February 18-April 15, 2012
Eternity and Commoner
Frye Art Museum, USA
Li Chen creates monumental figurative sculptures informed by a mixture of Buddhist philosophy and contemporary art practices. His exhibition at the Frye Art Museum, Eternity and Commoner, showcases his exceptional clay sculptures, molded over wooden skeletons and conceived of by the artist as living bodies. In the Museum galleries, these clay bodies are transformed as they dry, revealing the wooden skeletons and ropes underneath. Exploring the cyclical nature of life, this is the first exhibition of Li Chen's work in the United States.
Western audiences tend to see Li Chen's sculpture as being firmly established within the traditions of Buddhist art. Art historians from Asia, on the other hand, who are more familiar with Buddhist iconography, regard Li's work in terms of its divergence from traditional sculpture. The artist himself regards his artworks as being free of the sculptural tradition that had originally informed it. It is in the differences to traditional Buddhist sculpture, and in the differences to Western art practice, that we need to seek Li Chen's sculptural voice.
The current body of work that are displayed at the Frye Art Museum has developed out of the artist's experiments with wood, ropes, and clay, creating small models that, at a later date, are transformed into large-scale sculptures and installations. These highly expressive clay models are molded expertly over wooden skeletons. Some he keeps "alive" by applying water to their surfaces; others are allowed to "die," their bodies tearing apart to reveal wooden skeletons underneath as the clay dries and separates.