Lee Bul: Willing to be Vulnerable

In her new show at Lehmann Maupin Gallery in Chelsea, Lee Bul’s multimedia compositions come alive. 

Lee Bul Souterrain

Souterrain, 2012/2016
Courtesy Lehmann Maupin Gallery

Building on cross-cultural reference points as diverse as Japanese Manga cartoons, Korean embroidered silk scrolls and sci-fi utopian communities, in this exciting exhibition Lee Bul creates fantastical environments using mirrored surfaces, LED lights, and welded metal, combining diverse and unexpected mediums into forms of otherworldly beauty that challenge and even menace the viewer. The sparkling environment of Souterrain beckons, but as one penetrates the space, it chokes the viewer in a dystopian environment, reflecting our physical discomfort.

Lee Bul Untitled (Willing To Be Vulnerable - Red Velvet #2)

Untitled (Willing To Be Vulnerable – Red Velvet #2), 2016
Courtesy Lehmann Maupin Gallery

Bul combines the strategies of 20th Century Western painting with traditional Korean artistic practice. Here the canvas is replaced with silk velvet, a traditional Korean painting support. Further, Bul co-mingles acrylic paint with mother of pearl commonly used in Korean inlay. The resulting composition coalesces into two opposing forms that resemble flying cranes, a noble bird that implies longevity in Korean mythology. But in contemporary terms, these forms suggest warring avatars straight from a video game. Bul makes a compelling case for humanity and its flip side, mortality, in one stunning composition.

Lee Bul Sternbau

Sternbau, 2009
Private collection, Courtesy Cromwell Art, LL

As an art advisor, it is always thrilling to watch an artist grow and gain recognition. I have followed Bul’s career since her first US solo show in 2004 at Deitch Projects.  I acquired Sternbau for a private collection in 2009. In this highly characteristic work, Bul employs “low” art, ready-made materials such as metal chains and plastic beads, spinning them into a gleaming, precious object whose spiral form simultaneously references Louise Bourgeois’s cocoon-like suspended sculptures, and the Battlestar Galactica TV series.  It immediately caught my eye as an otherworldly combination of Korean and Western artistic impulses. This work has a keen relationship to the two-dimensional forms found in Bul’s current show, Willing to be Vulnerable.