New earthwork sculpture unveiled at Meijer Gardens

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk
The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - Korean artist Lee Ufan's work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the Tate Gallery in London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and now in Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

But look carefully or you might walk past it. Or even through it.

Ufan's minimalist and earthwork piece, "Relatum: Forest Path," debuts as the first sculpture installed in the Gwen Frostic Woodland Shade Garden at Meijer Gardens.

"It's sort of a private piece, intended to be encountered," Joseph Becherer, vice president and chief curator at Meijer Gardens, told The Grand Rapids Press.

Elements of the site-specific installation include two massive boulders with large steel plates set in the ground between them. A crushed stone path through a natural setting leads to and away from the principal elements.

"You hit the steel path, and it's a very different visual experience, a very different physical experience, and a different audio experience," Becherer said.

The artist who Becherer described as a "cornerstone of contemporary sculpture in Asia" was less known in the United States than in other parts of the world prior to a major retrospective exhibition, "Marking Infinity," which opened in 2011 at the Guggenheim Museum with over 90 works spanning six decades from the 1960s to the present.

"Much of his work is a way to spark a conversation about what is the relationship between the industrial world and the natural world," Becherer said. "A large portion of his repertoire deals with interacting in the natural world, so it seemed like it would be a good fit for us at Meijer Gardens."

Meijer Gardens invited Ufan to visit in 2012 to choose a site for the commissioned work. Ufan returned two years later to select granite boulders from local quarries for the piece that's not far from the new Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden, which opened to the public in June.

During three years of construction on the $22 million Japanese Garden, that corner of Meijer Gardens' campus was often overlooked.

"The Woodland Shade Garden was sort of out there. If you weren't coming back from the Farm Garden, you could easily miss it," Becherer said. "It's one of the real, natural treasures on our campus. We were happy to finally have the opportunity to do something on that site."

The site for Ufan's work was under construction for two years. Work was completed recently when the plants, including ferns, hostas and dogwood trees, were returned to the Woodland Shade Garden.

"Getting in two massive boulders and two tremendous sheets of steel," Becherer said, "it was a little messy, shall we say."

Published: Thu, Sep 10, 2015

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