Flash News: Lee Ufan at the Metz Centre-Pompidou – Nobuo Sekine – Aboriginal Art in US


Lee Ufan “inhabits time” at the Metz Centre-Pompidou

Until 30 September 2019

Painter, sculptor, creator of installations, poet and philosopher, Ufan LEE invites us to “see what we can’t see” in an œuvre that discards figurative representation in favor of ‘encounters between discernible signs, materials and environments’. His artistic approach represents a form of resistance to a world saturated with images and objects and it leads us “towards a much more delicate and immaterial experience” according to Jean-Marie Gallais, curator of the Lee Ufan exhibition at the Metz Centre-Pompidou (until 30 September 2019).

“Inhabiting Time” – the title chosen for this important retrospective – explores the reflections of an artist at the crossroads of different cultures. Born in Korea, Ufan became an artist in Japan and then moved to France where his talent was quickly appreciated after a first exhibition in Paris in 1971. Over the years, Ufan has sought to remove his ego from his creative energy in order to create spaces that suggest universal philosophical truths and a different relationship to the world. In the last room of his exhibition in Metz, this ‘inactive, unpainted and unsculpted’ creativity culminates with a meditation chamber, a mental extension of the exhibition experience, similar to the meditation cell at the Naoshima Museum in Japan.

Lee Ufan’s artistic vocabulary is clearly ascetic and, when expressed on canvas, consists of traces and lines. In his installations, he prompts us to reflect upon the relations between nature, culture and immateriality. His most emblematic works are made with mountain stones placed on glass or metal plates, two materials derived from silica (and therefore from the natural world) and transformed by man. These works are rare on the auction market and, when they do appear, they fetch between $250,000 and $350,000, both in Asia and the United States. At the crossroads of Korean-Japanese and Western cultures, Lee Ufan is a universally sought-after artist whose best paintings change hands for between 1 and 2 million dollars. His work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions in museums around the world including the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Guggenheim in New York, the Jeu de Paume in Paris and the Palace of Versailles. He has also featured in artistic events like the biennial art fairs of Shanghai (2000), Gwangju in South Korea (2000, 2006) and Venice (2007, 2011).

After his first presentation at the Venice Biennale, his auction prices began to climb steadily. Since then, his price index has risen by an impressive 491%.

Nobuo Sekine

The Japanese conceptual artist, emblematic figure of the Mono-Ha movement, has died in Los Angeles at the age of 76.

Born on 19 September 1942 in Saitama, Japan, Sekine studied oil painting at Tama Art University in Tokyo, then quickly became interested in abstraction and joined the group Mono-Ha alongside Nobuo SEKINE (born 1936). This group – considered one of the most emblematic movements of post-war Japan – explored the characteristics of organic and industrial materials in their relations to space. Its members shared a common desire to create artworks from the natural state of things. In 1968, Nobuo Sekine created the movement’s ‘manifesto piece’ entitled Phase Mother Earth, a sculpture consisting of a six-meter-diameter hole in the ground, with the corresponding excavated earth cylinder compacted and deposited a few meters away. It was not intended as a work of landscaping or even of ‘raw aesthetics’, but rather as a way of highlighting the relations between things. Another work created in 1970 for the Venice Biennale (Phase of Nothingness) is now permanently exhibited at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, Denmark and is largely responsible for his international recognition. The huge stone supported by a steel column reflecting the local environment perfectly illustrates the fundamental ideas conveyed by the movement.

His keen interest in art and architecture led him to found Environmental Art Studios, a public art agency. Numerous commissions ensued for works in public spaces throughout Japan. Today collected around the world, his works have been integrated into the collections of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, the National Museum of Art in Osaka and the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo.

The sometimes monumental sculptures for which he is famous are rare on the market, unlike his graphic works. In 2015, the artist’s auction record peaked at $106,000 against a low estimate of $19,000 for a work sold in Cologne (phases of nothingness No 8-9 at Van ham Kunstauktionen).

On 9 June next, two of his drawings with gold leaf will be offered for sale in Taiwan (Zhong Cheng Auctions). The bulk of his works (88%) change hands in Japan.


Strong demand for Aboriginal Art in the United States

Arranged leaves, concentric circles and lines of tight dots… Aboriginal art, which draws much of its inspiration from the realm of dreams, is clearly enjoying an increase in enthusiasm. Sign of the times, Sotheby’s has decided to relocate its Aboriginal Art sale from London to New York next November, becoming the first international auction house to offer Aboriginal Art outside of Australia or Europe. Tim Klingender, Aboriginal Art Expert and Senior Australian Art Consultant at Sotheby’s, concluded that Americans represent the highest percentage of Aboriginal Art buyers. Interest in this art form has been visible for some time in the United States. The Gagosian Gallery in New York is currently hosting a show entitled Desert Painters of Australia and the MoMa PS1 has recently closed an ambitious exhibition by the Karrabing Film Collective.

Since the early 1990s Aboriginal art has attracted the attention of collectors prompting Sotheby’s to open a specialised department in 1997. At the time, the number of Aboriginal artists was relatively low and they were poorly organized. However, demand was strong. Between 1997 and 2008, seventeen Aboriginal artists (from an estimated total of roughly 5,600 paid indiginous artists) accounted for 66% of the auction turnover generated by the genre. Certain works quickly rose in value beyond the 7-digit threshold. After a peak in 2007, the market suffered a sharp contraction. The 2008 financial crisis, plus suspicions about forgeries in a market considered lacking in adequate controls, plus Australian federal legislation, plus unfavorable exchange rates… led to the closure of many respected galleries and of Sotheby’s Melbourne branch. Since approximately 2015, the market is back on a distinctly ascending path. In 1989, the segment’s auction turnover amounted to roughly $18 million; by 2002 it had risen to $200 million, and by 2011 it reached $300 million.

Meanwhile… Sotheby’s has become the most reputed intermediary for the sale of large collections of Aboriginal art and it holds the auction record for a living Aboriginal artist since Michael Nelson TJAKAMARRA’s (1949) Five Stories (1984) fetched over $500,000 in 2016 in London. The catalogue for the inaugural sale next fall in New York will include two large-format works by Emily Kame KNGWARREYE (1910-1996), one of the most successful artists in this market and who represented Australia at the Venice Biennale in 1997.

Sotheby’s has judiciously integrated the sale into a cycle of Contemporary Art sales. For decades, many decades it was categorised as “primal” or “tribal” or “ethnographic” art, seriously limiting its price potential. Today, there is a revival of Aboriginal painting with younger artists like Abie LOY KEMARRE (1972) and Daniel WALBIDI (1983) selling at auction for between $3,500 and $15,000 for the former, and between $4,500 and over $30,000 for the latter. The segment appears to be booming again and Sotheby’s upcoming specialised sale in the USA could well mark a turning point for the market.