Even standing up close, Beijing-artist Li Hongbo’s sculpture of Michelangelo’s David looks like it is made out of marble or porcelain, but when it is gently pulled up, the bust stretches out beyond recognition, and when released, springs back to its original shape like a Slinky toy. The raw material that Li Hongbo uses for his sculptures is paper, thousands and thousands of sheets of paper. His average classical busts require gluing more than 5,000 sheets of paper together in a honeycomb pattern, using pressure to hold the sheets together. From there, he saws, cuts and shapes the huge block of glued paper to arrive at a rough sculpted form. Li Hongbo then shaves in the finer details and uses sandpaper to smooth the surface.
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Two things to learn from this video: 1) No matter how fascinating the subject, nearly all videos benefit from a voiceover narrative and an appropriate soundtrack, both lacking here. 2) Although the term “industrial design” did not emerge until the 20th century, the design and engineering skills to produce incredible objects that utilized the principles of applied science and engineering existed long before then. Centuries before CAD systems and 3-D modeling devices, Abraham Roentgen (1711-1793) and his son, David (1743-1807), made ingeniously engineered and mechanically complex cabinetry that incorporated drawers that opened automatically at the touch of a button, hidden compartments, and drop-down writing surfaces – all behind elegantly decorated panels. This walnut-veneered masterpiece was commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia in the late 18th century and is housed today in the Kunstgewerbe museum in Berlin.
Having trouble relating Western art history to contemporary culture? Watch this video that the French-American band Hold Your Horses made for its track “70 Million,” produced by L’Ogre. Apparently, the entire video was filmed over two weekends in a parking garage in Paris. See if you can name the painting and the artist.
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