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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From Point 3 37/50 by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork print
Lee Ufan From Point 3 37/50, 1977 Lithograph on paper
40 x 54.2 cm
Whitestone Gallery Request Price & Availability
Drawing for Relatum – The Kiss by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork sculpture
Lee Ufan Drawing for Relatum – The Kiss, 2023 Natural stone and steel chain
Kukje Gallery Request Price & Availability
From Point (No. 78097) by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork painting
Lee Ufan From Point (No. 78097), 1978 Oil on canvas
53 x 73 cm
Tina Kim Gallery Request Price & Availability
With Winds by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork painting
Lee Ufan With Winds, 1990 Glue and mineral pigment on canvas
181.6 x 227.3 cm
Gary Tatintsian Gallery Request Price & Availability
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
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 Request Price & Availability
Relatum - Roc et bâton by Lee Ufan contemporary artwork installation
Lee Ufan Relatum - Roc et bâton, 2013 Steel, stone
160 x 30 x 30 cm
Mennour Request Price & Availability
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Lee Ufan
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Represented by these
Ocula Member Galleries

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Cardi Gallery contemporary art gallery in Milan, Italy
Cardi Gallery London, Milan
Gary Tatintsian Gallery contemporary art gallery in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Gary Tatintsian Gallery New York, Dubai, Moscow
Kukje Gallery contemporary art gallery in Seoul, South Korea
Kukje Gallery Seoul, Busan
Lisson Gallery contemporary art gallery in Lisson Street, London, United Kingdom
Lisson Gallery Beijing, London, Los Angeles, New York, Shanghai +1
Pace Gallery contemporary art gallery in 540 West 25th Street, New York, United States
Pace Gallery Hong Kong, Beijing, London, Los Angeles, New York +6
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