Lee Ufan

Born 1936.
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Lee Ufan Biography

Japan-based, Korean-born artist Lee Ufan is credited with contributing to the development of contemporary art in Japan. Lee’s academic and theoretical work is as respected and important as his painting and sculpture. His 1970 article “Beyond Being and Nothingness – A Thesis on Sekine Nobuo” initiated Mono-ha, a Japanese artistic movement borne of the anti-authoritarian, anti-colonialist sentiments of the late 1960s. Mono-ha, largely led by Lee and his minimalist works, focuses on raw materials to emphasize the relationships between manmade objects and the natural world.

Born in Haman-gun in 1936, Lee studied at the Seoul National University for only two months, before moving to Japan in 1956, where he completed a degree in philosophy five years later. He came to prominence in the Mono-ha movement, producing paintings with single brushstrokes, and then in the 1970s, creating sculptures with an amalgam of industrial materials such as steel plates and rubber sheets, combined with stones and natural objects. His minimalist juxtapositions, a close relative of the contemporary Arte Povera movement in Italy, focus on relationships and perception rather than expression.

He is the author of seventeen books, including the 2007 English-language anthology, The Art of Encounter. He achieved international fame and admiration beginning in the early 1970s, after Tokyo’s major galleries began exhibiting his work. He was awarded the UNESCO Prize in 2000, and the Praemium Imperale for painting in 2001. In 2014, he was the seventh guest artist invited for the contemporary art program of the Palace of Versailles. Lee’s works are held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Centre Pompiou, Paris; the Seoul Museum of Arts; the Tate Gallery, London; and many other major institutions in Europe, the United States, and throughout Asia.

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