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Mind-Bending Paper Sculptures from Li Hongbo

Anush Benliyan

Chinese artist Li Hongbo’s current exhibition, Tools of Study—which will be on display through March 22 at the Klein Sun Gallery in Chelsea, New York—pays homage to numerous classical sculptures. At first glance, the 20 pieces in the collection, which Li refers to as his “faithful friends,” appear to be porcelain replicas of renowned classics, including the bust of Michelangelo’s David. But the sculptures are made entirely out of paper—thousands of layers of paper, in fact, which can be pulled apart and stretched out of recognition, and then reverted back to their original state.

To create an average-sized bust, Li manually glues together over 5,000 pieces of paper in a honeycomb pattern, using pressure to hold them together. He then saws, cuts, and shapes the paper mass down to about 20 pounds on average, finally shaving in details and adding minute touches with sandpaper. Li developed this technique over a 12-year period after developing a fascination with paper during his former career as a book editor and publisher. In Tools of Study, his professional and academic pasts collide with his cultural roots, as his one-of-a-kind pieces subtly mimic Chinese paper toys and lanterns.
This summer, Li’s work is set to be featured in Cartasia, the biennial of contemporary paper art, with an exhibition at Michigan’s Dennos Museum to follow in the fall. And while all the Tools of Study sculptures have been purchased, he is open to creating custom pieces for art collectors and enthusiasts, with prices starting at $60,000. Though the process is very selective, some commissions have already been approved and are underway, including a Kate Moss portrait and a logo model for the Brazilian TV network Globo.

Eli Klein, founder of the Klein Sun Gallery, works as the liaison between clients in the United States and Li in Beijing. If the artist accepts the commission project, clients can expect delivery of their bespoke paper sculpture in about one year, depending on its size. The finished piece is shipped straight from Beijing and arrives in a thick wooden crate, ready to be unwrapped, displayed, and, of course, stretched like a Slinky to illustrate Li’s signature style. (212.255.4388, www.kleinsungallery.com)

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