Since the late nineteenth century when the Impressionists, most notably Vincent Van Gogh, flocked there, Arles Artists and the art world have always been fascinated by extension. More recently, cultural spaces have begun to open up in this southeastern French city, starting with the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles in 2010 and more recently the Maya Hoffmanns collection. Frank Gehry by LUMA Arleswhich opened last summer.
And now there Li Yufan Arles, a new cultural venue for famous Korean artist Lee Yufan, which opened its doors on April 15 in the heart of the Romanian city. (The new venue is an extension of the New York-based Lee Ufan Foundation.) The path to completing this project was not easy for Lee, who had to set up an endowment fund with the support of his friends: Michel Enrici, former director of the Maeght Foundation in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, as well as Its publishers in Actes Sud based in Arles, Jean-Paul Capitany and Françoise Nissen.
The lion’s share of the fund went to invest in the new home of the space. Housed in the Hôtel Vernon, a 16th-century private chateau that was once the home of the Dervieux family, a long line of antique dealers, the building has been modernized, of course, under the patronage of Pritzker Prize winner Tadao Ando, Lee’s go-to architect. “Ando’s inspiration and echo resonated with him,” the artist said in a recent interview in French. Architect of the mega-complex François Pinault recently opened the Parisian private Museum Bourse de Commerce, Ando is also responsible for the Lee Ufan Museum on Japan’s Naoshima Island (2010) and Space Lee Ufan at the Busan Museum of Art (2015) in South Korea.
A leading proponent of the 1960s Japanese Mono-ha movement, which explored the properties of both synthetic and natural materials, Lee is known to counter steel plates, rubber plates, and glass panes with stone, wood, or water, in shapes to effortlessly create poetic sculptures, many of which are central to the new Arles space.
Not surprisingly, having made his mark on Asia, Lee moved part of his New York establishment to France. The 86-year-old artist, represented by French gallery maker Kamel Menawar, among others, has been exhibited across France for years and maintains a studio in the Montmartre district of Paris, where Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, and Picasso all lived in the preceding stage.
The real question is why Arles? This is where his 2013 show “Dissonance”, which led to Actes Sud’s publication of his first monograph in French, was held, before showings at the Château de Versailles (2014) and Center Pompidou Metz (2019) made it a hit across France. “I am particularly fascinated by the fragrance of the city as time fades amid the treasures of Roman culture,” he said.
The artist was also recently asked to participate in the celebrations of Arles’ 40th as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The outdoor display runs through September and features 13 works scattered in the 4th-century Alyscamps Cemetery, a site imbued with spirituality. “Since we are in Arles,” he said, “I tried to express a dimension that transcends spacetime.”
In Lee Ufan Arles, the four-story, 14,500-square-foot hotel consists of approximately 25 rooms, first with a lighted shop and ticket office combined into one room, followed by an elegant library, which can be converted into a tea room. In the future, both are from award-winning French designer Constance Jesse.
In the first portico, which was probably the guest entrance to the Dervieux family, in the center stands a huge concrete cylinder which is a narrow labyrinth in the shape of a snail meant to be entered. Inside there is a ground protrusion of white clouds slowly moving through the air. “Like Van Gogh before him, Les Yuvan was very inspired by the Arles sky,” said Jean-Marie Gallet, Curator of Les Yuvan’s 2019 show at the Center Pompidou Metz, who also wrote text on the wall for the Arles space.
He assured me, “The moments of my morning walk when I gazed up at the sky along the quays of the Rhone make me so happy.” He called this completely new work, an architectural collaboration with Ando, cil so ter (heaven under the earth).
As with previous projects, Lee paid particular attention to site-specific installations throughout the palace grounds. Chemin vers Arles Beautifully presented curved pebble-mounted mirror board. Just as the mirror begins its curve upward to the ceiling, Lee places a spot between two large boulders. Old pieces have also been reactivated. The theater (Originally filmed in the late 1960s), the second exhibition is an example of this. Visitors are once again invited to step into a circle of light protected by a large steel wall next to a massive boulder.
There are two other examples from Lee’s “Relatum” series (Relatum 1969/2022 And Relatum – Gravity), which brings together the artist’s first experiences with Mono-ha. Between these two works, a Roman bust was discovered in the first stage of construction, 2.5 feet underground, exactly where Lee had already planned to install. cil so ter. “It is ironic, when you think about it, that the only place that needs to be excavated is going to show a video image of the sky,” said Gallet, curator of the exhibition. Now a long-term loan from the antique Musée de l’Arles, the remains have their own window box in the middle of a short corridor leading to an ascending staircase, which Lee painted white, and a new elevator.
The descent to the lower level of the space, accessible only by appointment, is not one, but three site-specific creations. Two works from the “Dialogue” series, areas of color gradations – one in orange, the other in blue – coming from exceptionally wide brush strokes, are painted on the ground. Lee compares them to “archaeological finds” for the public to encounter. The predominantly orange color is vertical. The blue sky is parallel to a white wall where the artist handwritten a poem called “The Bottom”: “There is a story at the bottom of Arles, / At the bottom of this story is a picture, / And at the bottom of this picture is the unknown.”
Again above ground, the approach to the second floor (the first floor according to the French system) is essentially chronological, beginning with the 1970s “From Line” series, with lines drawn in one gesture until the paint runs out, right up to the 2000s” The “Dialogues” series, whose latest pieces feature wavy lines that convey deeper vibrations.The screen includes graphics from the ’80s, some surprisingly less simple than others.
The first level is an upcoming “hybrid” multi-purpose space, for meetings, conferences, receptions and concerts, as well as exhibitions of artists who are not Li Yufan. (He would like to include works from his personal collection on permanent display, “but nothing has been considered in detail yet,” he said.)
This area is the only place in the building where the original molds and original chimneys were kept visible, as if to make people feel at home. Indeed, the artist said he sees Lee Ufan Arles as a “living space” rather than an exhibition hall, adding that “understanding the wit or meaning of this space is not required to share the breaths and sensations that give us life as we wander among paintings and sculptures.”