you won’t be looking at the work but you should feel the vibration and that vibration is infinity. So the works don’t represent or express infinity but you can feel infinity in the space. And that’s was important. They’re very simple, but making them smaller, energy in the space comes alive and that vibration is infinity. And that’s the starting point of art.”
At the Lisson Gallery exhibition, Lee Ufan work was considerable. The four large-scale paintings joined together created a chapel-like environment within the main atrium. The finely crushed stone that Lee mixes with his paints actually links up his two dimensional works to the three-dimensional sculptures.
In a dim light room, there was an installation of a large rock placed in front of a blank virgin canvas, each element connecting to each other into a relationship, elements that were not modified by artistic action – differentiating from the cautiously realised paintings.
Outside, in the interior courtyard, Lee Ufan created a kind of Asian garden, using another large stone onto a sheet of glass and manmade steel plates, which themselves are set directionless within a whole host of white marble chips, a scrupulously well-adjusted site-specific intervention.
There were also other paintings from the series Dialogues, the most gossiped of which was a canvas containing, apparently, one only semicircular small stroke. This minimalistic approach is so curated and it consists in deliberately limited and distilled gesture.
In the basement, there was a wide screen with an interesting documentary made in a museum, where Ufan was interviewed by a journalist and could explain his life-spanning work.
Lee Ufan is a Korean artist, critic, philosopher, and poet. He is born on 24th June 1936, in Haman, in South Korea. He was an important theorist and proponent of the Mono-ha (Japanese: “School of Things”) movement, based in Tokyo, of young artists from the late 1960s through the early ’70s. Lee built a body of artistic achievement across a wide range of mediums— painting, printmaking, sculpture, installation art, and art criticism.
He was a key figure on the development of South Korean art in the 1970s. In the late 1980s he began receiving international recognition through exhibitions in Europe and elsewhere around the world. His artistic status was reinforced even more in the 1990s with Mono-ha’s resurgent popularity in Europe and Japan. He is the third East Asian artist to be given a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City (2011), which established him as a prominent figure in contemporary.
Lee was born and raised in a traditional hanok (Confucian-style home), and from childhood he was trained in traditional scholarly activity, including poetry, calligraphy, and painting. He was absorbed with reading and literature and desired to be an author.
However, his strong fascination with art brought him to study painting at Seoul National University’s College of Fine Arts. In 1956 he interrupted his studies to visit relatives in Japan. In 1958 he started to study philosophy at Nihon University in Tokyo, and graduated in 1961. Then he again turned to art, preferring visual representation to words as a means of expressing his ideas. During this period Lee painted and began making sculptures that used natural and industrial materials such as stone, steel, rubber, and glass.
In late 1960s he became associated with Mono-ha as its leading theorist. It was an important turning point in the
growth of modern art in South Korea and Japan. Lee established a studio in Paris in 1971 and in the following years divided his time mainly between Japan and France. In the 1980s his brushwork became more open and more unrestrained. In the 1990s, Lee began his Correspondance series, which employed segmented strokes and even wider margins than his earlier work. In 2006, he started his last minimalist series, Dialogue, again using mineral pigments on canvas.
Lee was a professor at Tama Art University in Tokyo from 1973 to 2007. His published works include the books The Search for Encounter (1971; new edition, 2000) and The Art of Encounter (2004; revised edition, 2008). Among the major awards given to Lee was the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale for painting (2001). In addition, he was made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters (1990). In 2010 the Lee Ufan Museum, designed by Andō Tadao, opened in Naoshima, Japan.
The exhibition of Lee Ufan was at the Lisson Gallery, Edgware Road, London, from 25th March until 9th May 2015.