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Havana Biennial 2019: Constructing the Possible Ocula Report Havana Biennial 2019: Constructing the Possible 17 Apr 2019 : Federica Bueti for Ocula

I first visited Havana in November 2016, a few days after Fidel Castro died, and just under a year before Hurricane Irma hit Cuba in September 2017. Since then, much has changed, including the hand-painted signs that punctuate the journey from the airport to the city centre, which today do not celebrate the revolution so much as the 'Unidad y...

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Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui Ocula Conversation Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui

The exhibition Beyond Boundaries at Somerset House in London (12 March–2 April 2019) marked the historic contributions of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (CAFA) and the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, on the occasion of their 100th and 150th anniversaries, respectively. Spread across several rooms of Somerset House's...

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The National 2019: New Australian Art Ocula Report The National 2019: New Australian Art 13 Apr 2019 : Elyse Goldfinch for Ocula

The National 2019: New Australian Art features work by 70 contemporary Australia-based artists split across three venues: the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Carriageworks, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) (29 March–21 July 2019), as curated by Isobel Parker Philip, curator of photographs at AGNSW; Daniel Mudie Cunningham,...

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Lee Mingwei

b. 1964, Taiwan

The work of artist Lee Mingwei (李明維) is informed by the legacy of relational aesthetics. He is best known for his participatory installations based around everyday scenarios. Sometimes these installations involve direct and intimate contact with the artist himself in activities such as eating together, walking together or talking together. In such work he fosters a sense of trust, intimacy and self-awareness between the viewer and the gallery attendant (or artist), transforming the interaction between gallery-goer and art into a human moment between two people.

Lee is perhaps best known for Sonic Blossom (2013-present). For this work, first exhibited at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, a singer meanders through the gallery, eventually approaching a visitor and asking, 'May I give you a gift?'. Upon the visitor's acceptance of this request, the gallery performer sings to the visitor one of five lieder by Franz Schubert. The action sometimes led to very emotional exchanges. In an interview with Ocula Magazine in 2015, Lee said of the process, 'the receiver might start tearing up, sometimes it has affected the singer so much that they couldn't' finish the song.' In works such as this, Lee utilises generosity as a method of provoking intimacy within a white cube environment typically absent of such feelings.

The framework Lee devises for his projects often stems from his personal experiences. Before the Twin Towers fell, Lee's partner worked in the north tower. For five hours after the buildings were attacked, Lee thought his partner was dead. Lee went home and pulled out all their clothing that needed to be repaired and started mending items. This was the inspiration for The Mending Project (2009). In The Mending Project, a gallery docent or the artist himself sits at a table in the gallery. The visitor brings a piece of clothing and sits on the other side of the table. The helper mends the clothing in a colour of the visitor's choice. The clothes are left attached to the spools of thread they were mended with and remain in the gallery until the end of the exhibition. As the clothes accumulate, the visitor becomes aware of the presence of a shared humanity between themselves and the other visitors—material existences and relationships that are built and repaired through time.

Lee's works do not only act generously toward the visitor, they also invite the visitor to be generous. In The Moving Garden (2009)—First created for La Biennale de Lyon—Lee provides colourful and fresh flowers and invites visitors to take a flower on two conditions: that they take a detour from their intended route away from the museum, and that they give it to a stranger who they felt would benefit from an unexpected act of kindness. Lee told Ocula Magazine, '...when you give something to a stranger it's seemingly a very easy gesture, but actually it's hard and full of different nuances.' In works such as The Mending Project, Lee challenges himself and the gallery docents to these acts of generosity, while in The Moving Garden, the challenge is put to the audience members themselves.

Lee received his MFA from Yale University in 1997. He lives and works between Paris and New York.

Casey Carsel | Ocula | 2018
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Featured Artworks

Guernica in Sand by Lee Mingwei contemporary artwork Lee MingweiGuernica in Sand, 2007 Mixed media installation. Installation view at the Chicago Cultural Center
Variable dimensions
Jane Lombard Gallery
The Nu Wa Project by Lee Mingwei contemporary artwork Lee MingweiThe Nu Wa Project, 2005 Bamboo, silk, cotton thread, acrylic
350 x 112 cm
Jane Lombard Gallery
The Sleeping Project by Lee Mingwei contemporary artwork Lee MingweiThe Sleeping Project, 2000 Mixed media installation, installation at Lombard Freid Gallery, New York
Variable dimensions
Jane Lombard Gallery

Represented By

In Ocula Magazine

No More Triumphs: A Report on Asia Contemporary Art Week (ACAW) 2015 Ocula Report No More Triumphs: A Report on Asia Contemporary Art Week (ACAW) 2015 9 Nov 2015 : Sophia McKinnon for Ocula

‘I don’t have a concept of place anymore,’ was the response given by Ming Wong when asked about representing specific geographies during a panel as part of New York’s 10th Asia Contemporary Art Week (ACAW), 2015. Presented by the Asia Contemporary Art Consortium (ACAC), it brings together 150 artists, curators, and writers...

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Lee Mingwei Ocula Conversation Lee Mingwei Artist, Taiwan

Sonic Blossom, the project for which Taiwanese artist Lee Mingwei is arguably best known, opens on the 30th October at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The work is a performance piece in which visitors are asked ‘May I give you a gift of song?’ If they accept, a vocalist will sing one of Schubert's Lieder to them. Lee...

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Japan Focus: Three Tokyo Exhibitions Ocula Report Japan Focus: Three Tokyo Exhibitions 27 Nov 2014 : Becca Voelcker for Ocula

I walk along Tokyo’s Ginza shopping street towards the basement art gallery of Shiseido’s store, where three series of recent works by renowned Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki are on display in Nobuyoshi Araki Ōjō Shashū: Photography for the Afterlife — EasternSky.  It’s one of those autumn days when the clouds...

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In Related Press

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8 highlights from the inaugural Honolulu Biennial 2017 Related Press 8 highlights from the inaugural Honolulu Biennial 2017 Art Radar Journal : 5 April 2017

Held over nine sites and including 33 artists, the first edition of the Honolulu Biennial takes place between 8 March and 8 May 2017. Entitled Middle of Now | Here, the Biennial challenges the idea that Hawaiʻi is in 'the middle of nowhere'. Covering more than 30 percent of the Earth's surface, the Pacific is the largest unified living space on...

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'Lee Mingwei and His Relations: The Art of Participation' at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki Related Press 'Lee Mingwei and His Relations: The Art of Participation' at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki Art Radar Journal : 20 February 2017

From 5 November 2016 to 19 March 2017 Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki hosts the exhibition Lee Mingwei and His Relations: The Art of Participation, the first large-scale retrospective survey of the artist's practice to be presented in Auckland.The works in the exhibition involve a number of ways of participating, including sleeping, mending,...

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'WHY NOT ASK AGAIN?': SHANGHAI BIENNALE ADDRESSES CONTEMPORARY SOCIAL ISSUES, WITH SPECTACLE AND GRACE Related Press 'WHY NOT ASK AGAIN?': SHANGHAI BIENNALE ADDRESSES CONTEMPORARY SOCIAL ISSUES, WITH SPECTACLE AND GRACE ARTNews : 22 January 2017

A case can be made that the Shanghai Biennale, widely regarded as a perfunctory affair, too disorganized and lackluster to justify its existence, now has the potential to intelligently introduce international contemporary art into a scene until recently dominated by Chinese art. And this year, that goal seems within reach, under the curatorial...

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Transformation & Impermanence: An Interview with Lee Mingwei Related Press Transformation & Impermanence: An Interview with Lee Mingwei EyeContact : 14 December 2016

'One day my teacher said: "Mingwei I want you to come to this space." We knelt and he placed an apple on the mat in front of me. He said "I will give you an hour to tell me exactly what this is." So I said, "it's an apple. It's green, and a little bit red," and so on. After about 30 seconds I ran out of...

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In Related Video

Lee Mingwei explores impermanence through 'Guernica in Sand' Related Video & Audio Lee Mingwei explores impermanence through 'Guernica in Sand' Art Radar Journal : 17 June 2016

Guernica in Sand is a recreation of Picasso’s famous painting Guernica (1937) through the medium of sand. The public is then invited to engage with the work by walking on it, in a painstaking performance that Lee says is “about transformation”:"I’m going to finish the last part of the sand painting, while one person...

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