Hirshhorn Announces Largest Site-Specific Installation in the US by Acclaimed Artist Lee Ufan

New Site-Specific Commissions Will Fill Museum’s 4-Acre Outdoor Plaza Opening Fall 2019
April 2, 2018
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Lee Ufan "Relative Stage" by: Mike Din

The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden has announced an ambitious site-specific commission by the celebrated Korean artist Lee Ufan, debuting fall 2019. The expansive installation will feature approximately 10 new sculptures from the artist’s signature and continuing “Relatum” series and marks the artist’s largest site-specific outdoor sculpture project in the U.S. It is the first exhibition of Lee’s work in the nation’s capital, and the first time in the museum’s 44-year history that its 4.3-acre outdoor plaza will be devoted entirely to the work of a single artist.

Each of the sculptures will be created in response to the museum’s unique architecture, and will continue Lee’s iconic practice of placing contrasting materials, such as stainless steel plates and boulders, in dialogue with one another to heighten awareness of the world, in Lee’s words, “exactly as it is.” Leaving the materials relatively unaltered, Lee arranges them with careful attention to the subtle nuances of the site in order to foreground the visitor’s encounter with the art as it unfolds in time and space. The Hirshhorn’s circular building further amplifies the experience by offering myriad viewpoints for visitors to encounter the artwork throughout the plaza.

“We are delighted to present this significant commission by Lee Ufan, one of the pioneering figures of postwar Japanese art,” said Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu. “Each ‘Relatum’ emphasizes the unique ability of art to transcend modern time and thought, and together, in prominent view of the National Mall, they will create a space of reflection and repose for our community.”

A leading founder of the late 1960s Japanese movement called Mono-ha, or “School of Things,” Lee views art as an encounter between the viewer, the materials and the site. In his “Relatum” sculptures, each element is arranged with this greater network in mind, and Lee is especially cognizant of how the presence of contrasting materials can alter what and how we see. These works are rooted in contemplation and sensation rather than static representation, and in this way, Lee effectively strips away the world around people by appealing to their emotions and encouraging them to surrender to the experience of art.

Lee writes, “A plain natural stone, a steel plate—which is a solidified form of components extracted from stone—and existing space are arranged in a simple, organic fashion. Through my planning and the dynamic relationships between these elements, a scene is created in which opposition and acceptance are intertwined.” 

Over the course of the next year, Lee, who lives in Kamakura, Japan, and Paris, will undertake site-visits to the museum and to East Coast quarries to identify regional materials to incorporate in his work. Installation will begin in summer of 2019, and the exhibition’s debut will be accompanied by a presentation of Lee’s minimal, abstract paintings on the Hirshhorn’s third floor.

About the Artist

Lee (b. 1936, Kyongsang-namdo, South Korea) emerged in the late 1960s as one of the founders and major proponents of the avant-garde Mono-ha—or School of Things—group, among Japan’s first internationally renowned contemporary art movements. His practice is characterized by thoughtful iterations of gestures in slight variation and thematic contemplations of encounter that manifest in installation, sculpture, ceramics, paintings and works on paper. In 2010, the Lee Ufan Museum, dedicated to the artist’s oeuvre, opened on the Japanese island of Naoshima. Lee has been the subject of over 140 one-artist exhibitions around the world, including “Resonance” at the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007) and “Marking Infinity,” his major retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2011). In 2014, the Palace of Versailles presented 10 of Lee’s monumental sculptural works throughout its historic grounds. Other recent solo exhibitions of his work have been held at the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (2016); Galerie de Sèvres, Citè de la céramique, Paris (2016); Gwangju Museum of Art, South Korea (2017); and Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London (2018).

About the Hirshhorn

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is the national museum of modern and contemporary art and a leading voice for 21st-century art and culture. Part of the Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn is located prominently on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Its holdings encompass one of the most important collections of postwar American and European art in the world. The Hirshhorn presents diverse exhibitions and offers an array of public programs on the art of our time—free to all, 364 days a year. For more information, visit hirshhorn.si.edu.

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