If I were teaching social studies or literature, I’d bring Lee Ufan to class. I saw his work first at the Columbus Museum of Art, where I lead tours. I walked into the gallery and was instantly captivated by the broad, flat brushstrokes he drags across the otherwise undisturbed chalky white canvases.
A leading and innovative artist from South Korea, Ufan has painted a series called Dialogue. He invites his viewers to imagine a conversation within a painting.
Take, for example, Dialogue 2018. What in this painting, I’d ask students, could show the relationship of two characters in the short story we just read? Or . . . how could this painting show a conversation in recent world history?
I’d show students another painting, also entitled Dialogue 2018. How, I’d ask, does this painting—with its one continuous brushstroke—show a running conversation inside the head of a character? Or . . . how does the painting show a constantly repeated dialogue within a group of similar people? How does Ufan illustrate that, at the beginning, there is often more than one inner voice? And how does he show that, in the end, an accepted common narrative eventually pours out?
Ufan liked to hang multiple paintings in one gallery—as if the paintings were having conversations with each other. Above you see an installation from the Dialogue series at the Pace Gallery in New York City. Tell me, I’d say to students, about the conversation in this room. How does it relate to the literature you’ve read or to an event in history or to the current times?
To the eye, Ufan’s Dialogue paintings can seem deceptively simple. Actually, it takes Ufan an entire month to build up the thickness of a single brushstroke. Dialogue, after all, has many layers.