The Emancipation of Wind
With Winds (Lot 607) is an exhilarating masterpiece specially commissioned during the zenith of Lee Ufan’s enlivening Winds era in the 1980s. Following a four-year political exile from his country during which he was placed under close surveillance by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency in the late 1970s, Lee moved to Kamakura, Japan and developed a new painting approach that prominently disrupted the strict regimentation of his earlier From Line and From Point series. Abandoning his rigorously clinical serialisations, Lee’s brushstrokes became free flowing and multi-directional, exhibiting a burgeoning dynamism and dexterous calligraphic touch. Lee titled these new series From Winds (1982-1986) and With Winds (1987-1991), with ‘wind’ referring to an enlightened acceptance and heightened receptivity of the other. The artist once said: “when I passively accept external winds, an even greater world is opened”.1
Specially commissioned by a distinguished private collection, the painting is the largest from the artist’s celebrated Winds series ever to appear at auction. The work exudes a stirring, euphoric vitality superlative of works from this period—the only period in Lee’s career in which each painting is uniquely, reverberatingly distinguishable. Lee wrote in 1989, one year after creating the current lot: “How open the world, how suggestive […]! I want to enlarge and deepen the exchange with the exciting and stimulating outside world instead of soliloquizing and showing obedience to the dictatorship of expression”.2 Such a philosophical and aesthetic emancipation paved the way for Lee’s subsequent Correspondence series, whose return to austere brushwork displayed ever-heightening internal and external resonance.
Lee’s epochal Winds decade marked an era in which the distinguished artist-cum-philosopher gained indisputable international prominence. Numerous important museum exhibitions featured Lee’s works, including "Japon des avant-gardes 1910-1970" at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 1986, which coincided with a display of Lee’s watercolors and drawings in the museum’s permanent collection galleries. In 1988, Lee’s works featured in "Monoha: La scuola delle cose" at the Museo Laboratorio di Arte Contemporanea in Rome, whose catalogue published the first Italian translation of Lee’s seminal essay “In Search of Encounter”. In the same year Lee held acclaimed solo exhibitions across Japan and Europe; most notably, the catalogue for "Ex Oriente" at Milan’s Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea included a laudatory essay by eminent French critic Pierre Restany. Also in 1988, Lee, whose own scholarly writings are grounded in transnational philosophical inquiries including that of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Michel Foucault, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Martin Heidegger, etc., published an essay collection entitled "Toki no furue" ("The Trembling of Time").
 Lee Ufan, exh. cat., Fondazione Mudima, Milano, 1994, p. 26
 Lee Ufan: With Winds – Bilder 1986-88/Paintings 1986-88, exh. cat., Galerie M. Bochum, Germany, 1989, p. 4
Lee Ufan (b. 1936, South Korea) studied Calligraphy, Poetry and Painting at the College of Kyongnam and the University of Seoul. Moving to Japan in 1956, the artist and academic earned a degree in Philosophy in 1961 and swiftly came to prominence in the late 1960s as a founder and leading theorist and artist of the Japanese avant-garde Mono-ha (“School of Things”) group. Lee is also an influential figure of the Dansaekhwa (“Monochrome”) movement in Korea. The artist has been the subject of major shows at the Palace of Versailles (2014); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (2011); Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (2009); the Yokohama Museum of Art (2005); the Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne Métropole (2005); the Samsung Museum of Modern Art, Seoul (2003); Kunstmuseum Bonn (2001); the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris (1997); and the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul (1994), amongst others. He was awarded the Praemium Imperiale for painting in 2001 and the UNESCO Prize in 2000, and his works are held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Guggenheim Museum; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and Tate Modern, London, amongst others.