The Guggenheim’s spiral galleries are currently showing Marking Infinity, a collection of work by artist and philosopher Lee Ufan. The retrospective reflects on the artist’s career from the 1960s to present. Filling the walls and floors of the Guggenheim are paintings on canvas, sculptures from steel plates and stones, and other mixed media installation works.
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Lee has a storied career, born in Southern Korea before moving to Japan and spending time in Paris. Associated with the Japanese Mono-Ha movement, the artist and theorist wrote at length about notions of individual and environment, systems and structures, process and relations. Much of Lee Ufan’s paintings have ties to minimalism and are rooted in Korean monochrome painting. In making his pieces, the artist linked the end artistic product as a reflection of the process itself—one stroke would often represent a single breath and fluid movement.
Much of the artist’s sculpture installations contrast the natural sources with human fabrications, all while recontexutalizing the observation process. Small boulders sit on pillow cushions arranged in a gallery and sloping steel planes lay on top of stones– the latter installation creates a disharmonizing experience when paired with the museum’s already inclined main galleries. Beginning in the 1960s, Lee began calling much of his work under the title Relatum, stressing the environmental interplay themed throughout his career and revealing the underlying metaphysical thrust of his practice.
Some of the more compelling pieces come at the exhibition’s end, representing the past 20 years of the artist’s career. Large-scale canvases are painted off-white, with a singular, thick brushstroke placed in a given area of the plane. The paint strokes have a refreshing materiality with a gradient coloring that transforms from a cool metallic gray to a white that is brighter than its surroundings. Culminating in site-specific works that reflect on this recent practice, the exhibition ends with similar gradient strokes painted on the Guggenheim’s walls. Lee’s artistic thrust asserts itself in the clearest, most direct form in this final room, as the viewer is able to encounter the materiality and intentions of the artist’s career without unintended environmental or social distractions.
Marking Infinity is on view through September 28, 2011.