The Life and Work of Lee Ungno's Late Days with People Series

Get to Know the artist Lee Ungno after his 70s

By Lee Ungno Museum

1980s: People series

People stand at the heart of Lee’s artworks; before Lee’s flight to Paris, people appeared in his realistic landscape paintings; in his abstract paintings from the 1960s, human figures appeared in semi-abstract forms; in the 1970s, Lee expressed people as letters. Despite these changes in style, Lee remained constant in his love for people. 

People (1988) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

Lee Ungno began his People series in the late 1970s and continued it up until his death.

His earlier works in the People series were more geometrically simplified and decorative, and had developed from the schematic style of his later Abstract Letter paintings.

People (1989) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

His later works in the 'People' series feature countless human figures rendered using brushstrokes; the figures seem as if they were created by Lee writing letters on a piece of paper, covering the entire page.

The most salient feature of Lee’s People series is the repetition of a single brushstroke, which represents a man.

People (1986) by Lee UngnoLee Ungno Museum

The power of Lee’s otherworldly brushstrokes gives breath to his human figures.

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In this sense, Lee’s People series can be regarded as the pinnacle of his artwork, in which his perspective on art and life are greatly reflected.

Tomb of Lee Ungno in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris (a cemetery that houses the tombs of various world-renowned artists)Lee Ungno Museum

1989 and after: Lee Ungno laid to rest in Paris  

Lee Ungno died in Paris in 1989. In the same year, the Hoam Museum hosted a large-scale exhibition of his art. His body is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery, alongside numerous great artists. After his death, a number of galleries, including the Musée Cernuschi in Paris, Taipei Fine Arts Museum in Taiwan, and the Asahi Gallery in Tokyo, held exhibitions to honor his life and work.

Lee’s studio in Pré Saint-Gervais, 1980s: The wall still bears the traces of a wall painting done by Lee (1980s)Lee Ungno Museum

Lee’s works are internationally collected by a great number of galleries in France, Italy, the U.K, Switzerland, Denmark, Thailand, Japan, and the U.S.A, including MoMA in New York and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs de Paris.

Catalogue for a commemorative exhibition held for Lee Ungno in 1989 at Musée Cernuschi (1989)Lee Ungno Museum

And after...

In 1992, a traditional Korean house, Goam Seo-bang, was established in Vaux-sur-Seine. Lee Ungno Museum was opened in Seoul in 2000 and the museum was opened in Daejeon in 2007. The Daejeon Goam Art and Culture Foundation was inaugurated in 2012. Lee Ungno Museum and Cernuschi Museum in Paris was signed MOU in 2013. Lee Ungno Atelier was opened in 2014 and the new Lee Ungno Collection storage facility was established in 2016. 

Goam Seobang, a traditional Korean tile-roofed house located on the outskirts of Paris, surrounded by pine treesLee Ungno Museum

Lee Ungno and wife In-kyung ParkLee Ungno Museum

“I like to name all my paintings ‘peace’...

... Look at them. Aren’t they showing people dancing and living together and holding hands with each other? Such lives are the lives of ordinary people. These ordinary people represent a public voice and heart. I’ve recently been making such paintings over and over again. I thought about the theme long ago, before I was imprisoned. The imprisonment helped me understand how to visualize the theme.” - Lee Ungno, Sunday Newspaper, October 23rd, 1988. Interview by Shim Jaehyun. 

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