A certain tension

A slight imbalance. Some kind of disturbance… Great artists don’t create unforgettable works by envisaging perfection so much as by establishing anomalies.

Along with the exceptional jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, who wore large rings on all his fingers to create discordant sounds, just look at the still lifes of Cézanne: table askew, apples off-kilter, complete lack of symmetry… This deliberate pursuit of imperfection in a sophisticated image is what will stir feelings in the viewer. The Korean artist Lee Ufan (born in 1936) has lived in Japan since he was 20 years old, and these days he also spends a lot of his time in Paris.

He is part of a long lineage of artists who, each in their own way, create some kind of disturbance. All of his work, which is abstract, consists of creating a certain tension that addresses subjects like mankind, time, beauty, repetition, the search for harmony, images containing other images…

Korea and Japan

I asked myself and I asked him whether his obsession with tension expressed through art has its roots in his personal history: the fact that as a Korean he’s totally embraced the culture of a country – Lee Ufan speaks Japanese perfectly – viewed by a number of his compatriots as a former invader.

As he explains: “It’s not that simple. You have to look at the global Asian situation,” but he also adds later on: “I don’t deny it, but it isn’t something deliberate.”


At Centre Pompidou Metz

Lee Ufan’s universe is born out of a set of principles that he applies in painting and sculpture using a vocabulary that we encounter in the beautiful exhibition dedicated to him at the Centre Pompidou in Metz. It’s been fairly well organized by the curator, Jean-Marie Gallais, so that each room has its own concept.

 Shigeru Ban

In his studio, Lee Ufan reveals his objective for this exhibition which, if it isn’t a retrospective, sums up his universe well. He claims to practice an art that is stoical and pure.He  also explains how he interacted with the very distinctive architecture of the Centre Pompidou-Metz, designed by the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban


Contrasts of material

Lee Ufan takes, for example, materials which he arranges in such a way as to reveal contrasts. He places a steel sheet in opposition with an enormous rock. The first material is the pure product of contemporary human technology. The second, collected from the mountain and serving as a symbol of nature, has been moulded by the weather since time immemorial. The rock is placed on the steel sheet, and that’s it. Sometimes he positions a rock on a gravel floor and illuminates it.

Fake shadow

The mischievous Lee Ufan even designs a fake shadow for the large stone on the floor. He’s also created a gigantic ball of cotton that seems to be in dialogue with a large stone. He explains how “the cotton is soft, supple, gentle, floating: it doesn’t follow the trend of current civilization.”


When he was a child in Korea, Lee took lessons in calligraphy. This training has left him with a good sense for the right gesture. Some of his works were made using the broad touch of a large paintbrush on the canvas. He reworks the gesture several times over the same area and the accumulations of paint create gradients, as well as accumulations of material, which resemble landscapes.

Fragments of myself

The artist explains: “these are all fragments of myself. I think visitors will feel first disturbance, followed by a certain peace”. A wave of sound is also played in some of the rooms. It was created by the composer Ryuichi Sakamoto to invite “a new form of attention”.

An entire universe.


Until 30 September.





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