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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Recent Review of Exhibit at the Guggenheim in NY by Nathaniel Williams


Lee Ufan, Marking Infinity at the Guggenheim

Lee Ufan creating work at the Guggenheim

Lee Ufan work in the Guggenheim

Lee Ufan creating work at the Guggenheim


This Fall the Guggenheim in NYC hosted a retrospective of the contemporary Korean artist Lee Ufan and called it marking infinity.  His work and questions concerning art are extremely revealing not simply of his person but of the greater questions of our time.  If I were to try to encapsulate the fundamental mission of Lee Ufan it would be in two points.  One is to fight against culture and visual art being thought of as objects which exist in self sufficient contentment.  The second was to facilitate experiences for people, in which they could genuinely say that they encountered some aspect of nature, or reality.
An illustration of the first and second point would be a work consisting of two objects in a room, a natural stone and a metal plate.  The plate is leaned against a wall and the stone resting on the floor.  The experience is of the whole space and the relations alive in it which de-objectifies the art.  The experience is of materials, objects and spaces which Ufan has minimally engaged.  Ufan wants to facilitate meetings between natural objects and people and sees that the museum is one place where everyday awareness can be infiltrated.  For Ufan, contemporary inner life is a place of images that have lost “their exteriority.  Generally speaking, we can see gesture as an artistic act that cuts into and opens up holes in the systemized fiction of the everyday environment determined by assumed values.”[1]  So for Ufan, Duchamp’s placing a porcelain urinal in a museum was such an incision, suddenly assumed values fall away and we meet an object we supposedly knew already.  The artists job is to facilitate such meetings.
It is unfortunate that we experience culture as contained in some few magical objects and not as simply aspects of the great cultural reality of our daily life.  The desire for artistic creations to be experienced as meaningful, not only as specialized objects for a high brow society, but for all human beings and modern life in general is easy to understand.  We do not have this culture currently.  In fact our inner experience of life, our “assumed values” are so barren that we want to escape our culture.  But where can we find solace?  Ufan offers encounters with nature, or things as they are.  With this he testifies that human culture has lost touch with spiritual inspirations of the same elemental power as natural inspirations.  In the past these spiritual inspirations have never been the same as natural inspirations, though they share in the same spirit.  When the cultural vigor wanes, it is understandable that we run to nature for nourishment.  Rudolf Steiner indicated this already on the multiple occasions that he described the advent of landscape painting as a result of the withdrawal of a higher cultural inspiration.[2]  He also pointed out that no artist stood a chance in competition with nature.  The landscape will always triumph.  It is when a painter brings something new to nature, as an inspired higher nature, that their work is really justified.  Ufan has at least given up rendering nature, and simply brought her into the museum.             


[1] Lee Ufan-In Search of Encounter- The Sources of Contemporary Art
[2] Rudolf Steiner-Lecture IV in-the Social Future, October 28, 1919