Ufan Lee


Ufan Lee

Lee Ufan is a Korean artist, painter, sculptor, writer and philosopher. He was born in Kyongnam, Southern Korea and has witnessed the political convulsions that have let the country divided in 1953.

He studied painting at the College of Fine Arts at Seoul National University and soon moved to Japan, where he earned a degree in philosophy. Over the last 40 years, he has lived and worked in Korea, Japan and France, becoming a transnational artist in a postmodern world before those terms were current. He currently lives and works between Kamakura, Japan and Paris, France.

Lee Ufan came to prominence in the late 1960s as one of the major theoretical and practical proponents of the avant-garde Mono-ha group. The Mono-ha movement, also known as the School of things, is the first Japanese movement to reach an international recognition. It arose amid the collapse of colonial world orders, anti-authoritarian protests and the rise of critiques of modernity. This artistic movement emphasizes ideas of system, structure and process. It focuses on the relationships of materials and perceptions rather than on expression or intervention. Lee Ufan soon emerged as the theoretical leader of Mono-ha. His sculptures, presenting dispersed arrangements of stones together with industrial materials like steel plates, rubber sheets, and glass panes, recast the object as a network of relations based on parity among the viewer, materials and site.

The artist was a pivotal figure in the Korean tansaekhwa (monochrome painting) school, which offered a fresh approach to minimalist abstraction by presenting repetitive gestural marks as bodily records of time’s perpetual passage. Deeply versed in modern philosophy and Asian metaphysics, Lee has coupled his artistic practice with a prodigious body of critical and philosophical writings, which provide the quotations that appear throughout his work. Lee is best known for his Minimalist steel and stone sculptures that accentuate the juxtapositions between objects, as well as the relationship between objects and their environment. Ufan is also noted for his distinctive simplified paintings, often composed of a single brushstroke.

Lee’s work has been featured in hundreds of solo and group exhibitions since 1967 including shows at Château La Coste, Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade, France (2016), Palace of Versailles, Versailles, France (2014), Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, USA (2011), Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, Belgium (2009), the Yokohama Museum of Art, Yokohama, Japan (2005), the Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne Métropole, Rhône-Alpes, France (2005), the Samsung Museum of Modern Art, Seoul, South Korea (2003), Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany (2001), the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France (1997) and the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea (1994). He was awarded the Praemium Imperiale for painting in 2001 and the UNESCO Prize in 2000. In 2010 the Lee Ufan Museum, designed by Tadao Ando, opened at Benesse Art Site, Naoshima, Japan. In 2011 a major retrospective of his work, entitled Lee Ufan: Marking Infinity was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. His work is also part of the permanent collection at the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art In 2000 the artist was honoured with the UNESCO Prize and in 2001 he was awarded with the prestigious 13th Praemium Imperiale for Painting. His numerous accolades also include the Hoam Prize of the Samsung Foundation, Seoul (2001); the Mainich Art Prize, Tokyo (2005); the prize of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (1977), and the prize for critical writing, From Object to Being, Tokyo (1969), among others. The Lee Ufan Museum, a museum dedicated to the artist, opened on the Japanese Island of Naoshima in 2010. Lee’s work can be found in nearly 60 public collections worldwide.


Ufan Lee , Correspondence, 1996