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LEE UFAN
(B. 1936)
From Point
signed 'L. UFAN' in English; dated '77' (lower right); signed and titled 'Lee UFan From Point' in English; dated '77' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
60 x 71 cm. (23 5/8 x 28 in.)
Painted in 1977
Provenance
Galerie Humanite, Nagoya, Japan

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Felix Yip
Felix Yip

Lot Essay

One of the foremost figures in breaking institutional and cultural conventions as a painter, sculptor and philosopher in Korea, Japan and Europe, Lee Ufan marked his status as one of the leading advocates of Japanese avant-garde antiformalist 'Mono-ha' and the Monochrome movement (Dansaekhwa) of Korea in the 1960s-80s by effectively banishing imagery and materialization and instead opting for reductive elements that echo the Eastern philosophical paradigm of Taoism. Continuing to posit his art historical significance while surfacing as one of the greatest contemporary artist and theorist for aesthetics, Lee Ufan is undoubtedly recognized as a prominent figure in contributing to the development of Korean and Japanese art, and is scheduled to hold his first retrospective 'Marking Infinity' at the renowned Guggenheim Museum in June 2011 as the third Asian artist to hold their exhibition after Paik Nam June and Cai Guo-Qiang.

Lee's earnest belief in the larger logic of image and the meaning of painting is deeply rooted in his personal trajectory when he witnessed the political war that plagued the Korean peninsula from Japanese colonization (1910-1945) to the Korean War (1951-1953), which instigated his decision to depart for Japan in midst of his Fine Arts studies at Seoul National University to pursue Philosophy at Nihon University in 1956. His unprecedented level of consciousness was recognized through his critical writing on "From Object to Being" in 1969 and was later honored by the Japanese government for his contribution to the development of contemporary art in Japan. Lee's intellectual illustrations are characteristically exhibited in a vastly poetic maneuver From Point and Line (1972-84), From Wind (1982-86), With Winds (1987-91), Correspondence (1991-2006) and Dialogue (2006-) series, respectively, fundamentally tracing the grand scale concept of 'nothingness', all expressed through various characteristic of prolonging (line), staccato (point), whirling (wind) or paused (correspondence) brush strokes. Though typically compared to the aesthetic likeness of Minimalism, Monochrome art articulated a different theory to that of the west, while simultaneously embracing western practice for Conceptualism. Reflective of the meditative condition of eastern literati paintings, it performed as a spiritual cleansing of the artists through enhancing their self-awareness and self-negation in chorus, returning the artists closer to nature. Monochrome artist were driven by ideas comparable to the theoretical basis of pioneering conceptual artist Sol Lewitt "In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art."

Heavily nuanced in its philosophy but light in its visuals, Lee's decision for neutral colors is his act to bridge the dichotomy between tradition and modern, east and west. The bare canvas to him is an infinite universe for creation, where artistic formation of rehearsing the action of painting is an expression of personal discipline. The neutral cream background in From Point (Lot 1018) alludes to infinity, wisdom, time and space, patiently serving as the backdrop for rhythmic composition for pulsating blue points of brushstrokes. The seemingly empty background to Lee is a realm for exhalation, nurturer of all possible creation, where essence of nature or color could be easily defined. Synthesizing practices akin to Yves Klein "my monochrome propositions are landscapes of freedom" (Fig. 2), Lee too utters its transcendent poetry through the subtly calculated fading of the palette. Blue is most intimate with earth and virtue in Korean tradition, emanating for hope, life, integrity and spirit, and a frequent palette for the decorative imageries on Korean Joseon dynasty bakeja (Fig. 3). Echoing the same austere beauty of the blue against the stark splendor of white ceramic together with the discipline of Confucian ideals of immaterialist philosophy, Lee's examination of life is unraveled in flights of blue points arranged with tension and concision, each pattern of vacuity pictured with precision and isolation for observation. His alluring proficiency in creating the visual flow of lines with minimalist detail is attributable to the color blue that resonate a muted illumination, stimulating a sense of refined vitality; this symphonic optical experience magnetize us with "vibrating sensation" alike with the minimalist works of Dan Flavin (Fig. 5); both artists, a strong believer in the purity and integrity of reduction art create works that are "invitation to meditate to contemplate." The iridescent sensation crafted is also a result of Lee's personally fused medium of crystalline emulsion and ground mineral pigment, suspended in animal-skin glue.

From Point is comprised of temporal accumulation of identical units of brush stroke, lending a degree of stability to the canvas with the performance of continuous mark-making absorbing the saturation of the paint into brittle fragility, metaphorically resonating life's transience. As Lee controls the precise density of each brush application, he endeavors to eliminate color as if to subtract external reality to cleanse his soul to its ultimate emptiness for closer intimacy with nature. The surprisingly buoyant yet regulated gradients of paint permeation demonstrates Lee's sharp self-cultivation and immense focus, reverberating the same mental principles of eastern calligraphy which is believed to reveal the universal life force of 'Qi' in transmitting the essence of our being.

Painted at the height of the Monochrome/Mono-ha movement in the late 1970s, From Point is among one of the impressive epitomes of Lee Ufan's oeuvres. Fused with his enlightenment ideals and his pictorial investigation on the dialectical interaction between the brushstroke and the canvas, Lee returns to quintessence of a painting or picture, thus, 'the line/the dot'. The primary function of line is renewed in Lee's theoretical sphere as both an image and a gesture exuding expressive energy and lyricism. It is a source of a beginning and an end; and also an absolute fundamental element for eastern calligraphy and painting. He once stated that "the horizontal axis presents an image of nothingness in an indefinite extension" indicative of an unbounded space or furthermore the immeasurable totality of the world, imposing existentialism and coexistence to his canvas. Lee ponders on the relationship between created objects and its immediate space as well as the placement of objects in correlation to another to unveil and reinforce a new space, believing that "The ideal for a work of art is to be a 'place of nothingness.' This does not mean that it is desirable to criminate the existential, objective or conceptual qualities of art work of art. However, works of art that have a grandiose presence, make an exaggerated display of the physical properties are often limited texts of human consciousness or self expressions that impose themselves on the viewer. Resonance and encounter are factors that make looking at a work of art interesting. Therefore, one would hope that the work of art will have a mediating effect that empties out its surroundings and brings some kind of transcendence to the place where it is. The ambiguity of seeing created by encounters between passivity and activity implies a site of implies a site spatial perception transcends objectivity, and this can definitely be identified as a place of nothingness".- Lee Ufan, The Art of Encounter, Lisson Gallery, 2004

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