Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge is a particularly appropriate venue in which to stage the first major exhibition of work by the 20th-century Chinese artist Li Yuan-chia, and his many friends, collaborators and associates.
Li’s journey to Banks from south-east China’s Guangxi province began when he was 20. His unique trajectory included periods in Taiwan, joining avant-garde art movements in Bologna and passing through the outer edges of Swinging London before his arrival in Cumbria in 1968. What he set about doing there was equally remarkable. Amy Tobin, co-curator of the new show Making New Worlds: Li Yuan-chia & Friends, explains how the wide range of art that Li made – conceptual work, painting, textiles, collages, sculpture, photography and more – reflects the breadth of the community he built around artmaking.
But while LYC was something of a haven for Li and other artists, and he was generally warmly received by his neighbours, there were also difficulties. He faced racism, and – like millions of others in the early 90s – he refused to pay his poll tax. Li was forced to close the museum in 1982 due to problems with money and the building rights, but he continued to live and work at the site until his death 12 years later. Li is buried at Lanercost Priory, near Carlisle.
Making New Worlds: Li Yuan-chia & Friends will run from 11 November 2023 - 18 February 2024.