Lot 608
  • 608

Lee Ufan

1,500,000 - 2,500,000 HKD
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  • Lee Ufan
  • With Winds
  • oil and mineral pigment on canvas
signed in English and dated 87; signed and titled in English on the reverse, framed


Gallery Hyundai, Seoul
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Korea, Seoul, Hyundai Gallery, Lee U Fan, 5 - 14 November 1987, unpaginated


This work is in good condition. There are very minor paintlosses at the upper and lower left corners and a faint abrasion near the top edge. Upon close examination, a minor scratch is visible at the lower centre. No evidence of restoration under UV examination.
"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

Writing with the Wind
Lee Ufan & Park Seobo

When I passively accept external winds, an even greater world is opened.
– Lee Ufan1

I feel and reciprocate the resistance of the bouncy canvas […]. It is similar to cultivating the religious spirit […]. I started from where there was no form, or no image; where it was impossible to express.
– Park Seobo2

In the mid-1970s, a group of Korean artists began a fresh approach to abstraction that was minimalist in colour and rigorous in method. Collectively recognized as Dansaekhwa (“monochrome”) artists, their neutral palettes, tactile painting surfaces and deeply contemplative and meditative auras quickly achieved recognition in Seoul, Tokyo, and Paris, growing to become the international face of contemporary Korean art. Amongst the most prominent were Park Seobo and Lee Ufan, the latter of whom was also a pivotal theoretical leader of the earlier Mono-ha (“School of Things”) movement that was active in Japan from the mid-1960s to early-1970s.

From Notch (Lot 609), a woodcut work that hovers between two-dimensional painting and three-dimensional sculpture, is a rare piece from Lee Ufan’s transition period at the dawn of the 1970s when he was on the verge of “rediscovering” painting. The heavily tactile quality of the work, along with its repeated carved grooves, constitutes a bridge between Lee Ufan’s sculptural Mono-ha phase and his later seminal Line, Point, and Wind paintings on canvas that emphasize repetition and method. Previously in his exclusively Mono-ha phase, Lee Ufan presented natural and man-made materials such as rocks, wood, and metal in site-specific arrangements with minimal artistic intervention, allowing the juxtaposed materials to speak for themselves. The Paris Biennale of 1971, a year prior to the date of the current lot, gathered main works by Mono-ha and was also the occasion of Lee Ufan’s first trip to the West. Having previously steered clear of painting, Lee Ufan thereafter made the conscious choice to return “to retain only the essential and to enter into an artistic career from the basis of his training and his truth, and to accomplish an incarnate oeuvre that could rival, in its connotations, thinking and writing”.3 From Notch represents precisely this sublime point of evolution, whilst also foreshadowing the sacred gesture that would become crucial to Dansaekhwa artists. From Notch’s ruggedly rhythmic and gracefully enthralling relief surface lays down foundations for Dansaekhwas emphasis on the sanctified, repeated mark, laborious process, and meditative method.

Fast-forwarding to one and a half decades later, With Winds (Lot 608) and From Winds (Lot 610) represent another major breakthrough in Lee Ufan’s esteemed career. Abandoning the strict regimented gesture of his 1970s Line and Point series, Lee’s brushstrokes became free flowing and multi-directional from 1982 onwards, exhibiting a burgeoning dynamism and dexterous calligraphic touch. The sanctified gesture is retained with each carefully placed mark, while the titles From Winds and With Winds refer to an enlightened acceptance and heightened receptivity of the other. As the artist once said: “When I passively accept external winds, an even greater world is opened”.4 The present lots exude a stirring, euphoric vitality superlative of works from this period; Lee Ufan wrote in 1989: “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”.5 Such an enlivening philosophical emancipation paved the way for Lee’s subsequent Correspondence series, whose return to austere brushwork displayed ever-heightening internal and external resonance. Lee Ufan’s Winds decade also 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. 

Another major vanguard of Dansaekhwa, Park Seobo represented Korea at the 43rd Venice Biennale in 1988. In 1989 his practice underwent an important evolution that resulted in his second-stage Ecriture phase – one defined by a striking aesthetic and subtly elusive methodology as exemplified by Ecriture No. 910814 (Lot 611). The unique process involves Park Seobo applying layers of paint-saturated Korean paper (hanji) onto the canvas, then shaping and manipulating the wet paper stratum with his fingers or a stick. The method results in a singular dimensionality and physical presence that would have been impossible to achieve with oil or acrylic paint, while the deftly patterned furrows present a humble spectacle of elegance and labour that constitutes a sublime continuation of his decade-long first-stage Ecriture series. A rare exhibit from Park Seobo’s post-1989 era that only lasted for five years, the present lot establishes a consummate balance between writing and painting, carving and calligraphy, and the conceptual and aesthetic; as critic Yoo Jin-sang writes, it is Park Seobo’s “highly charged interest in [such] juxtaposed actions/concepts [that] allows for a deep meditation on the meaning and role of surface in painting”.6 In other words, Park Seobo’s oeuvre allows the canvas to take on prime significance with both optical and visceral power, while at the same time evoking contemplation of the depths of the great unknown underneath. Writing about Park Seobo’s works, critic Toshiaki Minemura muses: “No matter how deeply a farmer plows his field, the earth remains, emerging from deeper and deeper below, with the furrows beneath the plow. In the same manner, reality cannot be erased or covered completely by the act of making a work pictorial art. Instead, it emerges as the picture is made, from deeper and deeper within the work”.7

Lee Ufan, exh. cat., Fondazione Mudima, Milano, 1994, p. 26
2 Kate Lim, Park Seo-Bo: from Avant-Garde to Ecriture, Books Actually, Singapore, 2014, p. 159
3 Michel Enrici, p. 137
4 Lee Ufan, exh. cat., Fondazione Mudima, Milano, 1994, p. 26
5 Lee Ufan: With Winds – Bilder 1986-88/Paintings 1986-88, exh. cat. Galerie M. Bochum, Germany, 1989, p. 4
6 PARK SEOBO, Kukje Gallery, 2010, p. 28
7 Toshiaki Minemura, “With the Furrows Beneath the Plow”, Park Seo-Bo, The Seo-Bo Arts and Cultural Foundation, 1994, p. 96