2019 Lee Ungno Museum Collection
The Lee Ungno Museum’s first exhibition of 2019 gathers over a hundred works from the museum collection. The pieces on display, produced from the 1950s to the ‘80s, provide a sweeping view of the lifelong achievements of Lee Ungno. 2017 was a significant year for the Lee legacy. Influential art museums in France such as the Pompidou Centre and the Cernuschi Museum held grand retrospectives of his work, commemorating Lee’s outstanding career as a modern artist. In celebration of these events, the Lee Ungno Museum published a catalogue of the highlights of its collection. This exhibition presents the works introduced in that catalogue.
Drawing on traditional Korean art forms and media, Lee’s modernist practice made its mark in the European abstract art scene. His use of ink, paper, and Chinese characters, which can be thought of as Asian abstract patterns, distinguished his work from that of other Korean abstract artists who also relocated to Paris in the 1950s. In Paris, Lee’s semi-abstract methods, with its ink-and-wash and calligraphic influences, led to the development of his Abstract Letter series, which heralded a divergence from the abstractions of Western artists and a movement towards abstract art in Asian terms. Lee’s so-called Abstract Letter prints, produced steadily from the 1960s to the 1980s, instantly call to mind the stamped images of seals. Although the letterforms carved into woodblocks follow Lee’s manner of abstraction, his method of engraving them is rooted in seal carving. The resemblance between the abstract forms and seal scripts or calligraphic strokes reveals this link.
The retrospectives held in Paris in 2017 underscored the originality of Lee’s artistic language. He was not a follower of artistic trends in the abstract world; rather, he was a bold experimenter who sought to revolutionize the language of Western art by introducing it and its practitioners to the unique qualities of Asian art. This large presentation of works will be an unmissable chance to appreciate the legacy of Lee Ungno and understand its meaning.