Lee Ufan (b. 1936, Kyongsang-namdo, South Korea) emerged in the late 1960s as one of the founders and major proponents of the avant-garde Mono-ha—or School of Things—group, among Japan’s first internationally renowned contemporary art movements. His practice is characterized by thoughtful and direct iterations of gestures and thematic contemplations of encounter that manifest in installation, sculpture, ceramics, paintings, and works on paper. In 2010, the Lee Ufan Museum, dedicated to the artist’s oeuvre, opened on the Japanese island of Naoshima.
Lee has been the subject of over 140 one-artist exhibitions around the world, including Resonance at the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007) and Marking Infinity, his major retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2011). In 2014, the Palace of Versailles presented ten of Lee’s monumental sculptural works throughout its historic grounds. Other recent solo exhibitions of his work have been held at the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (2016); Galerie de Sèvres, Citè de la céramique, Paris (2016); Gwangju Museum of Art, South Korea (2017); and Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London (2018).
London—Pace London is honoured to present its first solo exhibition of work by Korean-born artist Lee Ufan. The exhibition will be staged at 6 Burlington Gardens from 15 September to 31 October 2015 and follows his 2014 solo exhibition at the Château de Versailles.
Lee Ufan’s work, in theory and practice, demonstrates mastery at crossing boundaries and initiating poetic dialogues between cultures, nature, material and space. A founding member of Mono-ha (“Object School”) Lee Ufan’s work meditates on gesture and nature, giving rise to new perceptions.
“Space means the infinite….Buddhism teaches that being is possible only because there is also nothingness, and appearance coexists with disappearance.” —Lee Ufan, 2011.
Lee Ufan’s oeuvre is characterized by thoughtful iterations of gestures in slight variations, engaging in a contemplation of abstract forms and vivid restraint; manifesting in sculpture, paintings and works on paper.
Based on this theoretical framework, Lee Ufan would develop seven major series throughout his career; four of which respectively titled From Point,From Line, From Winds and With Windsform the major focus of Pace London’s exhibition.
The From Point and From Line works stem from Lee Ufan’s belief that lines and points are the basic units of the cosmos. In From Point, the artist applied compact daubs of paint from left to right, exhausting the supply of color on the brush before reloading it and beginning anew. He repeated the gesture, often in horizontal rows from left to right, until the whole canvas was covered by subtle rows of gradually fading dots. In some works, however, he arranged the dots in staggered rows or swirls that emanate from the center and progress outward. His dynamic brushstrokes produce a composition of rhythmic tonal value functioning as records of action and presence, illuminating the passage of time. While working on From Point, Lee Ufan developed his From Line series, which relies on the similar repetition of gesture, in this case creating cascading strokes of paint that accentuate the vertical dimension of the painting.
Gradually abandoning the systematic approach of his From Point and From Line works, in the early 1980’s Lee Ufan began to address the picture plane with unrestrictive and gestural brushstrokes, albeit with underlying consideration towards structure, series which he titled From Winds. Two very early examples will be on view in the exhibition that exemplify this pivotal point, with later paintings from the With Winds illustrating Lee’s dynamic expressionism, emblematic of a deeply rooted understanding of both aesthetics and philosophy of both the East and Western traditions.
Lee’s working process is attuned to the physical and visual properties of his medium. Limiting his palette to a single hue, the artist combined ground mineral pigment with animal-skin glue, resulting in a powdery crystalline mixture. By mixing his own pigment and using brushes with artificial hair conventionally used for ink painting, Lee Ufan found that he could increase the level of friction between hair and paint particles, thus slowing the process of application and absorption. Through this process, Lee’s compositions enact a liminal space, “Something endlessly appearing as it endlessly disappears. Something receding endlessly as it endlessly approaches.”
From Point and From Line aroused critical debate about Lee’s abandonment of not-making in favour of making; the artist “re-arranges” elements thus creating an artwork. This is an issue that rose out of criticism against the modern notion of productivism making a case for abstraction.
The Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo presents ‘Things: Rethinking Japanese Photography and Art in 1970s’ which includes Lee Ufan’s work alongside other pivotal characters in Japanese art history. On view through 13 September. Pace London will open an exhibition of works by Lee Ufan on 15 September 2015. More details by clicking here.
2015. Pace London. Hardcover