William Li has unfinished business. “All I wanted to be when I was in college was an art dealer,” the T&C contributing editor says. “But that world was so rarefied when I graduated, there was no clear way to enter.” Li found success in different arenas: He worked in magazine publishing, leaving his mark on titles including the New Yorker. He followed that with eight years at Ralph Lauren, four of them as the global brand president of Ralph Lauren Home. In 2019 he returned to media, co-hosting and producing Lucky Chow, the Emmy-nominated PBS series about Asian food and culture. All of these careers have been fulfilling, but Li never lost his passion for art.
This year he did something about it. In February Li launched Armature Projects, an advisory service that connects architects, interior designers, and collectors to both established and emerging artists. In most cases, acquiring art requires one to overcome a phalanx of advisors and dealers, and their politics, but Armature Projects banishes those woes. “My clients are people who collect for the beauty of art,” Li says. “And my role is to help them build a collection while making the process inspiring and effortless.”
So far he has partnered with design firms Ashe Leandro, Jarvis Studio, Markham Roberts, Studio SFW, and Williams Lawrence, among others; he’s collaborating with real estate developers to deck out new properties; and he’s building collections for clients across the country. While the 35 artists Li represents may not be household names yet, he has built a stable (including Kate Mangold and Vincent Chong) that speaks to collectors who value taste above trends. “Several are artists who are putting a contemporary spin on traditional subject matter,” Li says.
Augusta Hoffman, an interior designer who was introduced to Li for personal collecting purposes, says, “One great benefit of William is his design-minded background. Sometimes an advisor can be too theoretical, but William understands how art and design work together.”
Li’s endeavor exemplifies what one may reap from patience. “Occasionally, I have a thought about whether I should have started 10 years ago,” he says. “Then I remember that I wouldn’t have lived my other lives. Working in publishing made me more astute, and Ralph Lauren honed my eye. I am fearless and passionate about this, and there’s something magical about that.”
This story appears in the October 2023 issue of Town & Country.