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

Exhibition view: Group Exhibition, Winter 2022, Kamakura Gallery, Kamakura (24 November 2021–22 February 2021). Courtesy Kamakura Gallery. 

Lee Ufan Featured Artworks

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Gravures by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork print
Lee Ufan Gravures, 2014 10 original drypoints handprinted on paper
42 x 29.7 cm
Lisson Gallery Contact Gallery
Relatum – Seem by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork sculpture
Lee Ufan Relatum – Seem, 2009 White canvas and natural stone
Kukje Gallery Contact Gallery
Gravures by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork print
Lee Ufan Gravures, 2014 Ten original drypoints engraved on copper plates, hand printed on Moulin du Verger 800 g
33 x 43.2 cm
Tina Kim Gallery Contact Gallery
From Winds by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork painting
Lee Ufan From Winds, 1986–7 Pigment and oil on canvas
60 x 72 cm
Tang Contemporary Art Contact Gallery
With Winds by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork painting
Lee Ufan With Winds, 1991 Oil on canvas
291 x 218 cm
Cardi Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork sculpture
Lee Ufan Untitled, 2011 Terracotta
40 x 60 x 3 cm
SCAI The Bathhouse
From Line by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork painting
Lee Ufan From Line, 1980 Oil and pigment on canvas
72.7 x 90.9 cm
Pearl Lam Galleries Contact Gallery
From Line No. 800117 by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork mixed media
Lee Ufan From Line No. 800117, 1980 Glue and mineral pigment on canvas

Blum & Poe

Lee Ufan Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Lee Ufan Represented By

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Blum & Poe contemporary art gallery in Tokyo, Japan Blum & Poe Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo
Cardi Gallery contemporary art gallery in Milan, Italy Cardi Gallery London, Milan
Kukje Gallery contemporary art gallery in Seoul, South Korea Kukje Gallery Busan, Seoul
Lisson Gallery contemporary art gallery in Lisson Street, London, United Kingdom Lisson Gallery East Hampton, London, New York, Shanghai

Lee Ufan In Ocula Magazine

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In Ocula Advisory

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

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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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