Pace, New York
15 May – 21 August 2015
In the first room of this exhibition are two sculptural arrangements grounded on the floor. Closely resembling each other, both consist of a smooth, matt-black, steel tube placed next to a bronze-hued, weatherbeaten rock. In the first composition, nearest to the viewer on entering the gallery, the slender cylinder leans horizontally, with one end propped up against the immense stone, creating a feeling of mutual reliance. The second, towards the back of the space, sees the tube mounted vertically at an angle against the wall, the stone sitting close by, at its feet. Relatum (2015) sets the tone for the Lee Ufan’s practice, which seeks to make pronounced the relations that are created between disparate objects, while distilling attributes of matter and form.
The display – Lee’s first solo presentation in New York since his 2011 Guggenheim retrospective – is made up of two bodies of work first conceived at the beginning stages of his career, in the late 60s: the Relatum sculptures and brushstroke paintings. These series have been an ongoing preoccupation for Lee over the past 50 years since he cofounded Mono-ha, the postwar Japanese movement that was eager to highlight the innate elements of existing, unaltered objects – and their associations with each other – through “re-presentations”. The aim was to reveal an entity’s “essential state” through a simple gesture. In this way, the artist was more facilitator than creator, and there was a firm rejection of concept and methodology.
Since this time Lee, who was born in southern Korea in 1936, has continued to commit to a minimal set of materials, primarily glass, steel, stone and rubber. Given the importance of relations between substances and the spaces around them, the ground itself, whether as a surrounding context or more explicit component, has also been vital. Site-specific commissions have consequently played a critical part in Lee’s oeuvre (last year, he showed 10 new Relatum works within the vast gardens at Versailles – likely a more effective site for Lee’s sculptures than the confines of a white cube).
In the two works from the Relatum group seen here, the straightforward juxtaposition of natural and manmade materials is the most immediate unifying quality. In Relatum – dialogue (2015), seen in the next gallery, two rectangular sheets of steel join on the floor, with a dark grey, speckled rock – each a giant hunk – positioned on either side where the seam of the sheets meets.
The interdependency between the objects in each sculpture results in a charged atmosphere. Whilst the distinct properties of both are made clear, also illustrated is how opposites can co-exist. The tension created between the heavy and the weightless, or the symmetrical and asymmetrical, results in a kind of synchronisation.
Eight large-scale paintings (Dialogue, 2013-15) take up the rest of the gallery. Comprising of mainly one or two single brushstrokes, process is at their foundation. The artist loads a wide brush with a gradient of the same colour and makes unbroken imprints, situated at the centre or edge of the canvas. The elongated square shape that emerges carries a deep ledge at its end point, where the paint has curled upward as the artist’s brush has been removed. The same sensation is created here as when encountering the sculptures, based on the precariousness – and, ultimately, correspondence – that arises from the precision of the continuous paint mark against a completely empty background. The dialogue is one of serenity, not resistance.