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Lee Ufan: Minimalist art, big ideas

Lee Ufan, painting "Dialogue - Space," 2011, on

Lee Ufan, painting "Dialogue - Space," 2011, on a gallery wall at the Guggenheim.

There's not a lot to Lee Ufan's work - though it gives you a lot to think about.

The Korean-born artist, 75, emerged from the Minimalist movement in Japan in the 1960s, abandoning formalism and stripping his materials down to the very basics, making the process of creation his subject.

The Guggenheim is hosting the first American retrospective for the painter/sculptor, who remains at the forefront of post-Minimalist art.

As one might expect from a process-oriented artist, Lee's work is very methodical, divided into series on which the artist worked chronologically, starting with the "From Point" and "From Line" works of 1964-78. These paintings are a measured collection of points or lines that Lee created by loading his brush with paint and letting it run out as he traversed the page. The paintings are a reflection of the time and action it took to create them. Over time, he made small adjustments to his practice that led to, consecutively, the "With Winds," "Correspondance" and "Dialogue" series.

All of Lee's sculptural work is encompassed by the "Relatum" series. "Relatum" refers to objects in relationship with each other, a category that includes the viewer of a given sculpture. In recent years, Lee began working exclusively with stones and steel plates, but from the beginning, he has mingled natural and man-made materials, to emphasize the relationship between humans and their environment.

The highlight of the exhibit, however, is Lee's most recent work from the "Dialogue" series. "Dialogue - space" (2011) was created especially for the Guggenheim and painted directly on the museum's walls. The work consists of three large gray-black brushstrokes at eye level on the three walls of a small gallery. The viewer is surrounded by these blocks of color that appear to lift off the wall, making one very aware of the unpainted negative space of the rest of the room. It's an engaging experience - fittingly located at the pinnacle of the museum's famed helix.


If you go: "Lee Ufan: Marking Infinity" is at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum through Sept. 28, guggenheim.org

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