From May 16 to July 13, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston will present the 161st installment of its Perspectives series, Tim Lee. The Vancouver-based artist uses video, photography, and performance to insert himself into cultural events and icons.
Lee makes one of the fundamental principles of 1960s Conceptual Art—the belief that the artist can function as an amateur cultural theoretician—the heart of his complex, analytical, and often hilarious work in video and photography. Playing the role of Sunday philosopher, anthropologist, and ethnomusicologist, Lee dissects and re-envisions revealing aspects of popular culture, film, and music.
In low-tech photographic self-portraits, for instance, he becomes hockey player Bobby Orr scoring a winning goal, or rocker Neil Young playing a famous concert. In high-tech videos he is able to simulate playing Bach’s intricate piano compositions “The Goldber Variations.”
In Untitled (Neil Young, 1969) Lee appears to turn the studio– the stage on which he performs Neil Young’s music– ninety degrees, making the floor the wall and vice versa. “It is as if I were mystically defying gravity through the help of rock music,” the artist says. There is a slapstick quality to the pair of photographs, taken separately at a sideways angle and then recombined to stand upright. With a hind of dumb humor, the illusion barely holds together, all of which is the point. The just-barely-competent nature of his endeavors, he acknowledges, is one of the animating forces in his work: “There’s a certain amount of stupid heroism in what I do because I’m not a performer or a musician. These are ridiculous works that anyone could do and probably do better, but here I am doing it.”
By reenacting rituals of pop culture that are usually the domain of established practitioners or experts in a deadpan, just-competent-enough style, Lee uses absurd seriousness to blur the boundaries between the ridiculous and the sublime.
About the Artist
Tim Lee was born in Seoul, Korea, in 1975 and lives and works in Vancouver. He received an MFA from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in 2002. He has had solo exhibitions at Cohan and Leslie, New York; Lisson Gallery, London; and Or Gallery and the Western Front, Vancouver. His works have been included in the Prague Biennial, 2003, and group exhibitions at the Power Plant Gallery, Toronto; Presentation House Gallery, Vancouver; and Johnen Gallery, Berlin.