After Giuseppe Penone last year, the guest artist in Versailles
for summer and autumn 2014 is Lee Ufan, the painter and sculptor of Korean origin. The intense and silent works of this artist have been placed in the palace and in the gardens, at the foot of the Gabriel stairs, in the great perspective designed by Le Nôtre and around the corner of walks or in the mysterious groves, completing and modifying the atmosphere for a time.
Born in 1936 in a mountain village in South Korea, Lee Ufan was first initiated to traditional Chinese culture. His training, anchored in Far-Eastern tradition initially led him to literature and writing. After moving to Japan at the age of 20, he studied philosophy and engaged in political action for the reunification of the two Koreas. At the same time, he started his career as an artist, taking an interest in Jackson Pollocks gestural abstraction, while at the same time studying traditional Japanese painting.
His activity as a critic and a theorist was noted as were his artistic experiments, when he became one of the members of the Mono-Ha artistic movement, a term which could be translated as the School of Things. According to Lee Ufans definition, as the founder and theorist of this group of Japanese artists, Mono-Has principle was to use a thing without adding anything to it. They took and assembled industrial materials, daily objects, natural objects, without modifying them. This method did not consist in using objects and space to embody an idea but came from the wish to let diverse elements live through the relationships they have between themselves. Mono-Ha appeared at the same time as the European and North-American trends grouped in Arte Povera, Supports-Surfaces or Land Art movements, all ways of rethinking the very basis of sculpture and painting. Mono-Ha is in many ways their equivalent in another geographical and cultural background and has many common features with these other artists in both free use of materials and formal reduction.
Lee Ufans sculptures most often confront two materials : steel plates and natural stones. Their generic name Relatum, expresses the notion that a work of art is not an autonomous and independent entity, but that it only exists in its relation to the outside world. For Lee Ufan, the action of the sculptor consists in criticizing the hyper-productivity of the modern world, in response to the evolution of art, which after thousands of year spent making hand-made objects, moved to industrial objects and ready-made. Lee Ufan has chosen to connect the made and the unmade. In his mind, seeing, choosing, borrowing or moving are already a part of the creative act. He links nature to human conscience with a simple iron sheet dialoging with a stone. He can also deploy mat steel sheets in a linear structure, standing or prone, their undulations responding to the space they occupy.
In Versailles, the artist installed ten works, all entirely new, some of them of unusual size to correspond to the spaces in the gardens. Behind their very restricted formal vocabulary, true diversity emerges ; some configurations are completely new to his work. This exhibition creates a major landmark in Lee Ufans sculptural work with its confrontation to the exceptional site. One of the major artists in the contemporary art scene is revealed on a large scale in the prestigious setting of Versailles, after retrospectives at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris in 1997-1998 and at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2011. A museum dedicated to his work, by the major Japanese architect Tadao Ando was inaugurated on Naoshima Island. Lee Ufan won the prestigious Praemium Imperiale in Japan and his works are featured in many international museums such as the Centre Pompidou. Lee Ufan lives in Kamakura in Japan, but he maintains close relationships with France where he has worked for the last twenty years in his Paris atelier. His recent exhibition at the kamel mennour gallery attracted a lot of attention. The artist exhibiting in the Versailles gardens is a familiar figure on the French art scene.