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Lee U-fan claims alleged counterfeits are authentic

Artist reveals that police tried to get him to agree that some of the paintings were forged

Artist Lee U-fan reiterated Thursday that all 13 paintings that the National Forensic Service identified as counterfeits were authentic and revealed that a police officer tried to get him to say that some of the paintings were fakes.

“All 13 paintings are undoubtedly mine,” said Lee at the press conference Thursday in Seoul. “They are created with my own flow, rhythm and colors,” he added. 

Much to the surprise of many, he claimed that one of the police officers present with him during the examination tried to cajole him into agreeing that four of the 13 works were forged works.

“The officer said, ‘Let’s make the four paintings forged works and the rest as authentic works,’” he said. “I said, ‘How can I do that since they are all authentic paintings.’”

Police believe that the four paintings were painted by a man surnamed Hyun who has been arrested for forgery.

Lee held the press conference just a few hours before he was scheduled to leave for Shanghai in order to reaffirm his stance on the ongoing controversy over the alleged counterfeits of his paintings.

On Monday and Wednesday, Lee examined the paintings that police seized from galleries suspected of having distributed forged works of Lee’s paintings. After examining the paintings being held at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, Lee concluded that they are authentic works by him. 

Artist Lee U-fan talks to reporters at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Artist Lee U-fan talks to reporters at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

“Your own flow and rhythm in the painting is like your fingerprints that cannot be copied,” he noted.

After his second viewing on Wednesday, Lee said he had instantly recognized his works on Monday but had to be careful in concluding that they were authentic. Lee returned to examine the works Wednesday, carrying a magnifying glass and catalogues of his previous exhibitions.

Lee has been expressing his deep discontent with the police investigation into one of the largest art forgery cases in Korea involving his paintings.

“An artist has a responsibility and the right to view his paintings first. But they left me out in the investigation and came to a conclusion without consulting me,” he said.

Police launched an investigation last year when rumors circulated that counterfeits of Lee’s paintings were being sold in the Korean art market. In December 2015, the SMPA raided galleries in Seoul suspected of circulating alleged counterfeits of Lee’s major painting series “From Point” and “From Line.” Police booked two gallery owners without detention and seized the paintings for NFS appraisal.

A 66-year-old art forger surnamed Hyun, who was arrested in May and charged with creating fake works credited to Lee, is on trial. The National Forensic Service earlier this month confirmed as counterfeit all 13 works police seized last December.

Lee is one of the most acclaimed Korean artists, well known in the global art scene for his meditative abstract paintings. His paintings have enjoyed surging sales in the international art market as Korean monochrome paintings, or Dansaekhwa, have become popular in recent years.

Most of the allegedly forged Lee’s works date from 1977 to 1979, a period when Lee was prolific in Tokyo and Korea.

By Lee Woo-young (