Lot 111
  • 111

Lee Ufan

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Lee Ufan
  • From Line No. 790178
  • signed and dated 79; signed on the overlap; signed and titled on the reverse
  • oil and mineral pigment on canvas
  • 72.5 by 90.5cm.; 28 1/2 by 35 5/8 in.


Shirota Gallery, Tokyo
Jiyugaoka Gallery, Tokyo
Sale: K Auction, Hong Kong, Summer Sale, 8 June 2011, Lot 52
Kukje Gallery, Seoul
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2013


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the background has more pink undertones in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Extremely close inspection reveals three tiny and extremely unobtrusive pigment losses in the thicker areas of the impasto. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultraviolet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Lee Ufan’s seminal From Line series is renowned as one the most potently affective bodies of work to come out of Asia in the 20th century. In the present work, vivid blues emanate from the natural tone of raw canvas before cascading downwards with waning materiality. Each mesmerising line contains within it the traces of the artist’s physical movement at the moment of creation and acts as a visual record of the gradual passing of time as the work was produced. Synchronising each brushstroke with the careful rhythm of his breathing, Lee Ufan formed the From Line works as a physical exercise in meditation, each drawn out line dissipating into nothingness as the artist expels the last of his breath before the process begins again.

Extending the ideals of the Mono Ha or ‘things school’ sculpture movement which Lee pioneered in the late 1960s, From Line No. 790178 focusses on the original beauty of materials, reducing each component to its most natural form to affect a compelling organic engagement with the viewer. In creating these works, Lee mixes ground minerals with nikawa animal-skin glue before applying it to unprimed canvas with a round headed brush. Lee gives equal importance to the painted and unpainted areas, reinforcing his focus on materiality as well as alluding to the significance of ‘nothingness’ in Buddhist philosophy.

This emphasis on the material quality of the work as well as the experience of the viewer is central to Lee’s practice. Lee understood mimetic or expressive artworks as containing ‘totalitarian’ hierarchies whereby the representation of an artist’s ideas and concepts are imposed on the implicitly passive viewer. For Lee therefore, the making of the work forgoes its traditional role as the concluding act in the artistic process, instead becoming the starting point of an ongoing collaborative dialogue. By reducing the artist’s input, the work’s significance arises, not in the structure or form of the painting, but in the encounter between viewer, painting and ambient setting. In this sense, it is the viewers’ artistic labour and reflexive contemplation which conditions the work thereby reversing the hierarchy of power.

From Line No. 790178 chimes with aspects of traditional Eastern aesthetics, notably the sentiments of ‘thinking with the brush’ and the Zen Buddhist teachings of KitarĊ Nishida. But as a Korean émigré who arrived in Japan at a time of particular tension and unrest between and within both countries, Lee opted for a harmonic outlook; finding solace in the philosophies of both Eastern and Western teachings.  In spite of mounting cultural incompatibility, Lee pioneered a new artistic language through his philosophical approach which spearheaded the Dansaekhwa monochrome painting movement, forming ‘pure experience’ and showing ‘the world as it is’.