Bust of Marseilles, 2012 (detail)

From an inch away, the sculptures of Li Hongbo look like plaster. They are not. These large reproductions of classical busts are 100% paper. And I’m not talking about papier-mâché, or cast paper pulp, or painted paper – just a stack of raw white paper, impossibly carved by hand.

Carving Paper: The Surprising Sculpture of Li Hongbo in art  Category

Bust of Marseilles, 2012

Carving Paper: The Surprising Sculpture of Li Hongbo in art  Category

Bust of Marseilles, 2012 (detail)

Carving Paper: The Surprising Sculpture of Li Hongbo in art  Category

Bust of Marseilles, 2012

The “block” from which each sculpture is carved is composed of thousands of sheets of paper, each glued (one at a time!) in a precise and delicate pattern of stripes. When lifted or manipulated by gallery staff, the pattern relieves itself, effortlessly expanding like a delicate accordion or alien honeycomb.

Carving Paper: The Surprising Sculpture of Li Hongbo in art  Category

Bust of Marseilles, 2012 (detail)

The smooth surface is not painted or coated in any way. Hongbo lightly sands the finished sculptures to create a fuzzed edge that visually dissolves into its neighbor under pressure of gravity. The yellowish interior is a result of the filtered light.

Carving Paper: The Surprising Sculpture of Li Hongbo in art  Category

Roman Youth, 2013

Carving Paper: The Surprising Sculpture of Li Hongbo in art  Category

Roman Youth, 2013 (detail)

Carving Paper: The Surprising Sculpture of Li Hongbo in art  Category

Bust of Young English Girl, 2013

Carving Paper: The Surprising Sculpture of Li Hongbo in art  Category

Bust of Young English Girl, 2013

If you can’t make it to the gallery in person, I encourage you to search the internet or numerous iPhone videos of these in action. The movement is insane. My favorite video however is below. It’s an incredible peek at the process itself, from the meticulous gluing to the final sanding.

Carving Paper: The Surprising Sculpture of Li Hongbo in art  Category

Bust of David, 2012 (detail)

What: Li Hongbo: Tools of Study
Where: Klein Sun Gallery, 525 West 22nd St, New York, NY
When: January 9, 2014 – March 22, 2014

All images courtesy Klein Sun Gallery, New York. Photographed by David Behringer.