Li Hongbo is a 40-year-old Beijing-based Chinese artist who carves artworks made from Chinese “gourd” paper which is traditionally used for decorations. Using a combination of mechanical and manual tools to refine the shapes of his sculptures, Li mostly carves busts though he’s done figures in their entirety and created an uncharacteristically colourful installation for the 18th Biennale of Sydney in 2012. The paper allows the pieces to stretch out accordion style to many oohs and aahs from live audiences though for a cynic such as myself, it really is quite impressive to see in person.
It was in 2012 that I first saw some of Li Hongbo’s incredible sculptures as an intern at Eli Klein Fine Art (now known as Klein Sun Gallery) in NYC. Since then, he’s ventured into celebrity artist territory and has become an artist with private dealer prices starting at five figures (USD and AUD) though he has yet to enter the blue chip auction arena. I most recently saw him at Art Stage Singapore in late January where Hong Kong gallery, Contemporary by Angela Li, showed off the morphing ability of two works from Li’s Roman series to a rapt audience. Now there is this fantastic video from Kid Guy Collective that is making waves. It isn’t surprising that Li now has considerable buzz around him and I won’t be surprised to see his works at auction sometime within the next 5-10 years.
Talking about really great design, here’s several space saving transformer units that’ll blow. your. MIND.
I have always been a big fan of public art; Something about it is intrinsically appealing when it’s interactive, and oftentimes, monumentality and scale make a lasting impression. Having grown up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which was bereft of any good public art or a truly representative national art program, the active NY public arts scene is one that I have enjoyed immensely. With the advent of new technologies, public art has been able to move past the traditional mural or even motor operated works (think of Niki de Saint Phalle’s fountain near the Centre Pompidou) to those where programing, software, and interaction play a major role in the artwork’s functioning. However, it’s not just the Big Apple that plays host to some incredible public art. Arguably many other cities around the world do it better, however, my experiences globetrotting for the sake of witnessing public art is somewhat limited. For now, I’ll just talk about what I’ve seen around NYC and Beantown.
On a recent trip to Boston, my friend was driving when we passed by this crouched figure (above) graffitied on the side of a building at Dewey Square. It turns out the artwork was done by Otavio and Gustavo Pendolfo a.k.a. Os Gemeos, a Brazilian graffiti artist duo of twin brothers. In fact, “Os Gemeos” is Portuguese for “The Twins.” I saw their work during my sophomore year at NYU where their work had also graced the Houston Bowery Wall owned by Goldman Properties. In the habit of most exhibiting graffiti artists, the work was done in conjunction with their Os Gemeos exhibition at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art around August 2012.
I did some research which revealed that several Bostonians said the Os Gemeos mural looked like a veiled terrorist which I personally think is an ignorant assumption to make. A veil does not equate a bomber nor does a hoodie a criminal make (à la Trayvon Martin). Instead, done in a similar vein to much of their work, Os Gemeos’ skinny youth is reminiscent of the artists’ childhoods in São Paolo where bright colours and patterns figure heavily into the city’s culture. As all good public art should do, the mural brings in an element of intercultural dialogue and a pop of colour to an otherwise drab part of town. Although the topic seems disjointed, the artwork ultimately compliments its surroundings. As seen in the photo featured in a 2010 Boston.com blog post, the patterning on the mural not only adds vibrancy to the city’s backdrop but also echoes the surrounding buildings’ square windows; an example of the interfacing between public art and it’s environment. The imagery’s controversy also highlights public art’s power and ability to stimulate discussion, albeit sometimes in a polarizing fashion.
The public art installations that I find the most engaging are light and technology oriented. Through the use of flashing LEDs, Leo Villareal’s “Buckyball,” (pictured above and below) which was situated in Madison Square Park from October 2012 to February 2013, brought light to a relatively dead park during it’s night hours. I personally made the pilgrimage from the upper east side in early February and sat on one of the touted 0 gravity benches (really they were just ergonomically conscious benches made at a reclined angle) and stared at the sculpture for about 30 minutes before frostbite began to set in.
Flashing and pulsating, the Buckyball is crafted after Buckminster Fuller’s fullerene molecule. The artwork’s mathematical topic is a clear nod to the marriage of science and art in the form of public sculpture. In some senses, the artwork operates in the most traditional of art historical modes: it’s placed on a pedestal as most public statues and monuments are wont to do and its form encourages the viewer to walk around and perceive it from different angles. By doing so, Villareal has literally and metaphorically elevated science, mathematics, and geometry while inviting the viewer to interact with sculpture through circumabulation. The ephemerality and constantly changing appearance of the artwork is also reflective of New York as the city that never sleeps. Again, the sculpture complements the environment rather than disrupts.
It is ultimately the blatantly technological aspect of this artwork that, for me, sets it apart from many others. The lights are programmed to change colour according to preset algorithms which is indicative of the increasing use of the digital and experiential in art as a whole. There are now more diverse ways of engaging the viewer with the artwork than was traditionally the case with public sculpture. Who can forget “Carsten Höller: Experience” at the New Museum last year? The audience was invited to literally experience the exhibition by riding down slides and by wearing special glasses.
Although traditional manifestations of public art are still highly relevant, the move towards emphasizing the experiential through technology is belied by the importance of the digital and expansion of remote connectivity in our lives as a whole. Through our cellphones, computers, and tablets, we are used to being able to manipulate our environments and to communicate with people half a world away with the touch of a button. The question now is, why should our public art not do the same?
After an incredibly long hiatus of close to 7 months, I have decided that I’m going to kickstart this baby back up. Since the last post, a whole host of things have happened: I graduated in May 2012 from NYU, a two year relationship ended, I started working at Sotheby’s (and left relatively recently), my interests have shifted to social media, and I acquired and love an entirely new friend group.
What am I going to write about this time? I’m not sure, but I can imagine that much of it will be arts and social/digital media driven, wedged in between the occasional update about my life in general. I can only hope that this blog will be not only fulfilling for me, but informative for you and a source of entertainment (laughs or otherwise). Maybe I’m also doing this so that my writing skills don’t completely deteriorate. That would be a pity.
It’s been an interesting time since graduation. I can only hope that it continues to become bigger and better like it has since then! I’d love to be able to look back in a few years at this blog and see all the big things that I didn’t see coming and smile.
Ever wondered where the expression “Screaming Meemies” came from? It’s actually the nickname for the Nebelwerfer, a type of German WWII gun that made a moaning or screaming noise when fired. Now we all know what that vintage shop on Lafayette in New York is named after… They also mention it in the show Frasier which is what made me look into it in the first place!!