The Lee Ufan Exhibit at the Guggenheim

Friday, June 24th at the Guggenheim

The other night I attended a member’s only night at the Guggenheim to see their current exhibit called “Lee Ufan Marking Infinity.”

The Guggenheim doesn’t allow people to take photos above the main floor, so all I could get was a photo looking up at the sign and a photo of bored bartenders standing at the cash bar with no people in the room. I think there were more bartenders than people in the museum. Unfortunately, I have the habit of showing up for these kinds of events either early or on time and I seem to miss all the people who like to arrive fashionably late to these kinds of events. I could have waited around to see other people arrive–I hope they did–but I was too bored myself to do so.

What Lee Ufan does is find big rocks that appeal to him artistically (at a quarry on Long Island) and place them in conjunction with man-made objects like a black wall or he set them on pillows and places them in zen fashion around a room. See photo below. The spacing of the cushions is supposedly significant. (I’m yawning as I write this.)  It seems to me that God Sculpts the rocks and all that Lee Ufan does is place them in an arrangement that God tells him is right.

Cash Bar at the Guggenheim on Opening Night of Ufan Exhibit--

I think the cash bar another example of  “Marking Infinity.” 

The literature that the Guggenheim puts out on Lee Ufan says that he “radically expanded the possibilities for painting and sculpture since the 1960’s.”  Call me middlebrow, but I find this hard to take in. It seems to me that God sculpted the Rocks not Ufan. All he did was pick them up and place them on cushions or in front of black panels. Maybe the reason that other artists haven’t done this before, was not because they didn’t think of it, but it was too boring.

Lee Ufan's Rocks on Cushions--it's all about placement.

This idea of the emphasize on placement reminds me of feng shui.  If everything is placed entirely right, one should gain a feeling of peace and well being.  Looking a the rocks on cushions really didn’t do it for me.  Maybe that means I’m insensitive.  If I had studied the rock placement more than just glancing t it and walking away, perhaps I would have gotten more out of it.  I can understand how placing everything entirely correctly according to laws of art and nature takes an artist, but is that a great art?

I’ve studied Buddhism and Zen for years. What Ufan is doing is to visualize these Buddhists concepts–I think. Looking at his work does rather give some  feelings of peace or tranquility, but it can’t compete with meditation.  Looking at his art is a little like being in a Zen garden, but I can’t see why it’s superior to being in a zen garden. It’s  interesting in that Nature is interesting.  Not only the arrangement on the floor of the cushions is significant to his concept, but also the kind of cushions that they are is significant.  If you are interested enough to know why, I suggest you visit the Guggenheim web page.

Personally, I would rather visit the Mount Loretto Beach Rock sculptures that are on the South Coast of Staten Island along the Atlantic Ocean.  The difference between these rock sculptures and Lee Ufan’s work, it that these rocks were handled and put into some kind of form by man. For me this seems more like an interplay between nature and man than doing more with a rock than placing it on a cushion or in front of a black board.

Rock Garden by Doug Schwartz on Staten Island's South Shore with my Dog Mary (1993-2008)

Besides the rock sculptures, Lee Ufan also does paintings that are minimalistic to an extreme. You can see the top of one in one of the photos.  What is below that which you can see isn’t much more than what is visible.

In art the concept of minimalism seems to always be identified with the concept of infinity.  As though when there is empty space, one can see infinity, but you can’t see infinity because it’s only a concept, not an object.  However, isn’t art more about objects rather than the lack of them?  It doesn’t seem revolutionary to me to express infinity by just showing emptiness or wide open spaces, but I can’t imagine any other way of expressing it, because once one sees an object that’s the end of the concept of infinity.

However, I do believe that Ufan is a true artist.  I could feel his creativity.  If you are looking for experiencing peace in New York City, may I suggest visiting the Chinese Garden Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

If you would like an outing from the city of Manhattan

 I suggest visiting the rock garden on Staten Island’s south shore.  Take the Staten Island Ferry to Staten Island.  From the Ferry Terminal in Staten Island take the #78 bus and get off at Lemon Creek Pier on Hylan.  You can walk to it on the beach from the pier.  It makes a nice day and you can sun yourself at the beach at the same time.


I found an article about Lee Ufan in Art in America (international Review) about Lee Ufan.  It seems that he was the most important artist to come out of the Mono-Ha, a Japanese art movement which lasted from 1968 to 1973, and until now hasn’t got much attention.  And now it’s mostly getting attention because of the Lee Ufan exhibit at the Guggenheim.  The article I read insinuated that art dealers are really hard to try to find new works to make money from.  The Mona-ha was a group of artists most of whom graduated from Tokyo’s Tama Art University during the unrest of the late 1960’s.  Their work is exemplified by Mr. Ifan’s work.

Check out another post I did on Lee Ufan on my other blog called Gayle’s Stream of Consciousness.

2 thoughts on “The Lee Ufan Exhibit at the Guggenheim

  1. He doesn’t only do rock placing though does he? He also paints and I think he does add something to the minimalist tradition (though i also have my doubts about whether it really is minimalist at all).


    1. He may not be a minimalist. I’m not sure any more what the term means. His paintings are mostly a few brushstrokes on paper. That to me is minimalist, but maybe not. You probably know more about art than I do. His art to me seems so much in the Eastern tradition that I don’t think I should judge it by Western standards.


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