Lee Ufan’s exhibition at Dia:Beacon has been developed in close
collaboration with the artist and centers around his desire to present
the world “as it is.” Reflecting on the relationship between the
natural and the industrial, the five installations by Lee explore
encounters between objects, viewers, and the space itself.
Following the 2018 Dorothea Rockburne exhibition, this is the second time we have partnered with Dia. Many artists within the foundation’s collection have been a source of inspiration for us.
Alexis Lowry: We organised this exhibition around three sculptures that you created during your involvement with the art movement Mono-ha (which translates to ‘School of Things’). This was a period when many Japanese artists explored materials and their properties in a new way. From your perspective, Lee, what was it that defined this twentieth-century movement?
Lee Ufan: Mono-ha emerged in Tokyo around 1968 and was active until the mid-1970s. Critics and artists jeered at this phenomenon, saying, “this gang of hooligans doesn’t know how to paint or sculpt, and just throws things together.” This was how the term Mono-ha was created. The late 1960s witnessed a wave of international protests in advanced capitalist countries, such as France, Japan, and the United States. Amid these movements, Mono-ha was born. It was a new chapter of art expression in the midst of the collapse of modernism and the anticipation of a new era. Mono-ha artists initially focused on creating artworks using optical illusions. It was a way for them to criticize and accuse the uncertainty of objects and vision as well as the falsehood of expression. Later on, they gradually parted with such attitudes and methods to see objects and acts as is, rearranging and redisplaying objects that already existed. They acknowledged and valued both concepts and the relationship between materials and the space around them.
AL: Tell me more about how both Mono-ha and your sculptural work are characterized by material relationships. How do you identify materials? What draws you to a particular steel plate or group of rocks?
LU: From the late 1960s to the early 1970s I often used glass, steel plates, rocks, and cotton. Many of my works from this period are made of natural materials along with industrial materials. For Land and Minimalist art, materials are simply a means to realize a concept. For Mono-ha, materials are as important as a concept. That is especially true for me. My production starts with a concept, but it evolves around the relationship between materials and space. I do not view materials as a replacement for my concept. I respect their reason for existence. That is why I am careful about selecting materials. When I pick a steel plate, for example, I check its condition, color, and presence. I also think about other things that may go well with it and its relationship to the space where it will be installed.
AL: You are highly specific about the materials that you select and very deliberate in how you identify a gallery or space that you can work in. What draws you to a particular environment, and why did you select the galleries where your work will be presented at Dia:Beacon?
LU: I never place the works that I create in my studio in any random space. I always pay special attention to where my work is to be installed, as the work should fit well with the space or the location. Although I may prefer certain environments, it is more important for me to realize my work in the process of conversation with the environment that already exists. The space at Dia:Beacon is highly neutral with Minimalist installations around it. I am confident that it will fit well with my works.
Dia, taken from the Greek word meaning “through,” was founded in 1974 with a commitment to advancing, realizing, and preserving the vision of artists. Dia fulfills this mission by commissioning new projects, organizing temporary exhibitions, and displaying its own collection at Dia:Beacon and Dia:Chelsea, as well as maintaining site-specific works in New York City, the American West, and Germany.
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