Lee Ufan - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Thursday, December 1, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “The object before the eyes and the image in the mind are all constructed of points and lines, expressed in rhythm with the rising and falling of the breath. Because of this, the viewer […] can observe the dynamic relationship between the painting and the canvas, the condition of the painter’s body, the movement of his heart, his character, and the atmosphere of the age.”
    — Lee Ufan

    A gracefully meditative example from Lee Ufan’s iconic From Point series, From Point No. 77103 is a poetic visual metaphor encapsulating the idea of infinity within time and space, appearance and disappearance, and the continuous cycle of birth and death. Thirty-two rows of repeated dotting of glistening cobalt gradually dissolve into the void from left to right, bringing awareness to the empty space that we seem to forget. Created during the early period of what would become a decade-long preoccupation with the From Point paintings, this exquisite work from 1977, testifies to the philosophy that underpins Lee’s internationally acclaimed oeuvre. This formative series has been exhibited internationally, including at the Guggenheim Museum, New York and the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto. 



    Installation shot of Lee Ufan’s retrospective,
    Lee Ufan: Marking Infinity, 24 June - 28 September, 2011, Guggenheim Museum, New York

    Artistic Trajectory


    An artist, philosopher and poet, Lee was a pivotal figure in the Japanese avant-garde movement Mono-ha (School of Things) in the late 1960s. As Japan’s first contemporary art movement to gain international recognition, Mono-ha rejected traditional ideas and Western notions of representation that focused on expression or intervention, in favour of depicting the world ‘as is’ with an emphasis on the relationship between material and perception. By the early 1970s, Lee had received significant acclaim at Tokyo's leading galleries and museums and began exhibiting in West Germany and France -- including the 1971 Paris Youth Biennale that introduced Mono-ha to European audience.

    “Before working, I calm my breathing, correct my posture, and hold my brush quietly. I put plenty of paint on the brush and paint spots on a canvas laid on the floor. I paint them one after the other, beginning at the upper left of the canvas and proceeding to the right. The spots are dense at first but gradually become thinner. As I continue, they fade to nothing. Then I put more paint on the brush and keep doing the same thing over and over.”
    — Lee Ufan

    After years of developing his Relatum series of sculptural installations, Lee returned to painting in 1972. Between 1972-1984, in the wake of Abstract Expressionism in the United States and Art Informel in Europe, Lee developed the quintessential From Point and From Line series, which documented on canvas a minimal, gestural act that induces in the viewer a lived experience of time’s perpetual passage, exploring the notion of infinity. This body of work received critical acclaim and was especially influential in his home country South Korea, where he became a seminal figure in the Dansaekhwa (monochrome painting) movement in the mid-1970s alongside the renowned artists such as Park Seo-bo and Kim Whanki. Dubbed as the ‘Godfather of Dansaekhwa’, Kim is known for works feature dense repetitive patterns that evoke the vastness of the universe. Lee’s work, on the other hand, while retaining the repetitive minimalist gestures, contains much empty space that bringing to the fore time’s perpetual passage that would otherwise have gone unnoticed otherwise.


    Left: Lot 216, Park Seo-bo, Ecriture No. 160408, 2016
    Phillips Hong Kong Day Sale, 30 November 2022
    Estimate HKD 2,500,000 - 3,500,000

    Right: Kim Whanki, 26-I-70, 1970
    Collection of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art


    The Simple and The Eternal

    “When I was young, I followed my father to a beach, I slept at the beach and woke up in the morning, and the sun was rising. The sight of the sunrise touched my heart, such that when I grew up and thought about what art is, the rising sun was always lingering before my eyes, and that was an immense starting point for creativity.”
    — Lee Ufan
    In the From Point and From Line series, the artist makes minimal interventions, using both single colour and simple artistic gestures so that the works could be a direct manifestation of the invisible that remains organic, pure, and immediate. The intense blue colour in From Point No. 77103 is brought about by mixing ground cobalt blue pigment with traditional Japanese Nikawa glue, a technique stemmed from Nihonga (Japanese-style) painting on silk. Saturating the paint brush with powdery, crystalline emulsion and laying the canvas flat on the floor, Lee works from the upper left of the canvas and gradually proceeds to the right, until the marks dissipate and turn to emptiness. He then repeats this act until rows of gradually fading marks fill the entire canvas, capturing the boundless splendour of the universe, concurrently recalling the infinite fading tones of the sky.


    The repetitive brush marks are Lee’s markings in space that elicit momentary, open-ended situations that engage the viewer viscerally. Each point is applied slowly and finished in one go without modification or correction. This process is in accordance with ikkaisei (onceness) – which is derived from a Japanese ink-painting tradition where the innumerable elements that constitute a single brushstroke can never be repeated. In doing so, each point becomes the physical manifestation of a specific ‘lived moment’ in time, with its echoes permeating into the ambient surrounding space of the work.


    Simple in its planning and execution, there is more to Lee’s work than meets the eye. Lee’s encounter with point and line began at a very early age, foreseeing his revisit to these simple elements in his artistic career. While attending a local village school at the age of five, he learned the basics of Chinese classical arts; si (poetry), seo (calligraphy), and hwa (painting) were built upon, which manifest into points and lines. By practicing drawing points and lines, Lee began to understand the interdependency between art forms, and tapped in the realisation of ‘the entirety of the universe begins and returns to one point’i. A point in this context represents the basic element that comprises and evolves into unlimited variations in the universe. Through this lens, the process of dense spots that gradually thin down and eventually fade into just fractals of pigment on the canvas, draws a parallel to the cycle of life, from birthing to dying -- from the vibrantly vital infanthood to returning to dust. By introducing the juxtaposition and duality of emptiness and substance on the canvas, From Point No. 77103 demonstrates a profound quality of the series where the void becomes visible and perceivable, and thus shining light on this omnipresent, yet oft-overlooked part of our existence.



    Barnett Newman, The Voice, 1950
    Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
    Image: © The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence, Artwork: © 2022 Barnett Newman Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Eclectic in drawing inspirations, Lee gradually developed his signature style that is distinctly simple and highly recognisable. The artist was profoundly influenced by the retrospective of American Abstract Expressionist artist Barnett Newman, which he visited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Showcased in The Voice, Newman’s vertical, white abstractions demonstrate a materiality and a strong sense of space which transcends the painting’s two-dimensionality and inspired Lee to focus on the medium in his overall expression of marking time and space. Adding to this exploration ideas and techniques from his trainings in traditional nihonga, the artist also started experimenting with repetitive marking, piercing, and chiselling to investigate the textual qualities of materials. Spending approximately one month on each of his paintings, Lee’s slow and introspective painting process reflects his experience and consciousness of time: ‘My paintings are not a direct representation of an image, nor are they concerned with a particular meaning, rather they are the phenomenological result of a temporal gesture created by neutral actions.’ii

    “Usually, when I let go of my brush, especially with paintings, when I get a feeling that the artwork itself feels like a living thing, that’s when I let it go.”
    — Lee Ufan

    Lee’s canvas is painted in a way that perfectly reflects his thinking and philosophy. ‘The creation starts when the inside and the outside coincide.’ As he explains the idea behind his process, ‘so rather than myself controlling it, when the external and the internal meet, that is where the interaction of the external and internal becomes a control, and that is when the artwork transcends beyond me to a new dimension.’iii In this way, Lee becomes the conduit of the indescribable operating law of nature; the work and the painter come together composing a harmonious symphony of balancing the known and the unknown.



    Collector’s Digest


    Lee was born in Southern Korea in 1936 and studied painting at the College of Fine Arts at Seoul National University and moved to Japan in 1956, where he earned a degree in philosophy. Over the last 40 years, he has lived and worked in Korea, Japan, and France, becoming a transnational artist in a postmodern world before those terms were current.


    Throughout his career Lee has been honoured with numerous solo exhibitions and major retrospectives at distinguished public institutions around the world, including the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul (1994), the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007) and the Guggenheim Museum in New York (2011). He was awarded the Praemium Imperiale for painting in 2001 and the UNESCO Prize in 2000. The author of 17 books, he has written seminal essays on contemporary art, Asian culture and democracy. In 2010 the Lee Ufan Museum designed by Tadao Ando opened in Naoshima, Japan. In 2010, the Lee Ufan Museum, dedicated to the artist’s oeuvre, opened on the Japanese island of Naoshima.


    His exhibition centre at the Hôtel Vernon in Arles, a seventeenth-century building located near the city's Roman arena, remodelled by his friend the architect Tadao Ando, opened on 5 April 2022.




    i Lee Ufan, quoted in Mika Yoshitake, ‘Chronology’, Lee Ufan: Marking Infinity, New York, 2011, p. 186
    ii Lee Ufan, quoted in Lee Ufan: From Point, From Line, From Wind, London Pace Gallery, 2015, p. 27
    iii Lee Ufan, quoted in ‘Meet the Artists | Lee Ufan’, Art Basel, 30 April 2021

    • Provenance

      Collection of Kim Noe-seong, Korea
      Private Collection, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner



From Point No. 77103

signed and dated 'L. UFAN 77' lower right; further signed and titled '"From point No. 77103" Leeufan' on the reverse
oil and mineral pigment on canvas
162.2 x 112 cm. (63 7/8 x 44 1/8 in.)
Executed in 1977, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by LVS Gallery.

Full Cataloguing

HK$8,000,000 - 12,000,000 

Sold for HK$7,207,500

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 1 December 2022