Michael Werner Gallery, London, in collaboration with Gallery Hyundai, Seoul, is pleased to present Invisible Questions That Fill the Air: James Lee Byars and Seung-taek Lee, an exhibition of works by American artist James Lee Byars (b. 1932, d. 1997) and Korean artist Seung-taek Lee (b. 1932), curated by Allegra Pesenti. This exhibition marks the first time the works of these two artists are brought into dialogue, highlighting a like-mindedness of vision and spirit.
Both artists were born in 1932. Byars in Detroit, an industrial town struggling during the Great Depression. The early, formative years of his career were spent in Japan, where he immersed himself in the study of the ceramic arts, papermaking, calligraphy, Noh theater, and the aesthetics of Shinto and Zen. The cultural traditions and ceremonies of Japan greatly shaped his artistic development and concerns around beauty, truth, and the concept of the perfect.
Lee was born in a small town in the Northern province of a then unified Korea under Japanese rule. Japan had an outsized influence on Korean culture due to the occupation from 1910 to 1945, but Lee subverted this influence, seeking to create art that was distinctively Korean but also in conversation with international art movements. Lee’s “non-sculpture” utilizes natural materials and Korean folk objects, including tree branches, stones, briquettes, and earthenware jars. Placed on a pedestal or bound and hung with rope and wire, the objects are removed from their original function and elevated to the status of art.
Byars and Lee never met, but the aesthetic similarities in their art warrants closer examination. Invisible Questions That Fill the Air: James Lee Byars and Seung-taek Lee will present six decades of work by the two artists. Rooted in nature, history, philosophy, and tradition, each artist created vital work that continues to inspire generations of younger artists.
James Lee Byars has been the subject of numerous museum exhibitions worldwide, including The Palace of Good Luck, Castello di Rivoli / Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin (1989); The Perfect Moment, IVAM Centre del Carme, Valencia (1994); The Palace of Perfect, Fundaçao de Serralves, Porto (1997); Life Love and Death, Schirn Kunsthalle and Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain de Strasbourg (2004); The Perfect Silence, Whitney Museum of American Art (2005); 1/2 an Autobiography, MoMA PS1, New York and Museo Jumex, Mexico City (2013-2014); The Golden Tower, Campo San Vio, Venice (2017); The Perfect Kiss, Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp (2018); and The Perfect Moment, Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing (2021). Upcoming exhibitions include a major survey that will open at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan in October 2023 and travel to Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid in April 2024.
A pioneer of the Korean Avant-Garde with a career spanning over a half century, Seung-taek Lee’s work is held in the collections of museums worldwide, including the Tate Modern, London; the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), Seoul; the M+ Museum, Hong Kong; the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi; the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney; and the Seoul Museum of Art, among others. Lee’s work has been included in major recent group exhibitions at the Gwangju Biennale (2023); the MMCA, Seoul (2023); the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2022); the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (2019); and the National Gallery, Singapore (2019). In 2020, a major retrospective survey of Lee’s work was held at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul. Upcoming exhibitions include Only the Young: Experimental Art in Korea, 1960s-1970s at the Guggenheim in New York.