Lee Ufan: Resonance
Palazzo Palumbo Fossati
Collateral Event in the 52nd Venice Biennale, 10 June – 21 November 2007
The Venice Biennale “Collateral Events” programme (Fringe, to you and me) is crammed with free exhibitions funded by generous sponsors. For example, while Tracy Emin flew the flag for Britain in the official British pavilion, there were fringe shows by Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish artists dotted around the islands.
Lee Hyungkoo’s work in the official Korean pavilion was complemented by émigré minimalist artist Lee Ufan, now resident in Japan. The exhibition, in a tired Palazzo near the Gritti palace, was jointly funded by the Korea and Japan Foundations.
While much of the artwork elsewhere in Venice dealt with issues and problems of the real world, Lee Ufan’s work was much more introverted. Rocks, rusty iron, and his trademark graduated squares of paint, provided the themes on which there was limited variation. A boulder with a sheet of iron in an indoor courtyard (victim of the slops from an upstairs neighbour as we looked on); two boulders with a bent iron bar resting on them; a boulder with a sheet of iron resting against an indoor wall…
It was fortunate that the palace was off the beaten track, because this minimalist work is not something that can be appreciated or contemplated in the company of the throngs such as surge around the Peggy Guggenheim museum just the other side of the Grand Canal.
Did any of this really work, in the sometimes ornate surroundings of a Venetian palazzo? Lee deliberately confronted this challenge, creating a white cube space in one room interrupted by a colourfully-painted dividing frame. The result is pictured to the right (and a better picture can be found here). Not a natural marriage of styles. A calm, contemplative, zen-minimalist concept cannot easily dialogue with the busy but jaded opulence of a Venetian merchant’s house (and his upstairs neighbour).
A brave attempt, though.
It is of course, entirely probably that I have completely missed the point. Because it doesn’t seem to be available elsewhere on the internet, I reproduce in full the notes to the exhibition provided by its curator, Achille Bonito Oliva:
Lee Ufan, Korean artist and founder of the Mono-Ha group, lives in Japan but is a nomad who has managed to combine the language of Western avant-gardes and the culture of Eastern ones. Avoiding the readymade of the Cartesian Duchamp and the cut of the baroque Fontana, Lee Ufan replaces the principle of representation with that of ‘presentification’ in a course that runs from the sculptures and installations of the 1960s to the Correspondances of the 1990s, through to the painting of today. He has set up a time-space intersection without contrasts, replacing the concept of form woth that of ‘structure’, of space with that of ‘field’, as a system of relations open to developments that tend to merge the solid and the empty. Lee Ufan’s entire research disconcerts the ‘found object’ and its metaphysics: a dead form blocked out in the aesthetic space and delivered from life.
Lee Ufan does not represent, though, he ‘presentifies’ an idea of active earthliness that sustains the meeting of the artist with the world and that of the work with the observer. Now a tache shines on the active surface of a painting that develops the epiphany of a meeting with the public. Now he creates painting in which he is entirely the artifice of everything. The signs orchestrated on the canvas have a tension, a direction and a spatial duration played out in a sign of a size standardised to the hand. It is a size memorised by a gesture that has not forgotten precision and energy, artisan fluidity and geometry of extension. Often in the order of two or three, they organise the spatial field in terms of visual essentialness, tending to emphasis precision and indetermination, constriction and potential modification. The artist seems to want to give the strong sign traced onto the pictorial surface the distinctive volume of the object or material previously used in his installations. The strength of the drawing serves precisely to intensify the moment of meeting between the work and the observer through a weaving of time and space, both dimensions necessary to appreciate the value of art, that of ‘presentification’.
Lee Ufan here resolves the problem of the immortality of the work without wanting to lay claim to the future, but rather establishing the persistence of the present. Extending the present becomes for the Eastern artist a way of removing the pathetic system of future forecasts on one hand and rather of laying claim, through a different dimension of space, to a field so vast as to contain time in its constant beat.