Certificate for Lee U-fan’s famous painting forged, say police

By 이우영

Fake certificate rekindles controversy over rumors that counterfeits of Lee’s paintings are circulating in Korean art market

  • Published : Jan 10, 2016 - 17:25
  • Updated : Jan 10, 2016 - 17:27

The certificate for the authenticity of Lee U-fan’s 1978 painting, sold at the December auction of Korea’s second-biggest auction house K Auction, was confirmed to be forged, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said.

“We confirmed the certificate to be a fake after we had it appraised by experts,” police said Friday.

The fake certificate for Lee’s painting “From Point No. 780217” has the same registration number as one that appears on the certificate for artist Kim Ki-chang’s landscape painting and a photograph of Lee’s painting that appears to have been cut from another document and attached later. 
“From Point No. 780217” by Lee U-fan was sold for $415,600 at K Auction’s winter auction on Dec. 15, 2015. (Yonhap)

Lee’s painting was sold at a hammer price of $415,600 to a private collector last month.

“This is a serious issue that damages the auction house’s credibility. Everything should have been thoroughly evaluated before it was put up for auction,” said an art critic, who wished not to be named. 

The certificate was issued in 2001 by the Galleries Association of Korea, which runs its own art appraisal committee. The Galleries Association of Korea asked the police to investigate the authenticity of the certificate Jan. 5. 
The certificate of authenticity for Lee U-fan’s “From Point No. 780217” (left) issued by the Galleries Association of Korea was confirmed to have been forged as it bears the same number as the one found on the certificate of authenticity for Kim Ki-chang’s landscape painting. (Yonhap)

“However, it was confirmed that the certificate was fake, not that the painting was forged. We plan to have the painting appraised soon,” police added.

The certificate forgery rekindled the controversy over the allegation that some of Lee U-fan’s major works have been forged and distributed in the Korean art market for the past four to five years.

In December, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency raided galleries in Seoul, which were suspected of circulating alleged counterfeits of Lee U-fan paintings. The police booked two owners of the galleries without detention and seized six paintings to have them appraised by the National Forensic Service. The results have not yet been released.

The police said it acted on a tip-off from a source who said some galleries have been selling forged works of Lee’s major painting series “From Point” and “From Line” in the Korean art market between 2012 and 2013.

Police estimated that sales of counterfeit art may total some billions of won. Lee, 80, has noted in many interviews that his works are hard to copy as they are created “with my own flow.” Lee is one of the most representative 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 with the emerging popularity of Korean monochrome paintings, or dansaekhwa.

Most of Lee’s works alleged to be forged date from 1977 to 1979, a period when Lee was prolific in Tokyo.

By Lee Woo-young (wylee@heraldcorp.com)