Lee Ufan in the infinite time of Arles

Arles (Bouches-du-Rhone)

From our special correspondent

In a corridor of the Lee Ufan Arles Foundation, we come across the haughty head of an ancient statue. It was found during the development work on this 17th century building.and century which now houses in the center of the city a set of works by the artist born in 1936 in Korea. This supposed effigy of the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius is like an attestation of the presence of time in the thickness of the city chosen by Lee Ufan to establish his French foundation there.

Awareness of time, a major concern of this painter and sculptor (his retrospective in 2019 at the Center Pompidou-Metz was entitled “Living in time”), is also at the heart of the fifteen works temporarily installed at Alyscamps, the ancient necropolis located at the gates of the city. Awareness of the passage of time and its natural corollary, death. “The characteristic of the work of art, says Lee Ufan, is to create a moment where you feel the breath of infinity. »

To create such a moment, Lee Ufan chose an approach of deep humility. He refuses the idea of ​​the all-powerful artist. His role, in his eyes, is that of an intermediary. “It is never a question of imposing my art but of proposing a meeting. You will stand in front of my works and you will find something – I hope. » Humility is also expressed in the choice to use as little material as possible by refusing consumerism.

Let’s take the “narrow road” from Les Alyscamps (Relatum – The Narrow Road). Two long plates of mirror polished stainless steel. Halfway, two rocks with rounded shapes tighten the passage. You can – and you must – walk on these plaques in order to contemplate the reflection of the trees that line the alley of the sarcophagi. Our perception of the world is turned upside down. Not far from there, as in the gardens of a Japanese temple, dozens of bells ring out in the trees, a tribute from the artist to his colleague and friend Christian Boltanski, who died last July.

Since the beginnings of Lee Ufan in the 1960s, the title of his sculptures opens with the Latin word Relationship. Because his works connect very simple elements. Often metal plates and rocks. Either an element from industry and another on which the hand of man has had no hold. “Rocks are blocks of time sculpted by nature”says Lee Ufan.

This man who grew up in a mountain village in southern Korea dreamed of studying literature and philosophy when he arrived in Tokyo in 1956. This was refused to him because he was accused of not having mastered the language sufficiently. Japanese language. He then made the choice to express his vision of the world through painting and then sculpture.

The foundation of Arles makes it possible to review all of his work. In particular to taste, on the first floor, his painting, today less considered than his sculpture. Painting based on deep concentration before performing a gesture. Touches or lines of blue or orange paint, with impressive regularity. Over time, his palette has brightened. The latest works are surprisingly vibrant with white, blue and even red.

On the ground floor are the sculptures. Some of them seem quite cramped. But their force of expression remains. With a curved steel plate, a round rock and white lighting, Lee Ufan creates a world in which the visitor can move. In the first room of the foundation, a building bears the very recognizable mark of another friend of Lee Ufan, the Japanese architect Tadao Ando. A spiral of perfect concrete, more than two meters high, in which the visitor can enter. In the center of the spiral, his gaze is drawn downwards. Under a glass floor, a screen broadcasts an image of the sky. It is also light that attracted Lee Ufan to Arles.


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