Time is an important element in the creative process of Korean artist Lee Ufan’s works, contributing endlessly to his four decade long career spanning from the latter half of the 20th century to the early 21st century. Widely regarded not only as an artist, but also as a writer and philosopher, Lee was well versed in Western aesthetic principles as well as Eastern philosophical traditions, creating some of the most renowned pieces in contemporary art history. Sotheby’s is pleased to present the early work on paper Untitled
from 1976 and the painting Dialogue
from 2010, both of which belong to the artist’s distinguished body of works that question the lineage of time, and subtly moves away from major trends in the contemporary art world.
The artist’s concept to depict the passing of time began from the From Line
series in 1973, where Lee carefully examined the vertical fl ow of mineral pigment across the canvas surface. This experimentation is further showcased in Untitled (Lot 855)
, where the artist took on the challenge with the medium of graphite and paper. In the work, thin graphite lines, dissected into seventeen sections, are drawn across a narrow horizontal piece of paper. Lee Ufan once commented, “[my work] is closer to writing than to painting, in the sense that there is no representation in it...Writing is not a simple record of knowledge but more a poetic expression of a certain relationship.” It is in this work where the artist truly parallels the act of writing and drawing, by recording the passage of time with a repeated single act, as if he is writing on a scroll.
Began in 2006, the large scale Dialogue
series further progressed from the discussion of time towards the perception of fullness and emptiness. The artist once expressed, “although all things change in various ways, the world does not overfl ow or become smaller. Everything exists as it is, as it exists.” Thus, to truly show this world as it is, “we have to try and do nothing.”1
series is an attempt to reveal the perfomative aspect of Lee’s works. Often painted with the canvas laying on the fl oor, the artist would applied one to two,wide brushstrokes on the vast white surface, essentially playing out to the intertwining ideal of gesturality and fluidity of art. In Dialogue (Lot 846)
from 2010, the work displays a vertical brushstroke in the central area of the primed canvas.
From dark to light gray, the single brushstroke embodies the mixture of oil with stone pigments, and the body movement of the artist. Comparing with other works from the series that contain multiple brushworks, the lot on offer is ever more signifi cant as it epitomises the reduction process integral to Lee’s practice, highlighting the artist’s continual exploration into the living art form.
1 Okyang Chae-Duporge, “Untouched space in the works of Lee Ufan”, Lee Ufan,
Musee d’art moderne, 2006, p. 32