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The Letter-Writing Project, 1998. Wood and glass. Three booths: 114 x 67 x 91 inches (289.56 x 170.18 x 231.14 cm) each. Collection of Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the YAGEO Art Foundation, Taipei. The Letter-Writing Project, 1998 (detail). Wood and glass. Three booths: 114 x 67 x 91 inches (289.56 x 170.18 x 231.14 cm) each. Collection of Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the YAGEO Art Foundation, Taipei.
The Letter-Writing Project, 1998. Wood and glass. Three booths: 114 x 67 x 91 inches (289.56 x 170.18 x 231.14 cm) each. Collection of Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the YAGEO Art Foundation, Taipei.
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The Letter-Writing Project, 1998 (detail). Wood and glass. Three booths: 114 x 67 x 91 inches (289.56 x 170.18 x 231.14 cm) each. Collection of Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the YAGEO Art Foundation, Taipei.
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Lee Mingwei

The Letter-Writing Project consists of three booths fabricated from wood and translucent glass. Subtly lit from within, a warm and inviting light emanates from the chambers. Inside each booth, the artist has designed a place for the viewer to stand, sit, or kneel—the three positions of meditation in Ch’an Buddhism. Viewers are invited to enter the booth of their choice and compose a letter to a person, either living or dead, reflecting on events that have inspired feelings of gratitude, insight or forgiveness— themes that correspond to the meditation positions. Completed letters are placed inside the booth for others to read, or they can be sealed in an envelope for privacy. During the exhibition, letters with addresses were mailed weekly, while all others were gathered together and kept by the artist. Lee currently has approximately 15,000 unsent letters, a number that continues to grow as the project is exhibited around the world. As most of these letters are written to the deceased, he plans to ritualistically release them from this world; at an appropriate time, Lee will place the letters on a series of paper lanterns, which will be set on fire as they float down a river.

In keeping with the tradition of Lee’s work, The Letter-Writing Project finds its meaning in the interrelationship between art and spirituality. Lee creates an offering for those who come into contact with his work, including the opportunity for meditation, self-reflection, and re-awakening.
 
The Letter-Writing Project was first exhibited as two booths at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York as part of their “Contemporary Series” in 1998. The third booth was completed at The Fabric Workshop and Museum and exhibited there later in 1998.

Bio
Taiwanese, born 1964, lives and works in New York City and San Francisco
Born and raised in Taipei, Lee Mingwei attended high school in the United States before going on to earn a BFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts in San Francisco in 1993, and a MFA from Yale University in 1997. Lee was exposed from an early age to Buddhism and to Catholicism, and both traditions find resonance in his work. First known for his performance projects inviting strangers to his home for dinner, Lee continues to focus on work that engages members of the public in simple yet ritualistic acts, such as conversing, eating, and writing letters. His first interactive project was Money for Art (1994), in which he made nine small sculptures from folded ten-dollar bills and gave them to strangers who agreed to let him know the fate of the sculpture over the course of a year; some kept the sculptures, one was stolen, and others used the sculpture as cash to make a purchase. Lee has had one-person exhibitions at museums such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei (2001), the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston (2000), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo (2000), and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1998).