Dr Janette Martin writes:
On a very rainy Monday in May I spent a fascinating morning at the Henry Moore Institute (HMI) in Leeds, installing a library display on Li Yuan-chia, a leading twentieth-century artist. For those who have not been, the HMI Research Library and Archives is one of Leeds’s hidden gems. Located on the bustling Headrow, next to Leeds City Art Gallery and above the HMI’s galleries, its collections tell the story of British Sculpture from the Victorian period until the present day.
As avid followers of this blog might recall, Li Yuan-chia (1929–94), was one of the most important Chinese artists of the twentieth century. He was a great innovator whose repertoire ranged from ink painting, sculpture, performances and participatory works to concrete poetry, film and photography. Li also established the LYC Museum and Art Gallery, an experimental venture in participatory art and an exhibition space at Banks, Cumbria, near Hadrian’s Wall. The University of Manchester Library’s Special Collections hold the archives of Li Yuan-chia.
Prior to starting work at the University of Manchester Library’s Special Collections, I worked briefly as the HMI archivist and I was struck by the overlaps between artistic collections held at both institutions. Last year I did a similar HMI library display on Jeff Nuttall. The Li Yuan-chia display arose from a conversation with the HMI librarian, Ann Sproat, and Dr Diana Yeh, a trustee of the LYC Foundation. Diana has written extensively about Li and her academic research focuses on diaspora and identity among Chinese migrant artists, so I was delighted when she agreed to co-curate this display with me.
A library display at the HMI is appropriate as Li Yuan-chia experimented with sculpture and installations (notably toy art) and he also supported the careers of emerging sculptors such as Andy Goldsworthy, by offering exhibition space at the LYC Museum. The HMI library collection includes artists’ books or catalogues published by LYC Museum. These have been recently augmented by a donation of duplicate material from the University of Manchester Library collections, by kind permission of the LYC Foundation Trustees. It is this collection which forms the basis of the current exhibition.
Li Yuan-chia’s artistic trajectory crossed many national boundaries, from rural China, via Taiwan, to Milan, Bologna and London before settling down to life in rural Cumbria. Here he renovated a dilapidated farmhouse at Banks near Hadrian’s Wall. In 1972, this building opened to the public as the innovative LYC Museum and Art Gallery, at its peak reputedly attracting around 300,000 visitors per year. Over three hundred artists exhibited there.
Items on display are drawn from the Henry Moore Institute Research Library collection and comprise loose components from the exhibition catalogue of Li Yuan-chia’s first show at the Lisson Gallery, London Cosmic Point (1967), which have been mounted and framed in sets of four and a range of LYC Museum and Art Gallery artists’ books and catalogues. The display can be viewed until the end of July 2017. Anyone can visit the Henry Moore Institute and its library is open 7 days a week (Monday to Friday 10am – 5.30pm, extended to 8pm on Wednesday; Sundays 1pm – 5pm).
For further information on the Li Yuan-Chia archive held at the University of Manchester Library please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Li Yuan-chia’s artistic legacy see http://www.lycfoundation.org/.