In Honour of Contemporary Japanese Art
Of all the excursions I took over the past year to explore art around the world, visiting the Lee Ufan Museum in Japan was one of the most remarkable. Lee Ufan is minimalist from Korea known for his significant influence on the evolution of contemporary art in Japan. The museum was launched in Ufan’s honour in 2010.
Delving Deeply Into Canvas, Steel and Stone
When Ufan paints, it is more than a graphical representation of a mental process – he doesn’t just make art based on what he is thinking about. The process Ufan takes involves opening a dialogue with surrounding objects and embracing the influence of elements such as time and air. The artist uses his physical form and breath to establish a rhythm of creation as a unique form of conversation. With each deftly executed brushstroke Ufan exudes an inner calm which is also translated into his work.
Besides painting, Ufan also creates minimalist constructions in line with the paradigm of the Mono-ha (School of Things), a group he was a prominent member of during the 1960s. Assemblies are fashioned using natural materials such as rock, slate and steel. The aim is to utilize the understated power of vacant space as it amalgamates with physical elements – and so Ufan trims the act of making art to its most raw state. His process even extends to the area in which the work is installed. Before each installation Ufan walks around the space, studying it from all angles, before deciding where the art should be placed. For Ufan the complete progression, from the process of creation through to the space it ultimately occupies is vital to its success.
“An artist is a child of the times”
According to Ufan, the way that art is created and perceived changes as society do over time. People are driven by similar values and ideologies during periods in time. This makes it easier for artists to make an impact and harness an emotional response with their work. Because the world has become increasingly connected in recent times, society has evolved into being more diverse and fluid. We are subjected to more opinions, cultural input, and raw information than in any other era. Values are rapidly shifting and art is taking off in a staggering array of new directions.
Ufan believes that art tackles current events and social issues that are unfurling as time unfolds. Many artists in the contemporary art realm are creating with no idea how their art may evolve until they are done with it. It is no longer an option for these artists to construct works about topics that are known by the masses and generally understood – this simply won’t make a deep enough impact. In this era, people are captivated by the unknown. Artists need to draw on the unconscious, contradictions, chaos and even madness to increase the allure of their works. Viewers need to be provoked into experiencing new emotions and concepts. Ufan states that “works that are logically organized, that can be clearly explained, and that is destined for a predictable goal are not art.”
Does True Art Lie in a Powerful State of Uncertainty?
When the museum first opened its doors, Ufan expressed a desire that the space would become “a place that is alive”. The artist believes that a work of art is always in the process of being completed and is therefore eternally transforming as it is influenced by the viewer’s frame of mind and the environment it is located in. As the work is initially ‘completed’ it seems as though this is how the piece is and will be – in an inactive state. In reality, art continues to transform even after the artist’s work is done. It then starts to live in a different way. Steel rusts, material deteriorates, plants around the work grow or die and the light around the piece changes. Viewers return to see the work in a different mood. This means that ultimately, artists lack control over their work.
It is in this state of uncertainty in which an artwork and the space it occupies, the artist and the viewers meet. It is a space where the power and beauty of art can be experienced and perhaps also what makes the Lee Ufan Museum so magical. The space is home to a powerful permanent collection that is constantly transforming and is beautifully alive.