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b. 1936, South Korea

Lee Ufan Biography

As a progenitor of the Japanese Mono-ha, or School of Things, movement, Lee Ufan led a loose constellation of artists who championed the use of ordinary materials during the late 1960s, significantly altering the course of 20th-century Japanese art. Lee's dense yet poetic text, Beyond Being and Nothingness—A Thesis on Sekine Nobuo, provided something of an intellectual foundation for the movement. The group eschewed representation, choosing instead to zero in on the relationship between perception and material. Its main aim—as expressed by its key figures—was to demonstrate the fluid coexistence of objects, ideas and encounters.

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In 1956, Lee began studying painting at the College of Fine Arts at Seoul National University, but after two months he relocated to Yokohama, Japan, where he went on to earn a degree in philosophy in 1961. During this period, the restrained painting style of his student work was in formal and conceptual opposition to the free expression of Gutai—the performance-oriented post-war Japanese art movement that anticipated Fluxus and inspired the work of Yves Klein, Allan Kaprow and Nam June Paik.

In the mid-1970s Lee became one of the major exponents of Korean Dansaekhwa ('Monochrome Painting')—a style that became one of the country's most important artistic developments in the 20th century—and the first from that period to bring the movement to Japan. Lee, along with the group's other loosely connected members, emphasised materiality as a means of producing relationships that link objects to viewers. In the repetitive gestural marks of his work, abstraction served to register the body's movement as well as the passage of time. With an eye towards modernist abstraction's best-known devices—seriality, gesture, grids and monochrome—Lee's paintings pushed the bounds of formalist paradigms. And through their affinity to and correspondence with Euro-American art, they proffered new forms of connection across seemingly incompatible ideological positions.

In his early painting series, 'From Point' and 'From Line' (1972–84), Lee combined ground mineral pigment with animal-skin glue, typical of the traditional Japanese Nihonga painting in which he had trained. Each fastidious brushstroke consisted of multiple simultaneous layers, and where the brush had first made contact with the support, the paint was thick, creating a 'ridge' that would gradually lighten. Rarely did Lee's brush touch the canvas separately more than three times, yet this economic application created a feeling of dynamic tension between gesture and picture plane characteristic of his paintings. In the early 1990s, Lee carried this through to his 'Correspondence' paintings, which consisted of a minimal number of grey-blue brushstrokes, applied on large white surfaces.

Lee's more recent and ongoing 'Dialogue' series, begun around 2006, considers philosophical notions of emptiness and fullness. These exist within a lineage of work that dates back to earlier works such as the 'From Line', 'From Point' and 'From Winds' series, which in the 1970s marked his transition from relatively small strokes predominantly in blue and orange to the intermixing of those colours and the predominance of grey tones from the 1980s.

Today Lee views his pristine white supports, enlivened by touches of paint, and his large site-specific sculptures made from stone and iron as materially opposed to the virtual nature of screen-based media that has now become so ubiquitous.

Although he is highly regarded as a painter, one of Lee's best-known series is 'Relatum' (1968–), three-dimensional groups of rocks dispersed with industrial materials such as steel sheets, glass panes and rubber. Lee began producing them as a response to 1960s Japan and its intensely turbulent socio-political climate. In each of these assemblages, the artist emphasises how constituent parts sit in relation to one another, to space and to surrounding objects, going beyond the enclosed network that is implied by the term 'sculpture' and its more conventional examples.

As well as being the recipient of numerous awards and honours, Lee is also represented in numerous prominent collections around the world. These include The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate Modern, London; The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto; and The National Museum of Art, Osaka.

In 2010, the Tadao Ando-designed Lee Ufan Museum was opened at the Benesse Art Site on the Japanese Island of Naoshima, dedicated to the artist and his legacy. Lee—a professor emeritus at Tama Art University, Tokyo, where he taught from 1973 to 2007—divides his time between France and Japan.

Tendai John Mutambu | Ocula | 2018

Lee Ufan Featured Artworks

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Untitled by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork
Lee UfanUntitled, 1995Charcoal on paper
63 x 90 cm
Lisson Gallery Enquire about this work
Untitled by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork
Lee UfanUntitled, 2011Terracotta
40 x 60 x 3 cm
Reserved
SCAI The Bathhouse
From Line by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork
Lee UfanFrom Line, 1982Oil and mineral pigment on canvas
218.1 x 291.1 cm
Kukje Gallery Enquire about this work
From Line by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork
Lee UfanFrom Line, 1981Oil and mineral pigment on canvas
116 x 91 cm
Tina Kim Gallery Enquire about this work
Correspondence by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork
Lee UfanCorrespondence, 1998Oil on canvas
130 x 162 cm
Arario Gallery Enquire about this work
From Line by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork
Lee UfanFrom Line, 1980Oil and pigment on canvas
72.7 x 90.9 cm
Pearl Lam Galleries Enquire about this work
From Line No. 800117 by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork
Lee UfanFrom Line No. 800117, 1980Glue and mineral pigment on canvas
Blum & Poe Enquire about this work
From Line by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork
Lee UfanFrom Line, 1980Oil on canvas
63.75 x 51.36 inches
Blum & Poe Enquire about this work

Lee Ufan Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Lee Ufan, paintings at SCAI The Bathhouse, Tokyo
Closed
6 March–25 April 2020 Lee Ufan paintings SCAI The Bathhouse, Tokyo
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Winter Collection 2020 at Kamakura Gallery, Kamakura
Closed
14 January–22 February 2020 Group Exhibition Winter Collection 2020 Kamakura Gallery

Lee Ufan Represented By

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Lee Ufan In Ocula Magazine

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Matthew Shieh: A Family Collection Ocula Conversation
Taipei Connections: Collector Focus
Matthew Shieh: A Family Collection By Stephanie Bailey, Taipei

Matthew Shieh introduces his family collection and its development within the context of Taiwan's arts landscape, where a rich collecting culture is bolstered by global initiatives such as Taipei Connections, an online platform launched by Taipei Dangdai with Ocula (2–5 May 2020).

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At Art Taipei, Galleries Adapt to Regional Politics Ocula Report At Art Taipei, Galleries Adapt to Regional Politics By Sam Gaskin, Tapiei

In Taipei, the artwork that said most about the contemporary art market's fraught situation in East Asia was not at the 26th Art Taipei (18–21 October 2019), but across town at the Taiwan Contemporary Culture Lab, a publicly funded art park established in Taiwan's former Air Force Command Headquarters in 2018. Chin Cheng-Te's Tender Soul –...

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Art Jakarta Lowdown: Art Shows to See Ocula Report Art Jakarta Lowdown: Art Shows to See By Aisha Johan, Jakarta

Between 30 August and 1 September 2019, the 11th edition of Art Jakarta will take place at its new home at the Jakarta Convention Center following its rebranding, with collector Tom Tandio as director, and Enin Supriyanto as artistic director. At the fair, viewers can encounter large-scale exhibitions as part of the 'Spot' sector, including...

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New York Autumn Exhibitions: The Lowdown Ocula Report New York Autumn Exhibitions: The Lowdown By Jareh Das, New York

The autumn exhibition season has officially kicked off in New York, with countless solo and group exhibitions featuring emerging, mid-career, and established artists, with some exhibiting works in the US for the first time. With a host of exhibitions to choose from, including a series of stellar museum exhibitions whose runs are nearing...

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Lee Ufan In Related Press

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Ai Weiwei, Anish Kapoor and Marina Abramović lead major new exhibition Everything At Once at Store Studios Related Press Ai Weiwei, Anish Kapoor and Marina Abramović lead major new exhibition Everything At Once at Store Studios 8 September 2017, The Vinyl Factory

This October, Store Studios will host Everything At Once, an extensive off-site exhibition featuring 24 artists currently shown at Lisson Gallery in celebration of its 50th anniversary.

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Ha Chong-Hyun at Almine Rech Gallery, Paris Related Press Ha Chong-Hyun at Almine Rech Gallery, Paris 23 May 2017, ArtAsiaPacific

At Almine Rech Gallery in Paris, 21 of the artist's paintings, the majority of which were created in the past four years, demonstrated Ha's ability to imbue paint with the qualities of sculpture. The artist uses a methodical, labor-intensive process to create energetic paintings on hemp cloth, recalling the sacks of aid supplies distributed to...

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How a 'scream' of post-war Japanese art pioneered Modernism Related Press How a 'scream' of post-war Japanese art pioneered Modernism 31 October 2016, The Creators Project

These days, Japanese artists like Yayoi Kusama and Takashi Murakami pull big crowds and even bigger price tags, but it wasn’t always so. Vibrant though it was, the Japanese avant-garde was relatively unknown to Western audiences for most of the 20th century. This began to change in 1996 when scholar and author Alexandra Munroe, Senior Curator...

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Tate Modern's Switch House Related Press Tate Modern's Switch House 23 June 2016, Art Agenda

“When racism and sexism are no longer fashionable,” the Guerilla Girls asked in 1989, “what will your art collection be worth?” Predicting that “the art market won’t bestow mega-buck prices on the work of a few white males forever,” their printed notice listed 67 female artists (several of whom are now on...

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Lee Ufan In Video & Audio

The Eastern Gesture Chun Kwang Young Park Seobo Lee Bae Lee Ufan Kim Tschang-Yeul Dep Art Gallery Related Video & Audio The Eastern Gesture Chun Kwang Young Park Seobo Lee Bae Lee Ufan Kim Tschang-Yeul Dep Art Gallery 9 April 2020, Dep Art Gallery

THE EASTERN GESTURE Five Voices from the Korean Avant-garde Chun Kwang Young, Park Seobo, Lee Bae, Lee Ufan, Kim Tschang-Yeul Curated by Gianluca Ranzi 3 March–9 May 2020 Between meditation and matter, thought and vision, the exhibition The Eastern Gesture - Five Voices from the Korean Avant-garde to be held at the Dep Art Gallery...

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