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Artist Lee U-fan’s forgery scandal continues

Three people have been arrested for allegedly forging and selling copies of artist Lee U-fan’s paintings, the Seoul Metropolitan Police said Tuesday.

An art dealer only identified by the surname Gu, her husband Kim and painter Park are suspected of having created six of 13 seized paintings thought to be forgeries of works by well-known painter Lee U-fan. Painter Lee maintains that the 13 paintings in questions are his authentic works.

Police said Gu and Kim are suspected of distributing some 40 counterfeit pieces credited to Lee. Park, 56, created the pieces that were sold through a gallery in Insa-dong, Seoul, from November 2012 to November 2014.

The husband and wife team collected 2.9 billion won ($2.48 million) from the gallery and gave 300 million won to Park.

Park said six of the 13 alleged counterfeits seized by the police were his works. A National Forensic Service investigation confirmed that the six works in question do not align with genuine pieces by Lee. 

Artist Lee U-fan (Yonhap)
Artist Lee U-fan (Yonhap)

“Since the police have not contacted Lee yet, it is uncertain which paintings have been forged in what way,” the artist’s attorney Seo Myung-soo told local media Tuesday. “If called upon, Lee is willing to adjust his schedule accordingly.”

Following a tip-off last December, the police raided Seoul galleries suspected of exhibiting and selling fake artworks by the Japan-based Korean painter, including some of the artist’s most notable creations, such as the “From Point” and “From Line” series.

The following month the police said that the certificate of authenticity for Lee’s 1978 painting “From Point No. 780217,” which was sold for $415,600 to a private collector at an auction last year, had been forged. Although the artwork itself was proven to be authentic, the incident further raised suspicions surrounding the authenticity of Lee’s paintings.

In May and July, the police arrested three art forgers surnamed Hyun, Lee and Lee for 55 forged pieces claimed to have been done by Lee U-fan, and selling them through the same Insa-dong gallery implicated in the latest police discovery. With four of the 13 paintings seized by the police credited to this group and six paintings claimed to have been forged by the latest forgery ring, the source or sources of the remaining three seized paintings are still unknown.

Artist Lee U-fan’s “From Point No. 780217,” which was sold for $415,600 last year (Yonhap)
Artist Lee U-fan’s “From Point No. 780217,” which was sold for $415,600 last year (Yonhap)

Lee, 80, has been steadfast in his claims that the paintings alleged to have been forged are in fact his works.

“A person’s flow and rhythm are like one’s fingerprints, which cannot be imitated,” he said at a press conference in June, after examining 13 works the National Forensic Service seized and identified as fake. “They are undoubtedly mine.”

Born in 1936 in South Gyeongsang Province and educated in Japan, Lee, who pioneered the modern art movement in Korea, is best known at home and abroad for his minimalist and monochrome paintings, or Dansaekhwa.

By Kim Yu-young (