The Tate Gallery announced today the acquisition of three paintings by Korean-born artist Lee Ufan, From Line 1977, From Winds 1982 and Correspondence 1993. These are the first works by Lee Ufan to enter the collection and are part of a continuing programme of looking beyond Europe and North America in terms of collecting policy. They were purchased with funds provided by the Samsung Foundation of Culture. They will be on display at the Tate Gallery from 7 March until 13 April as part of the display Recent Acquisitions in Room 13.
Lee Ufan was born in 1936 in Kyonsangnamdo, South Korea. He studied philosophy at Nihon University in Tokyo and graduated in 1961. Philosophical ideas are central to Ufan’s artistic practice and in the late 1960s he was a leading member of the Mono-Ha group, the first Japanese avant-garde art movement to achieve international attention. Since then Ufan has held numerous solo exhibitions in Tokyo and Europe and has participated in many group exhibitions, including Documenta VI in 1977 and, more recently, Japanese Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim Museum, Soho, New York, in 1994. He is one of the most important contemporary artists in the Far East and currently lives and works in Japan, Korea and France.
A central, shared characteristic of the artists associated with the Mono-Ha group was their rejection of traditional notions of representation, and in particular of the principle that art expresses the artist’s personal experience. They sought instead to minimise expression and to focus instead on the observed reality of the work of art and on the internal relations of its parts. Such ideas are a mainstay of Ufan’s approach. From Line 1977 and From Winds 1982 both use the repetition of discrete marks superimposed on a blank ground to convey a sense of infinity. Both paintings belong to extended series of related works which explore this theme. Ufan has commented on these concerns as follows: ‘One way of showing the idea of infinity in a picture is the repetition of pictorial elements. As with living organisms, it is a repetition of birth and death, death and birth, yet it must be sequenced so that each moment is unique and separate. The organic device where by each brushstroke, each element is independent and mutually related makes a picture full of forces.’ The paintings blend western and eastern traditions and seem to have an oriental calligraphic delicacy.
From the early 1980s onwards, Ufan increasingly came to regard the blank space which contained these individual marks as in itself evocative of the idea of infinity. As a result, his endeavour gravitated towards using marks made by the brush to animate that space and to invest the painting with a sense of independent life. These concerns are evident in the latest painting in this group, Correspondence 1993, in which the relative positions of a few marks, and the space these marks occupy, become the critical elements of the composition. Of these developments, Ufan has observed:
Until the early 1980s I always composed repetitious figures, as a pictorial enactment of the idea of infinity. Then, somehow I realised that the ground of a picture reveals itself and itself expresses infinity. It seems to me that each delimited brushstroke, each element, gradually became liberated from me, fully inhaling and exhaling space, and achieved more liveness than before.