Lot 140
  • 140

Lee Ufan

800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
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  • Lee Ufan
  • From Line No. 790168
  • signed and dated 79; signed and titled on the reverse
  • oil and mineral pigment on canvas
  • 51 1/8 by 63 3/4 in. 130 by 162 cm.


Private Collection, Japan (acquired directly from the artist circa 1979)
Private Collection, Japan (acquired from the above circa 1985)
Acquired from the above by the present owner


This work is very good condition overall. There is very light evidence of handling along the edges. Under Ultraviolet light inspection, there is no evidence of restoration. Framed.
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.

Catalogue Note

"The practice of painting is a precious way of life, an untiring exploration of a higher level of life...The painter encounters the world through the gesture of painting and physically confirms or experiences a dialogue with the world."
Lee Ufan 

Throughout art history, few artists have successfully fused the philosophies, artistic practices, and aesthetic principles of Eastern and Western art; of these, none has achieved as masterful and elegant a union as Lee Ufan. Both a leading Korean abstractionist and an internationally renowned contemporary artist, Ufan's canvases are revered for their powerful simplicity and breathtaking, poetic abstraction. His acclaimed From Line series is an exercise in meditative minimalism, a subdued communion between maker and mark, viewer and viewed. Ufan's integration of Eastern and Western teaching, in both philosophy and artistic practice, has culminated in an artistic oeuvre that speaks universally to both cultures.

Born in South Korea, Ufan studied the traditional arts of oil painting and calligraphy in Seoul until, at age 20, he moved to Tokyo to study Eastern and Western philosophy. Following graduation, Ufan began experimenting with nihonga, the traditional art of Japanese painting. His work began to explore concepts such as space, materiality, and time, probing many of the profound concepts he had encountered as a student of philosophy; these concerns led Ufan to create and lead, along with several contemporaries, the Mono-ha artistic movement in Japan. Translated as “The School of Things,” Mono-ha artists seek to emphasize the intrinsic beauty of materials, rather than the glorified role of the artist as “creator.” The Mono-ha emphasis upon simplicity and the universality of material were an enormous influence upon Ufan's artistic practice and, most notably, upon his critically acclaimed From Line series.

Poetic in its simplicity, From Line No. 790168 explicitly illustrates the process of its own creation; to describe the painting is to describe Ufan's motion, rhythmic as a heartbeat, meticulously drawing a paint-laden brush from top to bottom. The pristine, cobalt pigment at the top of the work illustrates the moment of genesis of each stroke, while the slow fade to invisibility records the passing of time as the brush traveled to the bottommost edge. Standing before From Line No. 790168 is a solitary, meditative experience; the perfectly symmetrical vertical strokes echo the viewer’s own breathing as they appear and fade, rise and fall. While the contrast between vivid blue and raw canvas highlights the inherent binary between presence and absence in Ufan's work, the slow fade of each stroke, moving from pigment to nothingness, creates a balance in which negative and positive space occupy a non-hierarchical harmony. This intense focus on a single, simple mark aligns Ufan closely with abstractionist Cy Twombly, whose work also investigates the power of mark-making when isolated from representation and figuration and Yves Klein, whose lifelong devotion to the immaterial allowed him to explore endless possibilities with the use of one brightly colored pigment. Ufan's integration of Eastern and Western artistic practices and philosophies has culminated in a visual language that speaks, with a profound simplicity, to all who view his paintings.