Lee Ufan studied calligraphy, poetry, and painting at Seoul National University, after which he began studying Eastern and European philosophy at the Nihon University in Tokyo in 1956. During the 1960s, he was a member of the Japanese artist group Mono-ha. Lee was professor at the Tama Art University in Tokyo from 1973 to 1990. In 1997, Lee became a visiting professor at the National School of Fine Arts in Paris, France. He was awarded the UNESCO Prize in 2000, and he received the Praemium Imperiale for painting in 2001.
With its sparing and repetitive gestures, Lee Ufan’s painting and sculptural work lies somewhere between American minimalism and Asian restraint of artistic self-expression. As such, he creates a relationship with an unformed exterior, the vast realm of the undefined, and the aleatory – in other words, a relationship with the organic.
Unlike in minimalism, for Lee Ufan the repetition of the single, wide brushstroke on a blank canvas is a kind of resonance space created by the interfering artistic intervention and the surface that is left blank. The brushstrokes are neither industrially produced, nor are they identical; each is an individual physical action – the artist’s breath, vibrating in the space that is left empty. They establish correspondences to the site “where a person encounters that which transcends the self” (Lee Ufan).
Lee Ufan also creates sculptural works under the title Relatum. These combine stone and steel by integrating rocks found in nature with industrially produced metal plates. These elements create a poetic correspondence to the outside world, while communicating between defined order, the unformed, and the undefined – between made and unmade. Through the artist’s significant self-imposed limitations, these works engage in a spiritual dialogue with the viewer and convey a contemplative tranquility that goes beyond reflection and the power of imagination.
Lee Ufan represented South Korea at the Bienal de São Paulo in 1969 and 1973, and he showed at the Biennale de Paris in Europe for the first time in 1971. In 1977, he participated in the documenta 6 in Kassel, and his work was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and 2011.
Selected solo exhibitions: National Art Center, Tokyo (2022); Dia Beacon, New York City (2019); Hirschhorn Museum, Washington DC (2019); Palace Garden of Versailles, Paris (2014); Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York City (2011); Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (2008); Yokohama Museum of Art (2005); Musée d’Art Moderne, Saint-Etienne (2005); Samsung Museum of Modern Art, Seoul (2003); Kunstmuseum Bonn (2001); Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris (1997); and National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul (1994).
Selected museum collections: Busan Municipal Museum of Art, South Korea; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Kröller-Müller Rijksmuseum, Otterloo; Kunstmuseum Bonn; Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich; MoMA Museum of Modern Art, New York City; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Nationalgalerie, Prague; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart; and Tate Gallery, London.