Fri 2 Jun 2023 to Fri 28 Jul 2023
Pace Gallery presents Lee Ufan and Claude Viallat: Encounter, a two-person exhibition organised by the preeminent French curator, Alfred Pacquement.
Spanning more than five decades, this exhibition will survey both artists’ enduring commitment to abstraction as a means of engaging philosophical ideas of time, space, and matter. At the centre of this dialogue, is an exploration of materiality from both a formal and metaphysical perspective. An illustrated exhibition catalogue featuring new texts by the artists and curator will be released by Pace Publishing later in the year.
Both born in 1936, Lee and Viallat have dedicated nearly seven decades to their respective practices and founded major artistic movements: Mono-ha in Japan and Supports/Surfaces in France, respectively. Despite differing geographies and contexts, Lee and Viallat are united by their rejection of traditional methods of art making and their innovative approach to materiality. Comprising painting, sculpture, and installation, Lee’s practice investigates the capacities of action and process as ways of engaging the relationships between the body and temporality. For Viallat, radical rethinking of materials led him to eschew the stretcher in order to treat the canvas as a material object, fundamentally subverting the conventions of painting. Encompassing both new and significant historical works – many of which have never been seen in the UK before – this exhibition is testament to these artists’ boundary breaking practices.
Lee and Viallat first met in Autumn 1971 when they were both included in the Biennale de Paris, an art festival showcasing young artists from around the world. In an interview conducted by Pacquement for the exhibition catalogue, Lee recalls the shock of discovering European and American art groups such as Arte Povera, Supports/Surfaces, and Anti-form: “It was undoubtedly the first time in the history of art that, concurrently, in different geographical locations, analogous tendencies were born.” Lee and Viallat kept in contact over the years, but when Lee opened his eponymous museum in Arles, France in 2022, they rekindled their friendship in earnest.
This exhibition, evocatively titled Encounter, marks the first time they have exhibited in conversation with one another.
Mono-ha, Japanese for ‘The School of Things’, rejected traditional methods and materials of artmaking in favour of the simplicity and inherent power of raw materials. Central to this thinking is the deconstruction of historical traditions and structures in order to rebuild anew. Indeed, Lee has explained his early Relatum sculptures as “a kind of resistance or protest against the institution or the politics of the time.” Born in Korea and having spent most of his life between Japan and France, Lee’s work is inspired by a distinct synthesis of Eastern and Western spiritual practices and beliefs. Considered the theoretician of the group, his celebrated career has been marked by several philosophical texts about contemporary art and culture. Whether it is the stroke of paint against a blank canvas or a natural stone against a cracked glass mirror, at stake in Lee’s work is the activated space between artwork, environment, and viewer. It is through this three-way interchange that Lee conjures ideas of time and space.
Just as Lee’s practice began as a rejection of convention, Viallat’s work is concerned with radically rethinking the nature of painting. Exclusively using found materials such as tarpaulin, rugs, or the fabric from an umbrella, Viallat’s practice is a rebellion against traditional methods of both making and viewing works of art. The Supports/Surfaces group freed painting from its support, reshaping or even removing the frame entirely. Artworks would be hung in unexpected ways – sometimes hanging from the ceiling or outside the gallery space altogether. In doing so, the boundary between artwork and environment is removed and, akin to Lee, the space that surrounds the work is activated, reimagining conditions of viewing.
The repetition of forms is a core facet of both artists’ practices. Lee’s painting series, such as From Line, Correspondance, or Response, vibrate with a visual rhythm as strokes of paint are placed in dialogue with one another. Likewise, throughout his career Viallat has developed a signature motif in which a rectangular form that he likens to the shape of a bone, echoes across the picture plane in a uniform grid. For both artists, the ordered structure of repetition has liberated their practices, allowing space to explore micro variations in the inherent qualities of their materials.