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LEE UFAN C E R A M I C S


LEE UFAN


C E R A M I C S

32 EAST 57 TH STREET, NEW YORK MARCH 9 – APRIL 8, 2017


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LEE UFAN: VOLCANO IN A CHINA SHOP VA L É R I E D U P O N C H E L L E

In New York, the great Korean artist unveils his interpretation of material and the fruit of his “encounter with fire” at Sèvres–Cité de la Céramique, a temple of virtuosity and tradition. Lee Ufan: Ceramics exhibits a suite of twenty-three pieces in which debris is an integral part of the work, the monochromatic palette echoes his minimal art, and utilitarian function gives way to contemplation, energy generated, and the discovery of another time. An artist always takes possession of a world, like a voyager or sailor disembarking on unknown terrain. However modest—and it is often a peculiar modesty, tinged with a fierce and intimate conviction issued from a mixture of solitude, anxiety, and confidence—the traveler brings with him his perspective and spirit, that unique chemical formula that sets him apart from the multitude. He transforms everything in his path, relying on the past to create a present of his own, like a pianist using years spent practicing scales to reinvent music. He instinctively shapes what he sees and what surrounds him according to his inner vision and an undeniable need to express it. Lee Ufan was raised in a Confucian tradition, studying poetry, painting, and calligraphy in Korea, notably with Hwang Kyun-Yong. He is also a master of Japanese painting and philosophy, which he studied beginning in 1958 at Nihon University, Tokyo. He is


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an artist who gently, delicately, deliberately absorbs space; who accepts the constant otherness of earthly things; who observes their details and their uses; and who allows himself to be infused at times by centuries-old traditions, which he then turns into something else entirely. Born in 1936, in Haman-gun, a mountain village near the great port of Busan, in the region of South Korea that is closest to Japan, Lee Ufan has the facility of an alchemist who, almost by subtraction, leaves his visual signature, like beautiful evidence, on everything he creates, paints, sculpts, and draws. He gave a splendid demonstration of this in 2014 at the Château de Versailles, where he wedded his minimal, monochromatic sculptures to the French gardens designed by André Le Nôtre, gardener to King Louis XIV from 1645 to 1700. Surreptitiously, the artist of Dansaekhwa (monochromatic painting) added his intense and muted tone to the site, so out of keeping with this place and its era. The metal rainbow spanning the large parterre at the foot of the Gabriel Staircase and opening onto a view of the Green Carpet and the Grand Canal was monumental. And yet it seemed naturally in its place. This stranger did not ruffle the feathers of Versailles devotees, who are so reactive to any contemporary disorder of their patrimonial universe, as they were the following year with Dirty Corner (2011) by Anish Kapoor. Rhythm, musicality, silence—there is suspended music in the work of Lee Ufan, which leaves room for the viewer. His work at Sèvres, at once fragile and strong, offers new proof of this. Just after his adventure at Versailles, Lee Ufan


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arrived as an artist in this enclave, both a museum and atelier with the charm of Sleeping Beauty on the border of the Parc de Saint-Cloud. “Touching the earth and looking at ceramics are great stimulants for me,” Lee Ufan tells us; he is less tranquil than he might appear, a determined speaker. He loves aristocratic ceramics for their refined character as much as he loves popular ceramics for “their modest and imperfect dynamism.” He collects Korean moon jars, for example; their slight irregularity suggests to him the “idea of movement, suppleness, and flexibility.” These differences, these repeated yet unique characteristics, touch the eye and the soul. “No Korean ceramics have a perfect shape in the Western sense,” he says. “They present an elusive variability and create a visual resonance. These particularities are even more accentuated on contemporary ceramics.” He does not speak of accidents but rather of “movement, dynamism, tension.” “In the West,” the artist explains, “Romanticism, as carried along by literature and its great writers, demands that the creative act be born in absolute isolation, or even directly from boredom. In the East, it is the exact opposite; it is instead to think of creating nothing. The one who creates is never alone; he is always in an organic context. There is always a dialogue with otherness; otherwise, melancholy takes hold. The moment ‘it all clicks into place’ arises from everything around it.” Lee Ufan says, “My first ceramic work goes back thirty years to the studio of Young-Suk Park in Seoul. After that, I have from time to time created terracotta objects


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in Japan or in Italy. I came to Sèvres in the summer of 1996, for the first time. I fired six white pieces after painting them, which I then exhibited at the Jeu de Paume Museum. At the time, I did not have the time to shape them myself. I waited for an opportunity to present itself. I have always been interested in all types of materials. I do not dislike any. However, terracotta is a material that is more accessible and less refined, with a powerful natural character. I really like the dynamic aspect of the material. I am rather amazed when, from the very character of the earth and through the intervention of fire, a work so different from what I had imagined is born. Firing ceramics involves the intervention of another, which is fire. That is why it contains an unknown dimension that transcends the ‘I.’ Ceramics interest me because they contain an element that does not belong to me. One can always hope the piece is fired as it was conceived, but that is ultimately a rather selfish, even imperialist reflection. So I chose to go with the fire.” In two years of intermittent residence in Sèvres—a historic site that produced works for the kings of France— alongside its craftsmen, historians, and envoys like Valérie Jonca, director of the department of creation and production, Lee Ufan absorbed the laws of this temple of perfect technique and virtuosos of fire. He “experimented relentlessly,” he says, without losing an ounce of himself. When he moved to Japan at age twenty, Lee Ufan quickly abandoned his dreams of writing, becoming by 1968 the founder and theoretician of a group of artists called Mono-ha, which can be translated as “School of Things.” Its principle, he defined, was “to use a thing


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without adding anything.” It is an art of stripping down that seems to contain life itself, an Eastern response to the Western currents emerging at the time—Arte Povera, Supports/Surfaces, and Land Art. This philosophical inquiry into the immaterial remains in his work, whether small or large, painted or sculpted, hard or soft, like a question suspended in the air. We find it again in the Lee Ufan Museum, built with the architect Tadao Ando on the island of Naoshima in Japan, as well as in the Space Lee Ufan, which he designed at the Busan Museum of Art, near his hometown. We find it yet again in his in-situ installations, which take the viewer by surprise, such as those at Château La Coste in Provence and the Castello di Ama wine estate in the heart of Tuscany, in a little twelfth-century village devoted to art. This search for meaning gives rise to works whose function is not utility. The Minimalist experience is “to restrict oneself to nothing much,” Lee Ufan points out. To make room for the emptiness. To let it happen. “A work is independent from its roots, and does not need all the peripheral explanations, which we have an avalanche of today. It has to have an inner strength,” he says in the manner of a sage, an ascetic, or a sorcerer. “Whatever work I create through my work is not important in and of itself. My work consists of opening up an external world— that of the elements outside the work—or an imaginary world. My works then play the role of triggers.” The twenty-three pieces being shown at Pace Gallery are Lee Ufan’s crossing through fire. They were first exhibited in the fall at the Sèvres gallery, next door to


fig. 1

Relatum – The Shadow of the Stars 2014

steel plates and stones 3' 111⁄4" x 131' 2 13⁄16" x 147' 7 5⁄8" overall installed 9' 10 1⁄8" x 4' 11 1⁄16" x 9⁄16" sixty sheets, each 59 1⁄16" seven stones, each

the Comédie Française in Paris; this American revelation is a new chapter. Ceramics is a variation on the artist’s monochromatic or barely colored pieces, often broken or partial. They seem caught off guard by a moment in their life, which is scattered around them like the remnants of an obsolete object, the vestiges of a lost time, or stones in the desert. Domes and discs of porcelain, studded with dust, conjure the notion of ancient ruins and mythological times. Discs of white shards placed on top of a curling rectangle? These shards echo the dance of stones and their shadows, which he created in 2014 in the Bosquet de l’Étoile at the Château de Versailles (fig. 1). An arc of terracotta above a surface delimited by empty space? The miniature sculpture—ochre and primitive—references his giant metal rainbow at Versailles. It is as friable and fragile as its model seemed eternal and indestructible (fig. 2). “An artist,” Lee Ufan says calmly, “is a volcano that is controlled and a volcano that suddenly explodes. Like all


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fig. 2

Relatum – The Arch of Versailles 2014

stainless steel and two stones 36' 6 3⁄16" x 49' 2 9⁄16" x 6’ 6 3⁄4" overall installed

artists, I have my internal magma. On the other hand, I do not know what it contains. There are artists who let it show and explode. That’s not really my style. When I sense that the tension is mounting, I try to reason with myself, to calm myself down, to surmount this moment and turn it into a new energy that will bring me things in creation. I have a feeling it’s an energy—I can’t say I use it, because it’s not a conscious process. But I benefit from this force, thanks to the training I was able to acquire over the years. I have reached a kind of maturity at my age. It’s a force that allows me to function. It’s not something that I’ll express in a frank and brutal way, but that I try to master, that I channel. It’s a tension that is released because it’s contained in the works.” An invitation to a philosophical experience? “The viewer does not have to be a philosopher. It’s up to the artists to invite the viewer to encounter something. That’s their job! To develop this approach, the artist needs philosophy and the intelligence associated with it. Perhaps that is lacking in contemporary art.”


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U N T I T L E D 2015 porcelain 2 3⁄4 x 22 5⁄8 x 28 3⁄8"

| 7 x 57.5 x 72.1 cm


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U N T I T L E D 2016 porcelain 9 x 25 9â „16" diameter

| 22.9 x 64.9 cm, diameter


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U N T I T L E D 2016 terracotta 8 1⁄8 x 19 11⁄16 x 23 1⁄2"

| 20.6 x 50 x 59.7 cm


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U N T I T L E D 2016 terracotta 4 1⁄4 x 25 1⁄2 x 20 1⁄2"

| 10.8 x 64.8 x 52.1 cm


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U N T I T L E D 2015 terracotta 2 3⁄8 x 21 3⁄4 x 21 5⁄8"

| 6 x 55.2 x 54.9 cm


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UNTITLED porcelain

2016

19 x 37 3⁄4 x 45 1⁄2" | 48.3 x 95.9 x 115.6 cm


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U N T I T L E D 2016 porcelain 65 3â „4 x 74 13â „16" diameter

| 167 x 190 cm, diameter


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U N T I T L E D 2016 terracotta 12 1⁄2 x 19 11⁄16 x 24 13⁄16"

| 31.8 x 50 x 63 cm


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U N T I T L E D 2016 terracotta 5 x 23 1â „4 x 19 5â „8"

| 12.7 x 59.1 x 49.8 cm


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U N T I T L E D 2016 terracotta 14 3⁄16 x 18 1⁄2 x 18 1⁄2"

| 36 x 47 x 47 cm


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U N T I T L E D 2015–16 porcelain 7 x 25 9⠄16" diameter

| 17.8 x 64.9 cm, diameter


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U N T I T L E D 2016 terracotta 5 1â „8 x 21 1â „4 x 15"

| 13 x 54 x 38.1 cm


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UNTITLED red stoneware

2015 2 3â „4 x 16" diameter | 7 x 40.6 cm, diameter


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UNTITLED red stoneware

2015 8 3⁄8 x 21 5⁄8 x 21 5⁄8" | 21.3 x 54.9 x 54.9 cm


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U N T I T L E D 2016 terracotta 18 5â „8 x 23 5â „8 x 3"

| 47.3 x 60 x 7.6 cm


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U N T I T L E D 2016 terracotta 21 5⁄8 x 19 11⁄16 x 2 3⁄8" | 54.9 x 50 x 6 cm


U N T I T L E D 2016 terracotta 19 1â „2 x 22 1â „8 x 2"

| 49.5 x 56.2 x 5.1 cm


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U N T I T L E D 2016 painting on porcelain

25 1â „2 x 25 1â „2" | 64.8 x 64.8 cm


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U N T I T L E D 2016 painting on porcelain

25 1â „2 x 25 3â „4" | 64.8 x 65.4 cm


U N T I T L E D 2016 painting on porcelain

25 1â „2 x 25 3â „4" | 64.8 x 65.4 cm


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U N T I T L E D 2016 painting on porcelain

25 1â „2 x 25 1â „4" | 64.8 x 64.1 cm


U N T I T L E D 2016 painting on porcelain

25 1â „2 x 25 3â „4" | 64.8 x 65.4 cm


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U N T I T L E D 2015–16 porcelain 12 1⁄2 x 15 3⁄4 x 23 5⁄8"

| 31.8 x 40 x 60 cm


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14–17 UNTITLED

porcelain

18–19 UNTITLED

porcelain

2015–16

7 x 25 9⁄16" diameter | 17.8 x 64.9 cm, diameter

46–47 UNTITLED

terracotta

2016

14 3⁄16 x 18 1⁄2 x 18 1⁄2" | 36 x 47 x 47 cm

42–45 UNTITLED

porcelain

2016

5 x 23 1⁄4 x 19 5⁄8" | 12.7 x 59.1 x 49.8 cm

40–41 UNTITLED

terracotta

2016

12 1⁄2 x 19 11⁄16 x 24 13⁄16" | 31.8 x 50 x 63 cm

38–39 UNTITLED

terracotta

2016

65 3⁄4 x 74 13⁄16" diameter | 167 x 190 cm, diameter

36–37 UNTITLED

terracotta

2016

19 x 37 3⁄4 x 45 1⁄2" | 48.3 x 95.9 x 115.6 cm

30–35 UNTITLED

porcelain

2015

2 3⁄8 x 21 3⁄4 x 21 5⁄8" | 6 x 55.2 x 54.9 cm

26–29 UNTITLED

porcelain

2016

4 1⁄4 x 25 1⁄2 x 20 1⁄2" | 10.8 x 64.8 x 52.1 cm

24–25 UNTITLED

terracotta

2016

8 1⁄8 x 19 11⁄16 x 23 1⁄2" | 20.6 x 50 x 59.7 cm

22–23 UNTITLED

terracotta

2016

9 x 25 9⁄16" diameter | 22.9 x 64.9 cm, diameter

20–21, 68–69 UNTITLED

terracotta

2015

2 3⁄4 x 22 5⁄8 x 28 3⁄8" | 7 x 57.5 x 72.1 cm

2016

5 1⁄8 x 21 1⁄4 x 15" | 13 x 54 x 38.1 cm


48–49 UNTITLED

red stoneware

50–53 UNTITLED

red stoneware

54–55 UNTITLED

terracotta

2015 8 3⁄8 x 21 5⁄8 x 21 5⁄8" | 21.3 x 54.9 x 54.9 cm

2016

2016

21 5⁄8 x 19 11⁄16 x 2 3⁄8" | 54.9 x 50 x 6 cm

57 UNTITLED

terracotta

2 3⁄4 x 16" diameter | 7 x 40.6 cm, diameter

18 5⁄8 x 23 5⁄8 x 3" | 47.3 x 60 x 7.6 cm

4, 56 UNTITLED

terracotta

2015

2016

19 1⁄2 x 22 1⁄8 x 2" | 49.5 x 56.2 x 5.1 cm

58–61 UNTITLED

2016

painting on porcelain

62 UNTITLED

2016

painting on porcelain

63 UNTITLED

64 UNTITLED

65 UNTITLED

66–67 UNTITLED

porcelain

25 1⁄2 x 25 1⁄4" | 64.8 x 64.1 cm

2016

painting on porcelain

25 1⁄2 x 25 3⁄4" | 64.8 x 65.4 cm

2016

painting on porcelain

25 1⁄2 x 25 3⁄4" | 64.8 x 65.4 cm

2016

painting on porcelain

25 1⁄2 x 25 1⁄2" | 64.8 x 64.8 cm

25 1⁄2 x 25 3⁄4" | 64.8 x 65.4 cm

2015–16

12 1⁄2 x 15 3⁄4 x 23 5⁄8" | 31.8 x 40 x 60 cm


Pace Gallery would like to thank the staff at Cité de la céramique – Sèvres for their collaboration in support of Lee Ufan in the making of Lee Ufan: Ceramics, especially Romane Sarfati, Fabien Vallérian, and Ombeline d’Arche. We express our gratitude to Mr. Lee Ufan for bringing this exhibition to New York as well as to Esra Joo and Hannah Moon for their invaluable support of this project.

Catalogue © 2017 Pace Gallery Works of art by Lee Ufan © 2017 Lee Ufan / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris Text by Valérie Duponchelle © 2017 Valérie Duponchelle Translation by Jeanine Herman All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reprinted, reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, now known or hereafter invented, without written permission of the publisher. Every reasonable effort has been made to identify owners of copyright. Errors or omissions will be corrected in subsequent editions. Cover: Lee Ufan at Sèvres – Cité de la céramique Pages 12–13: Film still, Lee Ufan A Sèvres (2016) Photography: G. Jonca / Sèvres – Cité de la céramique; cover Kerry Ryan McFate; pp. 4, 14–77 Fabrice Seixas & archives kamel mennour; pp. 10–11 Courtesy Sèvres – Cité de la céramique; pp. 12–13 Design: Tomo Makiura and Mine Suda Color correction: Motohiko Tokuta Production: Pace Gallery

Lee Ufan - Ceramics  
Lee Ufan - Ceramics