Monday, 3 March 2014




    This week's Museum Monday post is inspired by the work of Chinese artist Li Hongbo, particularly his very first United States solo exhibition, Tools of Study. Tools of Study is currently featured at the Klein Sun Gallery in SoHo New York, a gallery specializing in the display of contemporary Chinese art.

Li Hongbo, "Bust of David," 2012, Klein Sun Gallery, NYC
Close up, Hongbo's "Bust of David"

    As you can see in the pictures above, Hongbo's work appears at first glance to be a collection of expertly carved marble busts. Many of which might be quite familiar to us (eg. Michelangelo's David, Beethoven, etc). However, rather than marble, Hongbo's wonderfully detailed sculptures actually consist of thousands of layers of paper glued together in a specific way so that the sculptures can be pulled apart to produce a "slinky" effect. 

     In the videos below, Hongbo discusses the technique he uses to create his stretchy paper masterpieces. He became fascinated with traditional Chinese decorations known as paper gourds, made from glued layers of paper that produce a honeycomb-like structure when stretched out. He then combined his interest in traditional Chinese folk culture, his expert knowledge of the way paper functions and its potential as an artistic medium, and finally his experiences studying sculpture in school in order to produce his paper busts. During his studies of sculpture in school, he was instructed to recreate classical masterpieces as a learning exercise -- hence the exhibition title Tools of Study.

Hongbo with a Chinese paper gourd

Hongbo discusses his inspiration for his paper sculptures

    The thought process behind Hongbo's sculptures also happens to tie in nicely with the notions of "re-imaging" objects and transforming different media that my fellow Musings contributor Katherine discussed in Friday's post. Hongbo's sculptures stem from a wonderfully thought-provoking foundation of many different thematic and conceptual juxtapositions --for example, using the medium of paper, an object which originated in China and is very much a large part of traditional Chinese culture (from art to daily life), to recreate iconic classical Greek sculptures (artworks which greatly contribute to our (i.e. Westerner's) accepted perceptions and interpretations of Greek and Italian culture). 

    Perhaps my favourite aspects of Hongbo's creations are the elements of surprise and playfulness his sculptures are imbued with. In the Klein Sun Gallery's artist write up of Hongbo, he discusses how viewers have become so familiar with these pieces (i.e. these familiar Classical sculptures and portrait busts) that they immediately assume anything mimicking their form is bound to be a porcelain-like replica of the original. Thus, Hongbo uses his paper sculptures to play with our assumptions and perceptions of subject, art, form, medium, and function, and challenges us to re-imagine these masterpieces -- and by extension, our surroundings and existing views of different cultures and practices -- in new ways. 

Great close-up of the detail of Hongbo's work and how the paper moves

    Watching videos like the one above, or those featuring the artist and/or curators unfurling the paper sculptures and contorting and manipulating them in every which way, is also very striking to me, as this interactivity makes the sculptures appear strangely life-like. I'm not exactly sure why, but I find myself haunted by the movement of these slinky-busts as they are stretched and twisted. Almost reminds me of something from a sci-fi movie or a perhaps a strange nightmare version of Night at the Museum (Night at the Art Gallery?). Maybe its the contrast between the busts' "usual" serene, calm facial expressions and the upsetting, disturbing movement that twists these expressions and wakes them from their otherwise dreamy, perfect state. Regardless, I also find this very exciting, as I think that this acts as proof that it is very possible for new emotions and interpretations to be inspired by seemingly familiar works, challenging us, as is Hongbo's intention, to think of such works in ways we never have before.

    To end off, I leave you with a link to a great interview with Hongbo I found on this lovely lady's blog. I highly recommend it (well really, why else would I put it on here), as it is short and sweet and gives some really good insight into his work. He has some great quotes!



  1. What I found interesting about Hongbo's work was how creepy they looked to me when they were being manipulated. I enjoyed the contrast between the way we see Greek/Roman sculpture as inherently beautiful and as a marvel of human artistry and the movement of the sculpture which I found kind of spooky. Hongbo's work captured a dichotomy between beauty and disturbing as well as between "art" and craft. Good post Brittney.

  2. Talking about art that really challenges the visitor! I find this fascinating because of the way in which the materiality and the heaviness of the object (along with its canonical standing - I attended high-school at a school of fine arts and I think I have over 100 drawings of David's bust, which was presented as one of the most accurate depictions of the male figure in art history) are being questioned and reinterpreted. Plus, there is something whimsical about these works!

  3. Fascinating! Glad to see you mention the element of surprise in these works of art, because that very immediate and unexpected reaction to the extended neck of David (which I had, and I'm sure many other viewers had as well) sparked my curiosity -- to know more about how the bust was transformed and how we can re-interpret the sculpture in this new form.

  4. FYI ... more on this from my "curated blogger":

  5. Ah great, thanks for comments everyone and the link Katherine!