‘Cyberpunk’ Hits the Ceiling: Lee Bul at Lehmann Maupin

…these seven fantastic labyrinthine wood-and-metal hanging works, all jagged angles and impossible corners, as though they inhabit several higher dimensions.

poster for Lee Bul Exhibition

Lee Bul Exhibition

at Lehmann Maupin (201 Chrystie Street)
in the Lower East Side area
This event has ended - (2010-04-21 - 2010-06-19)

In Main Article 3 Reviews by Brian Fee 2010-05-04 print


Lee Bul, the Seoul-based sculptor and installation artist, has maintained an interesting ubiquity in my art life way before I experienced her works in person. I think I first encountered Lee via a cyberpunk ‘community’ on LiveJournal, a virtual blog before the days of MySpace and Facebook, while I was midway through my undergraduate studies in 2002. If I recall correctly, the post tied Lee with contemporary Mariko Mori and detailed their technology-infused ‘cyber-art’. Impressionable young bloke that I was, dutifully reading William Gibson’s and Neal Stephenson’s entire oeuvres, I was of course sold on this cyborg and bio-tech-creating artist.

It wasn’t until 2006 that I actually witnessed Lee’s works up close, at “The Past Made Present: Contemporary Art and Memory” in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Lee’s piece comprised of crystal beads on wiry tendrils, a combination of freeze-framed shattered glass and some fantastical deep-sea lifeform. Though Lee had progressed from overtly ‘cyber’ sculpture at this point, the piece was still imbued with an almost uncanny living essence. I was thrilled when Lee had a solo show in New York in 2008, at Lehmann Maupin, as for years I’d been somehow missing the forward-thinking artist on my own turf. I wrote then that Lee’s statement piece in the show, this gigantic hanging flotilla of beads and aluminum, reminded me of Stephenson’s nanotechnology novel Diamond Age — which totally makes sense for Lee: she has in two decades of work matured beyond the classical cyborg into a much more varied, abstractly architectural direction, both chillingly futuristic and yet somehow utopian.

Lee’s newest exhibition at Lehmann Maupin, which just opened, is an exciting cultivation of technologically advanced work. Besides two hanging polyurethane and acrylic tangles and Study for The Infinite Starburst of Your Cold Dark Eyes (2009), a brilliant biomorphic work on paper upstairs (the cyber-suit reminds me of Jean-Michel Nicolett’s artwork for Métal Hurlant — the physical work, a massive hanging female humanoid mirrored sculpture, appeared in the titular show at PKM Gallery in Seoul earlier this year), Lee’s focus here is architecture. What I’m calling ‘crash-architecture’, these seven fantastic labyrinthine wood-and-metal hanging works (plus two others mounted on the wall), all jagged angles and impossible corners, as though they inhabit several higher dimensions. To peer up into them, you lose yourself in the cascading panes of stainless steel, aluminum and mirrored polygons. Check how your reflection flits in and out, simultaneously from multiple points-of-view, as the sunlight gleams off interspersed metallic surfaces, as if you are experiencing higher dimensions.

In my geekier days, when I was into Superstring Theory (full disclosure: I still am), I read about Calabi-Yau manifolds; these computer-generated higher-dimensional analogues that, through some visual ingenuity, model the notion of extra ‘unseen’ dimensions in our universe. Lee’s suite of contorted sculptures come closest to illustrating the essence behind Calabi-Yau manifolds. Upstairs, Lee’s ‘maquettes’; painted polyurethane panels and works on paper, hint at the exhibition’s direction. She has embraced and conveyed a physicality in these on-paper implausibilities. It’s one thing to model a ‘multi-dimensional’ form (Calabi-Yau or otherwise), but quite another to bang out the real thing in a symphony of wood panels, steel and aluminum sheets, and fragmented mirrors and acrylic.

The fact that these dynamic forms sustain themselves in mid-air — most of the suspended sculptures have one industrial winch attachment, permitting the wings and attenuated limbs to ‘explore the space — is proof in Lee’s accomplishment. Sternbau No. 28 (2010), a curvaceous glass and crystal tornado surrounded by a steel and aluminum armature, shares more than a name with its larger sibling from Lee’s 2008 exhibition at the gallery. It’s an intriguing mix of the decorative ‘jewelry explosions’ I noted in that exhibition with the fantastical architecture in the current show. The wood-and-metal sculpture in the main gallery space, though, whittle down the decorative elements to spectacularly varied forms without embellishment. With Lee, I’m never quite sure what she’s got in store next, but I could envision it further pared down, streamlined and elegant, though never ‘simplistic’.

Brian Fee

Brian Fee. Brian Fee talks art by day, sees Brooklyn bands by night, and speaks Japanese during in-between hours. His alter ego is feeslist.blogspot.com, which includes a weekly rundown of only the dopest NY-based art/film/music events. » See other writings

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