The Buddhist Statues were introduced into China from ancient India along with Buddhism. At first they were dominated by the influence of Gandhara and the Western Regions; and gradually they began to be integrated with Chinese tradition, which gave rise to Buddhist statues featuring both regional style and the profundity of Chinese culture and art. From this point on, the making of Buddhist statues became an important signature of Chinese Buddhist art.
The collection of Buddhist statues at Aurora Museum features both Gandhara-style statues and statues with local cultural characteristics made during Northern Wei, Sui and Tang dynasties. A timeline demonstrating the different styles and aesthetics visions during the development of Buddhist statues making in China could be clearly perceived.
Born in 1963, Li Chen's artistic practice started from making traditional Buddhist statue. During the process, on the one hand he keeps studying classics of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism; and on the other hand, he manages to imbue contemporary perception into his practice, leading to a signature style that incorporates both eastern charisma and western sculptural language. Heavy and yet subtle, his work demonstrates the artist's concern of the current social situation and his reflection upon humanity.
The Beauty of Emptiness and Energy of Emptiness, two of his earlier series, Spiritual Journey through the Great Ether, one of his most signature series, and Forsaken Relic (from the Ethereal Cloud series), one of his latest works, are all put on show at the exhibition. From Water-Moon Avalokitesvara (1992) to Forsaken Relic (2018), a metamorphosis in Li's journey in the art world from traditional statue-making to contemporary sculptural practice could be perceived. Aurora's collection of Buddhist statues offer reference to interpret Li Chen's work. Collectively, they form a field of dialogue, giving out a sense of "symbiosis". Such "symbiosis" can be seen in two aspects: inheritance and innovation.
The making of Buddhist statue opened up Li Chen's journey in the world of art. The mastery of traditional skills and patters pushed him to ponder further upon the possibilities of statue making. If we make a comparison between Li Chen's work and those in Aurora's collection, we'd see that Li Chen has simplified the image of Buddhist statues. And in the meantime, he has also imbued the emotions of the mundane life into them. As a result, the statues he presents radiate classic charisma as well as a sense of contemporaneity. From Water-Moon Avalokitesvara, which gives outs a sense of elegance that reminds viewers of the style of Song Dynasty, to Nirvana and Amitayus, which feature plumpness, a signature of Tang Dynasty, and then to Maitreya and Amitābha, which highlights the unadorned style of the Six Dynasties, we'd see Li Chen's efforts to integrate traditional imagery with contemporary visual language. In nature, it shares something in similar with the research methodology Aurora Museum has consistently advocated and that places an emphasis on "material, technique, form and pattern".
Spiritual Journey through the Great Ether, one of Li Chen's signature works, is the first thing viewers would see when they step into the museum. And before they enter the museum, they'd already be intrigued by the smiling charm of Golden Rain, a large installation on view at the corridor connecting to the museum. Viewers seeing the exhibition of pottery figurines on the second floor, to their surprise, would encounter the brilliance radiated from Ephemeral Beauty at the end of the gallery. Following the instruction of Floating Heavenly Palace, on the third floor, in the gallery of jade ware, viewers would find some of Li Chen's latest works. And on the fourth and fifth floors, viewers would find Soothing Breezes Floating Clouds, Float to Sukhavati and Flickering Moonlight respectively. Last but not least, in the Buddhist statue gallery on the sixth floor, the ancient statutes form an ingenious backdrop to perceive the inheritance and metamorphosis of Li Chen's practice.
While the timeline of the exhibition is curated in a somewhat reverse manner, Spiritual Journey through the Great Ether play the role as a hub. Spiritual Journey through the Great Ether is an ongoing series that Li Chen started to work on in 2001. It demonstrates Li's efforts to draw inspiration from Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and classic poems and his vision and bravery to break through the confines of traditional statue making. Placed at the second to the sixth floors, Spiritual Journey through the Great Ether connects Li's latest work Ethereal Cloud and his earlier works The Beauty of Emptiness and Energy of Emptiness. With a somewhat stretched and elongated timeline, the evolution of Li's artistic style, life experience and vision could be seen more clearly.
Press release courtesy Asia Art Center.