LEE UFAN (B. 1936)
LEE UFAN (B. 1936)
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LEE UFAN (B. 1936)


LEE UFAN (B. 1936)
signed and dated ‘L. UFan ‘09’ (on the bottom edge)
oil, mineral pigment and glue on canvas
259 x 194 cm. (102 x 76 3/8 in.)
Painted in 2009
Kukje Gallery, Seoul, Korea
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Dansaekhwa, Kukje Gallery, Seoul, Korea, 2015 (illustrated, p. 215)
Kukje Gallery, Venice, Italy, Venice Biennale Special Exhibition, Dansaekhwa, 7 May – 16 August 2015

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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡)

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Lot Essay

“When I make a brush mark on the canvas, I hold my breath, I concentrate and I pray that my hand, the brush and the canvas will be in harmony.” – Lee Ufan

Dialogue is from Lee’s Dialogue series, which evolved in 2006, following his previous Correspondence series, emerging as a complete embrace of the Korean Dansaekhwa movement which began in 1970s. Challenging the uncritical acceptance of Western Modernism during that time, Dansaekhwa artists looked beyond the last forty years of formalism for a distinct form of abstraction that focused on the spirituality of colour and the performance of painting. Characteristic of this series, Dialogue is painted on a white background using a monochrome colour. With a wide-tipped brush and a refined gradation of thick pigment, Lee would layer his strokes three or four times over a period of days, applying a new layer of paint onto a half-wet layer. The laborious and highly specific process often takes the artist one month of repetitive action to complete a new work. This highly choreographed and deliberate movement of the brush echoes the practice of Chinese ink painting—great masters were said to have controlled and concentrated on every movement of the body, including their breathing, to compose their works. His works are imbued with a certain depth and vitality whose roots trace back to Lee’s early literati training in classical Chinese art.

Alexandra Munroe, noted curator of Asian art, who organized the Guggenheim's 2011 retrospective exhibition on Lee Ufan wrote, “Dialogue is an emblematic painting of Lee’s recent eponymous series, which consists of minimal marks placed on a white gesso ground. The limited number of discrete strokes made with a broad, flat brush loaded with grey paint positioned in charged configurations on expanses of white unpainted ground evokes a generative emptiness. Created as an act of intense concentration guided by an ethics of rest raint, Dialogue emphatically affirms the painting’s own physicality, as well as the infinite.”

As Munroe described, the composition in this Dialogue communicate a hope for simplicity, peace, and understanding that stems from the artist’s personal trauma and philosophical beliefs. It is in this simplicity of form, material, and action that Lee Ufan’s work expands the artistic dialogue of contemporary art. With a new fusion of identity and experiences, Lee Ufan’s painting demonstrates a possibility for a solely distinct Asian contemporary artistic language that declares itself independent from and entirely equal to the Western model.

As Lee once noted, “The mutual limitation that takes place between inside and outside purifies the act of making and pushes it to a higher dimension. It might be said that this desire to polish the self by limiting one’s interactions leads to endless repetition. The expansiveness of a dialogue of correspondences suggests the breath and sublimity of eternity,” Dialogue exemplifies how he expresses meditative discipline of the tradition of Asian ink painting. The bare canvas is the infinite space where Lee faces the world as it is. He seeks an encounter with the world in relationship with others, rather than just limited to a sphere within himself. In an understated yet poetic gesture, Lee consistently seeks to relate himself to the world through minimal interaction with his work. Lee’s art is the medium or passage which connects the poles between the artificial and nature, I and others, making and unmaking, and made and unmade. It is a completely new approach to art, breaking the modernist definition of creation and the boundary of modern painting and sculpture. In his extremely meditative works, Lee Ufan tell us that we should not stop our endeavor to encounter the world as it is because it is the only way we can stay awake and live a true life. Dialogue featured here clearly illustrates that Lee’s work is not an abstract painting, but a form of calligraphy. Alternatively, one can see it as an entirely new abstract painting of spirit and material unified into one.

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