December 2, 2020 10:51 AM
Acrylic on canvas
86 x 114 3/4 in. (218.4 x 291.5 cm)
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo by Rich Lee, courtesy Pace Gallery
By Christine Lee, Director of Research, Lee Ufan Catalogue Raisonné
This is the first in a series of blog posts in which Artifex Press staff members delve deeper into the artworks they are researching, sharing insights and discoveries gleaned during the intensive process of assembling a catalogue raisonné.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has me secluded at home in extended isolation, I have come to notice the little (or perhaps not so little) things in the confines of my small apartment. From the way that sunlight casts shadows on my walls whose shapes slowly shift throughout the day, to the way that a slight breeze flows through my room in a distinct current, they remind me that, even when things seem quiet and still these days, there is a larger universe in motion.
In an essay titled “Stand Still a Moment” (1997), Lee Ufan recalls this poem by Bashō from 1686:
The ancient pond –
A frog jumps in,
The sound of water.
Just as the poet was able to “sense the reverberations of a larger universe in this tiny, momentary event,” Lee writes that his “own work is aimed at creating stimulating moments of this kind in the impassive world of everyday life.”
Below, I have brought together a selection of paintings, sculptures, and a drawing by the artist that evoke such resonance. By juxtaposing the painted and the unpainted parts of the canvas, by limiting the parts that he makes in order to leave room for the parts that he does not make, Lee opens up a space in which to contemplate the relationship between the inner and the outer, the self and the other. Each of these works is charged with a quiet but vibrant energy that activates a transcendent space born out of this dynamic interaction between the internal and external worlds.
Lee Ufan’s installation works in particular invite a phenomenological encounter which is difficult to transmit through still images. Although I have not seen some of these installations in person, I have gotten to know them through my research on the artist’s catalogue raisonné by collecting photographs as well as reading descriptions by others.
I have provided descriptions of these sculptures in situ in order to convey the ways in which certain aspects of the work shift over time. The dimensions are also included to give a sense of a work’s volume and the space it occupies. I invite you not only to see the steel plates or stones or the painted pigments on the canvas but to imagine and feel the invisible and non-identified external forces elicited by what Lee places on the visual field.
Relatum - Box Garden at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., 2019
Overall: 33 x 287 x 192 in. (83.8 x 729 x 487.7 cm); steel box: 8 5/8 x 287 x 192 in. (21.9 x 729 x 487.7 cm); stone: 31 x 28 x 29 in. (78.7 x 71.1 x 73.7 cm); stone: 32 x 30 x 29 in. (81.3 x 76.2 x 73.7 cm)
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo by Cathy Carver, courtesy Pace Gallery
Stainless steel plates create a rectangular box which is filled with water. Two stones stand in this man-made pond whose reflection of the sky is often rippled and distorted by the wind.
With Winds, 1987
Oil on canvas
71 5/8 x 89 3/4 in. (182 x 228 cm)
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo courtesy Gallery Hyundai
Relatum (formerly Things and Words) at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 1969
Three sheets of paper: 78 3/4 x 78 3/4 in. (200 x 200 cm) each
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo courtesy Studio Lee Ufan
A virtual exhibition may not allow a direct encounter with artworks, but it does provide an opportunity to present works without the bounds of space and time. So I include here a photograph of a transient moment. Lee has placed three sheets of paper on the ground in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. The wind is blowing these sheets of paper off the ground, and the artist can be seen in the image to the right running to catch them should they drift away too far.
With Winds, 1990
Glue and mineral pigment on canvas
71 3/8 x 89 3/8 in. (181.3 x 227 cm)
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo by Kerry Ryan McFate, courtesy Pace Gallery
Relatum - The Shadow of the Stars at Château de Versailles, France, 2014
Overall: 47 1/4 x 1574 13/16 x 1771 5/8 in. (120 x 4000 x 4500 cm); thirty-seven steel plates: 47 1/4 x 118 1/8 x 9/16 in. (120 x 300 x 1.5 cm) each; stone: 41 5/16 x 47 1/4 x 43 5/16 in. (105 x 120 x 110 cm); stone: 51 3/16 x 51 3/16 x 49 3/16 in. (130 x 130 x 125 cm); stone: 59 13/16 x 55 1/8 x 59 1/16 in. (152 x 140 x 150 cm); stone: 68 7/8 x 106 5/16 x 63 in. (175 x 270 x 160 cm); stone: 70 1/2 x 86 5/8 x 90 9/16 in. (179 x 220 x 230 cm); stone: 71 5/8 x 72 13/16 x 71 1/4 in. (182 x 185 x 181 cm); stone: 78 3/4 x 70 7/8 x 63 in. (200 x 180 x 160 cm)
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo by Fabrice Seixas, courtesy galerie kamel mennour
Upright steel plates encircle an arena of white limestone, gravel, and marble on which seven boulders sit in a constellation-like arrangement. Around each stone and directly on the pebbly ground, Lee has painted gray shadows which, at certain points during the day, coincide with the stones’ actual shadows.
Charcoal on paper
27 15/16 x 24 5/8 in. (71 x 62.5 cm)
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo by Hwang Jung wook, courtesy Seoul Auction