What I Buy and Why: Chinese Collector Jason Li on Scouring the Metaverse for Exciting New Art

We caught up with the collector at his home in Los Angeles.

Jason Li.
Jason Li.

Jason Li is busy. The Los Angeles-based collector recently co-founded two ambitious artistic endeavors: Horizon, a foundation and artist residency program, and Outland, a platform focused on art and technology. (The latter just announced a new digital art series by Rachel Rose.)

When he’s not working on those projects or serving on the Whitney Museum’s Artist Council, Li is scouring the globe—and the metaverse—for new additions to his collection.

We grabbed a moment to catch up with the collector about his most treasured work, the artists on his radar, and how a ten-minute delay meant he missed out on the chance to acquire Jill Mulleady’s moving portrait of the late basketball star Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi.

Cao Fei, Nova 12 (2019). Inkjet print on paper. Courtesy Jason Li.

Cao Fei, Nova 12 (2019). Inkjet print on paper. Courtesy Jason Li.

What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?

An Andy Warhol photograph from his trip to Beijing in 1982. As someone who has now spent essentially half my life in China and the U.S., I appreciate the bridge between cultures that Warhol’s photograph represents. I acquired it a long time ago, so I’m not sure about the price I paid.

What was your most recent purchase?

I’m a longstanding admirer of Cao Fei and her highly immersive approach to art and technology. I bought a fantastic print on paper from 2019. Her mesmerizing works and pioneering experiments in Second Life have anticipated how our lives move evermore seamlessly between the digital and physical, all without forgetting the human aspect of things. 

Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?

I recently attended Josh Kline’s solo show at LAXART, and his work on addressing climate change resonates with me. He’s a brilliant artist and I’m so impressed by his ability to tackle important issues in a variety of mediums, from 16mm film to melting wax sculptures and photography.

Courtesy Jason Li.

Jason Li’s L.A. home. Courtesy Jason Li.

What is the most expensive work of art that you own?

My wife has long been a passionate painter even though it’s not her day job. Her portrait of our daughter is something I will always treasure and is priceless in many ways. 

Where do you buy art most frequently?

I mainly buy through galleries so I am supporting dealers along with the artists they represent. As I’m an avid NFT collector in addition to being passionate about contemporary art, I am particularly drawn to artists who are doing innovative things with technology. So I am often following artists and supporting them through NFT marketplaces for their virtual works.

Is there a work you regret purchasing?

Not a single piece!

What work do you have hanging above your sofa? What about in your bathroom?

I have an Owen Fu diptych over the sofa, and a David Shrigley in the bathroom—his work and its sense of humor always changes my mood for the better.

One Hundred Horses, datable to 1723-25. Artist Giuseppe Castiglione. Photo by Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images.

One Hundred Horses, datable to 1723-25. Artist Giuseppe Castiglione. Photo by Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images.

What is the most impractical work of art you own?

I don’t have anything that impractical right now, but suspect that will change soon as I’ve been eyeing more challenging and ambitious sculptures and installations.

What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?

I was ten minutes late responding for Jill Mulleady’s portrait of Kobe and Gigi right after they passed away. It is such a powerful work about a tremendous loss. I still think about it to this day!

If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?

One Hundred Horses (1723–25) by Giuseppe Castiglione at the Met.

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