Li Chen - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Wednesday, June 22, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “Every piece of work is like a child… Most of the pieces carry emotional attachment. They tell the story of my life.” 
    — Li Chen


    Born in Taiwan in 1963, Li Chen is known internationally as one of the most accomplished contemporary sculptors, honing the remarkable skill of creating divine figures that delicately mesh the spiritual and the sculptural. Characters of all sizes populate his magnificent oeuvre, ranging from the miniature to the monumental. While they may vary in shape and size, there is a common thread that runs through Li’s repertoire — the union of heaven and man. Li’s works are informed by his intense, dedicated commitment to Buddhist philosophy, Taoist teachings, and Chinese literature. He explores higher realms and spiritual meaning, seeking to enlighten viewers through his ethereal aesthetic. Indeed, Li’s art truly expresses the core values of simplicity and purity— his sculptures possess a meditative quality, evoking a sense of inner peace and joy. They resemble celestial, otherworldly beings, leaving behind a lasting impression of their wisdom and vitality.


    Executed in 2010 as part of the artist’s The Beacon  series, the present work, Angelic Smile, embodies his ongoing search for serenity and mindfulness. The figure is that of a woman, round and full, her head tilted towards the sky. Her expression is modest and honest, embraced by an air of bliss and tranquillity. In her hands is a golden lotus flower, a Buddhist symbol of spiritual awakening and purity that stems from the plant’s ability to rise from murky waters, clean and untainted. Behind her head floats a cloud shaped like a pillow, or even a surreal face, lending a touch of whimsicalness and humour to the otherwise thought-provoking work. Instilled with spiritual verve and a light-hearted sensibility, Angelic Smile is an emblematic piece that enlightens and entertains.



    When Night Light Glimmers: The Beacon


    “Behind the Beacon is a ceremonial process; its essence lies in ‘Yinze’— the full or diminishing glory of the sun and the moon.” 
    — Li Chen


    Amidst a hectic schedule of staging exhibitions both at home and abroad, Li enjoyed a rare moment of peace and quiet one evening in 2009. He lit a long-unused candle that had been left idle on the family's Buddhist altar, and instantly he felt his mood transform, a surge of subtle but genuine joy washing over him. Overwhelmed with feelings of warmth and solitude, Li was inspired to create the The Beacon series, which includes the present lot.


    Detail of the present lot 


    For the artist, lighting the candle not only illuminated his surroundings but his mind and soul as well. It constituted an act of recuperation, the ritualistic nature of it bringing him a calm state of mind, which in turn allowed him to communicate with his inner self. Works in this series draw a connection between people and higher places such as towers, pavilions, and the heavens, symbolising the desire to spiritually ascend and reach higher planes of understanding. Blessed with refined skill, constant inspiration, and keen observation, Li provides the modern man, who is often so busy with life that he forgets the feeling of rest, a chance to be invigorated by spirituality and art.



    Abundance and Weightlessness


    “In the Tang dynasty, the Buddhist sculptures were round and complete. Instead of being empty, they were full. To me, the fatness of my sculptures means tolerance and diversity. They are big and include all human beings…They are filled with the abundance of the world.”
    — Li Chen


    Prodigiously conceived and superbly executed, Li masterfully strikes a balance between the heavy bronze of the sculpture and the tranquil weightlessness it conveys, creating pieces that transcend time and space. Human forms are portrayed with well-rounded abundance, their rotund figures suggesting lightness and buoyancy that cleverly juxtaposes the mass of the bronze medium. With their eyes closed in peaceful contemplation and faces rendered in blissful contentment that easily elicits a smile from the viewer, Li’s characters appear as ethereal beings that exist between heaven and earth, floating through life without any attachment to the physical world. The smooth darkness of the sculpture’s surface carries a certain brightness and illumination, stemming from its richness and reflective quality, expressing the virtue of minimalism and simplicity. An investigation into the beauty of contrast, Li’s works are captivating and harmonious, evoking calmness while inviting introspection.


    Left: Figure of Padmapāṇi, Tang Dynasty, China, 8th Century
    Collection of the British Museum, London
    © The Trustees of the British Museum

    Right: Detail of the present work


    ‘I am not just making sculptures. I am creating a sense of happiness, a creation that people can enjoy,’ says Li i. Indeed, Li’s sculptures are able to comfort, rejuvenate, and delight the viewer with gentle humour, boundless energy, and a generous spirit, embracing the qualities of zen and transcendence in a confusing, turbulent age. Imbued with childlike innocence and curious wisdom, Li’s works are ideologically an amalgamation of Buddhist and Taoist teachings. Yet, they convey a timeless message of strength and serenity that resonates across all religious and cultural borders.



    Collector’s Digest 


    Internationally and critically acclaimed, Li has received prominent recognition from both critics and collectors alike. In 2007, Li was invited to exhibit his works in a solo show at the 52nd Venice Biennale, an outstanding achievement as he was the first artist from Taiwan to accomplish this, cementing his status in the contemporary art scene as one of the most sought-after sculptors.


    Li Chen’s work has been presented in prestigious galleries and museums, with recent solo shows including;  Being: In/Voluntary Drift Li Chen Solo Exhibition (2017) at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei; Through the Ages – Li Chen Solo Exhibition (2018-2019) at the Aurora Museum, Shanghai; Ethereal Cloud – Li Chen New Works (2019) at the Asia Art Center, Beijing, among numerous others. The present lot, Angelic Smile, was part of the Greatness of Spirit – Li Chen Premiere Sculpture Exhibition in Taiwan (2011), Taipei, and Monumental Levity: Li Chen 2013 Place Vendôme Premiere Solo Sculpture Exhibition in Paris (2013) — a large-scale outdoor display at the historic Place Vendôme in Paris.


    Installation view of a larger example of the present work at Place Vendôme, Paris, 2013 


    i Li Chen, quoted in Li Chen, When Night Light Glimmers - The Beacon: Li Chen, Taipei, 2010, p. 35, online

    • Provenance

      Asia Art Centre, Taipei
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Taipei, Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall & Freedom Square, Greatness of Spirit: Li Chen Premiere Sculpture Exhibition in Taiwan, November - December 2011, pp. 34-35, 116-119, 201 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      Paris, Place Vendome, Monumental Levity of Li Chen: Premiere Sculpture Exhibition in Paris, September 2013, pp. 108-109 (another example exhibited and illustrated)

    • Literature

      Li Chen, When Night Light Glimmers - The Beacon: Li Chen, Taipei, 2010, pp. 79-85 (another example illustrated)

Property of a Prominent Collector


Angelic Smile

incised with the artist's seal, signature and number 'Li Chen [in Chinese] Li Chen 1/8' on the reverse; further dated '2010' lower right side
163 x 63 x 71 cm. (64 1/8 x 24 3/4 x 27 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2010, this work is number 1 from an edition of 8, and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Asia Art Centre, Taipei.

Full Cataloguing

HK$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for HK$4,284,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 22 June 2022