Occupation: Painter, Sculptor, Theorist
Movement: Mono-Ha, Minimalism
Famous Artworks
“Pushed-Up Ink,” 1964
“From Line,” 1970
“With Winds,” 1976
“Relatum,” 2003
“Correspondence,” 2003
“Dialogue,” 2008
Lee Ufan is a Tokyo-based Korean artist renowned as one of the pioneers of Mono-Ha, a deeply significant art movement in the development of Eastern art. Ufan’s work mostly comprises paintings, sculptures and installations where the primary artistic impetus is to draw attention to the relationships between the materials used in the work rather than the inner expression of the artist. Lee is also a highly respected theorist and teacher of art and is currently professor emeritus at the Tama Art University in Tokyo, an institution he has worked in for over 40 years. Lee is a hugely celebrated artist, having been awarded both the Praemium Imperiale and the Ho-Am Prize in 2001 ‒ the highest Japanese and Korean state honors, respectively. The artist currently divides his time between Tokyo and Paris.
Lee Ufan was born in 1936 in Kyongnam in Haman County in South Korea. His grandfather was a Confucian and Lee was exposed to a certain degree of Eastern philosophical thought throughout his childhood. In 1956, he enrolled to study art at the Seoul National University but two months later, he moved to Yokohama in Japan to study philosophy, instead. During his time at university, Lee began to paint. He rejected the aesthetic principles of contemporary Japanese art as too deeply influenced by the West, and instead began to paint in the traditional Japanese style. In 1961, he graduated from Nihon University in Tokyo and began his career as an artist.
Lee initially painted using traditional Japanese techniques and painting materials to create his work. However, throughout the 1960s, tensions also grew among Japanese people after yet another extension of the US-Japan Security Treaty. Many Japanese people were against the housing of nuclear weapons on the US base in Japan, as well as the US involvement in the Vietnam War. Nationwide protests broke out in 1968, with violent clashes between university students and state authorities over this issue. Around this time, Lee and a number of other Japanese artist pioneered what became known as ‘Mono-Ha.’
Mono-Ha is a term that was used dismissively by critics to describe the work of a number of emerging Japanese artists during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Mono-Ha artists have pointed out several times that they did not use the term themselves, nor were they an organized artist movement as many commentators have suggested — particularly because the form is seen as being tied to the sentiments and values of the counterculture of the 1960s. However, the emergence of Mono-Ha certainly seems to have been in reaction to the influence of the West and the culturally dominant stance that the West had been allowed to adopt in Japan.
Lee was a decade older in his career than the other Mono-Ha artists, and as such his presence as an artist and philosopher gave the movement both credit and gravity. Mono-Ha artists rejected Western principles of art, such as expression or intervention. Mono-Ha literally means ‘School of Things,’ and the movement focused on creating aesthetic tension within a work between the materials and objects used. For instance, fabricated materials such as steel, fiberglass, leather and glass interacted with natural materials like cotton, stone, wood and water among other things. Mono-Ha artists played with this perception of materials in their work by combining similarities and differences. It was the first Japanese contemporary art movement to receive international attention.
The 1970s
In 1973, Lee represented Korea at the São Paulo Biennale for the second time. He also became a professor of art at the Tama Art University in Tokyo, an institution he is still a part of today. Not only did he begin to teach and publish his art theories, but his position at the university also supported the work of his fellow artists intellectually. He also introduced the work of five Korean painters to Japan whose work provided fresh perspectives on mark-making and abstract painting. Lee began to paint using pigments made from ground rocks and minerals, and animal glue — traditional materials of Japanese painting. This technique of painting demands that the brush goes over each stroke no more than three times. As a result, Lee produces a small number of works every year. In 1977, he was invited to Kassel to participate in documenta. 
Recent Years
In recent years, Lee has extended these ideas further in both painting and sculpture. His “Relatum” series of sculptures, for example, play on the spatial contexts of the location of the work, the perspective of the viewer and the relationships between the materials — in this case, between roughly circular rocks and dark steel plates. In the 21st century, Lee has won a number of high honors. In 2000, for example, he was awarded the UNESCO Prize at the Shanghai Biennale, and the following year he was awarded both the Praemium Imperiale, the highest Japanese state honor for artists, as well as the Ho-am Prize, its Korean counterpart. The Lee Ufan Museum opened in 2010 in Naoshima in Japan, and the following year the Guggenheim Museum in New York organized a major retrospective of his work.
Lee currently lives and works in both Tokyo and Paris.
1936  -  Born in Kyongnam, South Korea
1956  -  Moves to Yokohama, Japan
1961  -  Nihon University, Department of Philosophy, Tokyo
1973  -  Professor, Tama Art University, Tokyo
1997  -  Guest Professor, École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris
2000  -  UNESCO Prize, Shanghai Biennale, China
2001  -  Praemium Imperiale, Tokyo
2001  -  Ho-Am Prize, Seoul
2005  -  Artists Summit, Kyoto, Japan
Lives and works in Tokyo and Paris
Major Exhibitions
1990  -  Inkong Gallery, Seoul, South Korea
1990  -  Kamakura Gallery, Tokyo
1990  -  Gallery Hyundai, Seoul
1991  -  Lorenzelli Arte, Milan
1991  -  Hara Museum ARC, Gunma, Japan
1991  -  Inkong Gallery, Seoul
1991  -  Tokyo Gallery, Tokyo
1991  -  Gallery Ueda, Tokyo
1996  -  Lisson Gallery, London
1996  -  Galerie J. Moussion, Paris
1996  -  Konggan Gallery, Busan, South Korea
1996  -  Tokyo Gallery, Tokyo
1997  -  Gallery Bhak, Seoul
1997  -  Space Shimoda, Tokyo
1997  -  Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris
1997  -  Lorenzelli Arte, Milan
1997  -  Gallery Hyundai, Seoul
1998  -  Städtisches Museum im Städel, Frankfurt
1998  -  Mitaka City Gallery of Art, Tokyo
1998  -  Niigata City Art Museum, Niigata, Japan
1998  -  Sigong Gallery, Daegu, South Korea
1998  -  Shirota Gallery, Tokyo
2000  -  Galerie m, Bochum, Germany
2000  -  Konggan Gallery, Busan, South Korea
2003  -  Samsung Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul
2003  -  Gallery Hyundai, Seoul
2006  -  Galerie Micheline Szwajcer, Antwerp
2006  -  IBU Gallery, Paris
2006  -  Galerie m, Bochum, Germany
2006  -  Konggan Gallery, Busan, South Korea
2006  -  Shirota Gallery, Tokyo
2006  -  Gallery Muramatsu, Tokyo
2008  -  Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels
2008  -  Dahlem Museum, Berlin
2008  -  Pace Wildenstein, New York
2008  -  Tokyo Gallery, Tokyo
2008  -  Lisson Gallery, London
2010  -  Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
2010  -  Galería Elvira González, Madrid
2010  -  Blum & Poe Gallery, Los Angeles
2011  -  Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg, Austria
2011  -  Guggenheim Museum, New York
2011  -  SCAI the Bathhouse Gallery, Tokyo
2011  -  Gallery Hyundai, Seoul
2013  -  Le Capitole, Arles, France
2013  -  Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Paris
2013  -  Galerie Kamel Mennour, Paris
2015  -  Lisson Gallery, London
2015  -  Palazzo Contarini Polignac, Venice
2015  -  Pace Gallery, New York
2015  -  Pace Gallery, London
2015  -  Pace Gallery, Hong Kong
2016  -  Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Museums / Collections
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Asia Society Texas Center, Houston
Busan Municipal Museum of Art, Busan, South Korea
Brooklyn Museum, New York
Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas
FNAC, Paris
Fondazione Mudima, Milan
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, US
Fukuoka Museum of Art, Fukuoka, Japan
Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, Sapporo, Japan
Hakone Open-Air Museum, Kanagawa, Japan
Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Japan
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Iwaki City Art Museum, Fukushima, Japan
Kröller-Müller Rijksmuseum, Otterloo, Netherlands
Kunsthaus Zürich, Zürich
Kunstmuseum Bonn, Bonn, Germany
Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul
Lee Ufan Museum, Naoshima, Japan
Le Musée de Sculpture en Plein Air, Paris
M+ Museum, Hong Kong
Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura & Hayama, Japan
Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Nationalgalerie, Berlin
Pinault Foundation, Venice
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia
Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo
São Paulo Art Library, São Paulo
Situation Kunst, Bochum, Germany
Space Lee Ufan, Busan, Korea
Sundheim Collection, New York
Sunjae Museum of Art, Gyeongju, South Korea
Tate Modern Gallery, London
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Contemporary Art, Japan
Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Aichi, Japan
Books / Publications
“Contemporary Korean Art: Tansaekhwa and the Urgency of Method” by Kee Joan
“Lee Ufan: Marking Infinity” by Alexandra Munroe and Tatehata Akira
“Lee Ufan: Encounters with the Other” by Silke von Berswordt-Wallrabe and Michael E. Foster
“Encountering Lee Ufan on the path of Mono-ha” by Kim Mi Kyung
“Lee Ufan” by Barbara Rose
“Lee Ufan” by Philippe Dagan

Auction Preview: The Kenzo Kagami Collection of Postwar Japanese Art at Christie’s London

By BLOUIN ARTINFO | September 16, 2016

6 Things You Need to Know About the Dansaekhwa Movement

By Claire Bouchara | July 8, 2016

Dansaekhwa Survey Opens at PIASA in Paris

By Darryl Jingwen Wee | June 23, 2016

David Zwirner to Open Hong Kong Branch, Former Sotheby’s Co-Chairman Alex Rotter Joins Christie’s, and More

By Taylor Dafoe | June 10, 2016

Lee Ufan’s "Dialogue" at kamel mennour, Paris

By Darryl Jingwen Wee | June 8, 2016

Kim Whan-Ki Leads K Auction’s Modern and Contemporary Sale in Hong Kong

By Samuel Spencer | May 24, 2016


Auction Preview:Sotheby’s Art Day Auction

By BLOUIN ARTINFO | October 3, 2016

Auction Preview: The Kenzo Kagami Collection

By BLOUIN ARTINFO | September 16, 2016

Lee Ufan at Kamel Mennour

By Darryl Jingwen Wee | June 5, 2016

Lee Ufan at Château La Coste

By Darryl Jingwen Wee | April 20, 2016

"Dansaekhwa" Group Show in Venice

By Rachel Will | June 30, 2015

Pace Gallery Celebrates Lee Ufan

By Jacqueline Mermea | May 18, 2015

Galerie Bhak

Seoul, KR

Gallery Hyundai

Seoul, KR