Countering Frank Stella's celebrated formula and Minimalist slogan 'What you see is what you see', Lee Ufan favours an alternative: 'What you see is what you don't see'. As a painter, sculptor, poet, philosopher and creator of environments, Ufan's works function as revelatory devices, drawing our attention to empty space, the tension generated between untouched areas of canvas, the distance dividing two elements of a sculpture, the viewer's position, effects of light and shade: everything we fail to notice at first glance, but which is there nonetheless, playing its role in the making and impact of a work of art.
Born in Korea in 1936, when the country was under Japanese occupation, Lee Ufan recevied a traditional, Confucian education which was to profoundly affect his subsequent development as an artist. From the outset of his career in the 1960s, Ufan strove to achieve a balance between his Korean roots, his links to Japan where he studied and worked, and his growing attachment to the West (he exhibited at the Paris Biennale of 1971).
At the intersection of three cultures, Lee Ufan's work is universal and immediate in intent. Immediate in the sense that language Is not a requirement: Ufan often describes how he made his first works while planning to study literature and philosophy in Japan, but failed to master the language. He opted for visual communication instead, by-passing both language and figurative representation, and using sensitive interventions to provoke 'encounters': the encounter between natural and industrial materials, for example, in his celebrated sculpture series Relatum. As part of Japan's Mono-ha('School of Things') movement, he strove for a new defintion of art, distanced from Western norms and codes.
Ufan's works have a powerful, aphoristic quality - each is a disconcertingly simple, visual and phsyical translation of philosophical principles, far removed from any attempt at figuration. Reflecting his highly personal vision of contemporary art, the exhibition offers a meditative pathway through and around the artist's themes of choice - the relationship between things and their surrounding space, forms and voids, but also the dialogue between action and non-action.
Complementing and expanding the visitor experience, composer Ryuichi Sakamoto has created a soundtrack that resonates with the essential materials, poetry and philosophy of Lee Ufan's work.
Lee Ufan lives and works chiefly in Paris and Kamakura, Japan. His work has been seen around the world, at institutions including the Hermitage National Museum in St Petersburg, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Jeu de Paume in Paris, the Palace of Versailles, the Kunstmuseum in Bonn, the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, and the National Museum of Contemporary Art In Seoul; and at events including the Biennales of Venice (2007, 2011), Gwangju, Korea (2000, 2006), Shanghai (2000), Sydney (1976), São Paulo (1973) and Paris (1971).