Lee Ufan - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Sunday, November 8, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Korea
    Private Collection, Japan

  • Catalogue Essay

    Prolific as a critic, Lee Ufan played a key role in the late 1960s as an ideologue for the artists who came to be identified with Mono-ha (School of Things), an artistic movement that emerged from the examination of a relationship between man and matter. Lee established his unique theoretical point of view and artistic methodology based on his inquiry into Eastern philosophical traditions combined with his study of Western philosophy and contemporary structural theories. His polemics articulated an aspect of the Mono-ha artists’ pursuit of a critique of modern rationalism that proclaimed a hierarchical relationship between man as the author and material as his subject. In contrast to this classical human-centered worldview, Lee proposed that the realization of constant change in one’s state of being in relation to his/her surroundings was the catalyst to a world dominated by illusory representational art.

    From the early 1970s this conviction informed his painting series From Line and From Point, both concentrating on the method of repetition. The composition of From Line literally reflects the artist’s presence in front of the canvas with brushstrokes faithfully recording his tactile handle of rigidity and fluidity at once rather than an image of the world as viewed and processed by his mind. His disciplined hand senses and follows subtly and gradually the changing tension from the brush as it leaves ink onto the surface. Lee possesses such a sophisticated skill as his calligraphic practice began when he was a child, growing up in a Confucian household in Korea. His work resonates with the main method of this discipline, which includes repeatedly writing simple dots and lines and copying the masters’ handstrokes until the movement becomes one’s own gestural and mental repertoire.

    Lee’s understanding of material characteristics of mineral pigments—their granular nature and the intrinsic sheen they create when applied onto a surface—derives from his early artistic training in Nihon-ga (Japanese-style painting) which traditionally utilizes ink and mineral pigments on paper or silk. These complex process and texture kept evolving over the years and, as Lee himself states, the series From Point and From Line reached the height of their raison d’être around 1978.

    While Lee reached his critical position through his dual understanding of Eastern and Western philosophies, these series of paintings, particularly From Line, mark the beginning of his search for painterly absolution from representational images by way of the inspiration he found in Barnett Newman. Newman, whose “zip” paintings Lee encountered during his visit to New York in 1971, indicated the possibility of revealing both the painting’s materiality and a metaphysical space beyond that materiality. The minimalist and vertical constitution of Newman’s paintings led Lee to face the canvas with a limited palette, either blue or red, and with a systemic gesture of vertical strokes by his brush.

    Theoretically, Lee’s paintings from the 1970s, along with his many critical essays such as “In Search of Encounter” (Deai o motomete), cultivated a field in which the dichotomy of East and West is brought to a close examination so that the mysticism often associated with the image of East is debated as a construct of modernist imagination as the other. The stoic simplicity of his work from this period is more closely related to the artist’s investigation of materialism than to any spiritual or religious traditions.


From Line

oil and mineral pigment on canvas
36 x 46 in. (91.4 x 116.8 cm)
Signed and dated "L. UFAN 79" lower right; further signed and titled "From line No. 790147 L. Ufan" on the reverse. This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $749,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 November 2015 7pm