Austin Lee: Human Nature

13 February 2022 – 3 July 2022
Head of Exhibition Program: Wanwan Lei
Curated by Victor Wang

M WOODS is proud to announce the first solo museum exhibition by American artist
Austin Lee (b. 1983). Planned over the course of three years, the exhibition ‘Human Nature’, is an accumulation of Lee’s growth during the period of 2019-2022 and will be Lee’s largest and most comprehensive exhibition to date. The exhibition includes works that have not been publicly displayed in a range of different media – painting, animation, site-specific commission, and several new large-scale installations.

Conceived with exhibition curator Victor Wang during a period of isolation and solitude, the exhibition focuses on emotion, growth, and feelings as fundamental themes in Lee’s work. Moreover, a range of feelings and colors guide the layout of each room, together with correlating symbols designed by the artist, to further communicate Lee’s ideas of connectivity.

Part of a new genesis in painting, Lee’s creative practice involves producing artworks initially in virtual reality - within a computer program before later materialising them as paintings, installations, and sculptures. Balancing between the real and the virtual, the exhibition explores the important questions that Lee’s work and this exhibition raise: How do we translate human emotion through digital technology, and how has the advancement of technology helped us better understand the depth of human feelings? This is perhaps best exemplified in works such as Cry Baby (2021) and Train Tears 2 (2021) where the complexity of emotion attached to crying and the range of human feeling entangled between sadness and happiness are explored through the characters portrayed.

In 1981, American art historian, critic and curator Douglas Crimp asked: ‘What makes it possible to see a painting as a painting?’. In 2022, we may expand on this to ask: How is painting also a type of ‘rendering technology’ that helps us understand our reality? “A technology”, says Austin Lee, “that has been shared throughout human history”.

Growth is another important theme that is examined in the exhibition. Several of the works on display, such as Smoking Cat, were originally conceived by Lee in 2019, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Since then, Lee’s practice has undergone major shifts, both in terms of aesthetics and medium: these changes are also reflected in the exhibition, and in new works such as Smoking Cat 2. These new series of works, created during an intense time of social isolation, also follow the challenging shifts that Lee underwent between 2019 and 2021.

Another key strand in the exhibition looks at Lee’s contribution to the development of painting beyond the traditional view of paint as a medium as the only intermediate that characterises the space between the canvas and technology. The space between paint and painting. Lee, for example, using computer generated programs to infuses the feeling of weightless experienced in these programs or the potential of multiple light sources when making work, into each painting. Each of the six galleries in the museum moves between the spheres of virtual reality and the natural world, creating a new experiential unity between the two. For example, the Central Hall Gallery will display Lee’s newly commissioned installation Human Nature (2021), an expanded surreal landscape that evokes both simulation and nature. This installation was originally conceived as a painting for the initial 2019 exhibition at M WOODS, but now takes on an expanded presence which incorporates additional video animations and a large mural. A new commission also features in the exhibition: Relax Fountain (2021), Lee’s first public water fountain, located in the Central Hall Gallery.

About the Artist

Austin Lee was born in Las Vegas in 1983. He received his MFA in Painting from Yale School of Art in 2013 and his BFA from Tyler School of Art. He currently lives and works in New York. Lee's recent solo exhibitions include "Aah" (Peres Projects, Berlin, 2020), "Paradise" (Spazio Maiocchi, Milan, 2019), "Compositions" (Mine Project, Hong Kong, 2019), "Feels Good" (Jeffrey Deitch, New York, 2019), "Constant Joy" (Mosaic Art Foundation, Istanbul, 2018), "Serious Works" (Kaikai kiki, Tokyo, 2017). Lee has previously been presented in a number of group exhibitions, including "Wild Metropolis" (Powerlong Museum, Shanghai, 2019), “Juxtapoz x Superflat” (Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, 2016), "Full of Peril and Weirdness: Painting as a Universalism", M Woods, Beijing, 2015).

©M WOODS 2022