Flash Art Asia delves into the Asian contemporary art phenomenon that has exploded on the international art scene. Returning with its second edition, this survey sheds light on the leading curators, museums/institutions, galleries and collectors from India to Taiwan, China to Indonesia.
1) What do you think are some of the differences between the contemporary art of your country and that of Asia in general or the West?
2) In your country do you think there is adequate information about contemporary art? Do the museums and private galleries do a good job of disseminating information?
3)What is the role of the art critic and curator in Asia? Do you have sufficient autonomy, or is it the galleries that make the choices and affirm the status of the artist?
4) Do private galleries and museums frequently ask for your collaboration?
Asmudjo J. Irianto
Independent curator and artist based in Bandung, Indonesia
1) It can be said that, in the last decade, the look of Indonesian contemporary art is not very different from the face of Asian contemporary art in general. These last few years, there has been an expansion on the diversity of themes and media in the Indonesian contemporary art landscape. Sociopolitical issues have receded to give way to global issues (environmental issues, modern capitalism and pop culture). In addition, personal issues, lifestyle and everyday life have also become themes often highlighted by young artists. Admittedly, the networks of global contemporary art markets, which are able to absorb a variety of media, themes and styles, have helped trigger plurality in the Indonesian contemporary art scene. The strength of the art market has also motivated the revitalization of painting. This is why the contemporary art scene in Indonesia, like other regions in Asia, still has a prominent place for paintings. Group exhibitions in private galleries often display paintings, meshed together with sculptures, installations, photography and new media.
2) Actually, in Indonesia — due to the dearth of contemporary art museums — private galleries play a greater role in spreading information and producing contemporary art discourses. Most top-level galleries in Indonesia will endeavor to have curated exhibitions. It is possible to say that curatorial essays produced for exhibitions at Indonesian private galleries dominate the Indonesian contemporary art discourses.
3) Due to the lack of contemporary art museums in Indonesia, most [Indonesian] curators are independent or freelance curators, not museum curators. As such, Indonesian curators cooperate more intensively with private galleries. Ideas or proposals for exhibitions may come from either the curators or the gallery owner. Usually, the choice of participating artists reflects the consensus of both sides.
At the moment, critics do not seem to have the same importance as they did in the ’80s and ’90s. As in the West, there is currently a crisis of art criticism in the Indonesian contemporary art scene. According to art historian James Elkins, such a crisis may be caused by an overabundance of critiques produced through glossy art magazines (thus, not all of them can be consumed). However, this is not the case in Indonesia. Critiques and criticisms are far from copiously produced, due to the lack of media outlets and readers. There are a number of short-lived local art magazines, curtailed due to a lack of readers. Moreover, it is possible that Indonesian art lovers prefer to consume international art magazines with greater coverage on a more global scale.
4) Yes, I often receive requests to curate exhibitions at private galleries. In terms of museums, I often collaborate with the Galleri Nasional Indonesia in Jakarta.
Curator and writer currently based in London
1) I am of Indian origin, but like some curators and participants in the creative industries, I live in one country and find myself working increasingly in a global community. Currently I live in London, but the mainstay of my work is located in Asia: in Mumbai, Kolkata or Tehran among other places in the world.
Asia and the West are incredibly large and diverse geographical regions, with a range of histories and talents that allow them to remain incomparable. The only word that comes to my mind to describe them is uneven — in their ability to produce or promote the contemporary arts.
Contemporary art in North Wales can be compared to that of the Bengal region; in both places it remains infrequently seen by the public while commanding a great deal of respect when programmed in fledgling public spaces. In Tehran, the artistic community is thriving. It is even more inquisitive and ambitious than its counterparts in Warsaw or Amsterdam. So, this unevenness is very hard to decipher beyond the fact that contemporary art matters in both continents and will become more important as the new millennium unravels.
2) The current economic climate is very challenging for those involved in the art world. One does not know if what was set in place last month still stands to fulfill its ambition in the near future. Budgets and modes of communication remain fluctuating; in the case of Southern Asia, which includes India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, I think much more has to be done to include the public. It currently remains only for the privileged, more or less like the art scene in Western Europe. Underprivileged communities are never seen as part of the contemporary arts community — either historically or as a potential audience.
3) Goethe once said, “Human life runs its course in the metamorphosis between receiving and giving.” This, for me, very much describes the role of the art critic and more so the curator. Autonomy is dependent on the strength of character of the art curator or critic. In some places autonomy has to be fought for in order to survive both commercial enticement and pomposity. Commercial spaces sometimes are the only providers of resources for the arts, including exhibition space and a commitment to the discourse, so their role in Southern Asia sometimes differs from public spaces in parts of the West. It’s a push and pull world; surely we have had enough of heroism gained by standing on others’ shoulders?
4)Mainly private galleries or collectors in India have employed me. Since 2003, when I started working in India, I have not yet been invited to curate a show in a museum. This remains a goal and another milestone for my future.
Art critic and independent curator based in New Delhi
1) Contemporary Indian art tends to be India-centric in content and international in form. The making of the contemporary moment in India was rooted in social narrative, institutional critique and a cynical appraisal of urbanism in the country. Our dominant thematic tends to be issues of class and gender, informed by mythology and political content. Even though we share the history of modernism with other Asian countries, our contexts are particular. This can lead to issues of translation.
2) Contemporary art in India is limited to metropolitan cities and a few university towns. It is a small enclave and has little impact in the public domain expect through the instruments of the market or celebrity.
3) I think the curator is gaining enormous agency in the buoyant Indian art gallery scene, but sadly the critic in India — as elsewhere — has been subsumed into the curator. So for the making of knowledge in art we have to turn to curatorial writing or the long essay, book, etc. As a curator I work with curatorial and critical autonomy.
4) Yes, there is a lot of interest in collaboration at the private and public level. In the last year I did the exhibition “Tolstoy Farm: Archive of Utopia” with the state Lalit Kala Akademi, and in January this year I did a show with the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, a leading private museum, called “Cynical Love: Life in the Everyday.”
1) How is your museum funded?
2) What is the orientation towards presenting contemporary art? Do you focus on Asian art, or do you have space reserved for important European and American art too?
3) Regarding acquisitions, do you purchase artworks directly from artists or through galleries and auction houses?
4) Do you have an annual budget for acquisitions and a separate one for exhibitions?
5) Who determines acquisitions? Do you have a museum board?
Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT), Tokyo
1) Founded in 1995 by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, [the museum’s] administration was taken over in 2000 by the Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture. This foundation is 100% funded by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and operates four museums, including the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and the Edo Tokyo Museum, a theater, a concert hall and various other cultural facilities.
2) The museum’s collection and exhibition programs are carried out within the context of postwar contemporary art, with acquisitions and programs developed accordingly. Of particular importance is to trace and establish a discourse on uniquely Japanese schools of modernism that appeared within an Asian context and compare them to the major Western trends. To this end, we present solo exhibitions by both veterans and young artists as well as group exhibitions. We also focus on trends in cross-disciplinary expression, presenting a diverse art-related program including architecture, design, fashion, video, animation, etc. It is also important that we reference the work of Western artists for its quality and context, introducing this through themed and solo exhibitions. Regarding our acquisition of foreign works: during the ’90s we concentrated on works from Europe and the United States, but for the last five years we have adopted a more global approach, acquiring works from South America and Asia, including Islamic countries.
3) The museum purchases works from both artists and galleries. Sometimes this takes the form of a commission rather than purchase. We also receive a lot of donations from collectors and artists.
4) The museum has an annual budget for acquisitions, the total sum being decided by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government every fiscal year. All acquisitions become the property of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. This budget is separate from the exhibition budget.
5) The initial proposals are made at a meeting of curators. Then after receiving approval from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, it is placed before a collection committee, consisting of art specialists, the museum director and art critics. The final decision is made by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Deputy Director, Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul
1) The Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art is part of the Samsung Foundation of Culture, which is a subsidiary non-profit organization of the Samsung Corporation. The Foundation is funded by the earnings from its own activities, including the collection of admission fees to the Museum’s programs and income from the sale of cultural products as well as the annual financial support given by the companies affiliated with the Samsung Corporation such as Samsung Electronics and Samsung Life Insurance.
2) The Leeum aims to encompass not only traditional and modern Korean art but various tendencies of international contemporary art as well. As for contemporary art, the Leeum attempts to function as a platform through which Asian art can be introduced and advance to the international art scene. Since its inauguration, the Leeum has presented special exhibitions of such prominent artists as Matthew Barney and Christian Marclay as well as retrospective shows of Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol and Nam June Paik. Among its 2012 exhibitions are solo exhibitions by Pipilotti Rist and Anish Kapoor. In terms of exhibition projects and acquisitions, the Leeum pays careful attention not only to contemporary artists from the United States and Europe but also to artists from Asian countries including Japan, China and India. In its permanent exhibition galleries one can experience and enjoy works from diverse regions throughout the world by artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Gilbert & George, Gerhard Richter, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami and Zeng Fanzhi, as well as works by contemporary Korean artists including Nam June Paik, Lee Ufan, Lee Bul and Do Ho Suh.
3) The Leeum’s selective acquisition of world-class works of art results from its own concentrated and in-depth research. The Leeum often purchases works by the young artists featured in our own special exhibitions. When artists are without agent galleries, the Leeum will buy work directly from the artist; and in the case of artists represented by galleries we do so through their galleries.
4) A separate budget is allocated for the Leeum’s annual acquisitions.
5) The Leeum has its own acquisition committee whose members include its director and senior curators. The committee decides which works to acquire after thorough examination and evaluation of both works recommended by the museum’s curators and those proposed by various other sources.
Director, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing
1) The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) is a not-for-profit art center founded by collectors Guy and Myriam Ullens in November 2007. It was their personal mission to establish the center, and they remain fully committed today, investing in ongoing capital projects. The Center is also increasing income across all current sources: sponsorships, retail sales at UCCA’s store, commercial events and memberships.
It is accelerating the development of the organization and enabling it to better serve the art community. Every penny raised supports the development of Chinese contemporary art.
2) Both. UCCA’s core mission is the promotion of Chinese culture in its diverse forms. The center is producing major exhibitions of established and emerging Chinese artists. These include Gu Dexin, Yung Ho Chang, Yun-Fei Ji, Song Kun, Wang Mai, Jennifer Wen Ma and Kan Xuan. The Center also brings major international artists to audiences in Beijing. The center is currently hosting an exhibition of limited-edition works by artists produced by the art journal Parkett titled “Inside a Book a House of Gold.” The center will stage “Indian Highway” this summer, marking the first major touring exhibition mounted at UCCA, as well as the largest exhibition of Indian art in China to date. Rounding out an international program, fall shows will include the Japanese sculptor Teppei Kaneuji and the first ever exhibition of Marcel Duchamp in China.
3) The definition of museum in China is more fluid, and very few Chinese museums and foundations show permanent exhibitions of contemporary art. UCCA does not have a permanent collection, but is able to draw on the Ullens Foundation Collection as a resource for temporary exhibitions in addition to other loans.
In due course, highlights from the Ullens Foundation will form a permanent display chronicling the emergence of contemporary art in China over the last 35 years.
4) We are not a collecting institution, so our budget is entirely for operations and exhibitions.
We are fortunate to be able to draw on the Guy and Myriam Ullens Foundation Collection, but also on the generosity of Chinese collectors who lend work to us for exhibitions and for longer-term display.
5) We are in the process of assembling a two-committee board, consisting on the one hand of experts from the Chinese and international art worlds, and on the other of prominent local patrons.
This board will first be advisory in nature, helping us to assess and tweak our programming and opening us up to new opportunities. Since the UCCA is not itself a collecting institution, there are no acquisitions to decide on.
1) At a time of crisis in the international art market, what is the current situation in your country?
2) Is your art market predominantly national or does it include other regions in Asia?
3) Are your collectors primarily interested in local or Western artists?
4) Do you take part in art fairs?
Director, Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai
1) There is a slowing down worldwide, and what happens in the rest of the world certainly does reflect the sentiment of our buyers as well. There is a sense of hesitation, but younger buyers are replacing older ones and hopefully we will be able to wait out the current crisis that is overtaking the world.
2) It does not really include other regions in Asia. It is predominantly Indian but also European.
3) Our buyers are primarily interested in Indian art; it is known, familiar, although there is a definite tendency to move toward collecting younger artists from Western galleries.
4) Yes, we take part in Art Basel, Art Basel Miami Beach, we have been in FIAC for the last six years, Art Dubai, Art HK and of course the India Art Fair.
Director, Platform China, Beijing
1) The secondary art market in China, particularly at auctions, tends to be much more active than the primary market. Since the economic recession began, a number of new opportunities have been created for Chinese galleries. Some collectors who had previously only collected works at auction are now beginning to collect works directly from galleries on the primary market. The relatively mild auction results in 2011 also encouraged people to start rethinking the market as a whole. Platform China has always maintained a distance from the auction market, as we value the long-term development of artists in favor of a moment of speculation.
2) Our market is very international, not just Asian, but also includes North American and European clients. Nearly half of our market is international collectors and institutes.
3) Platform China primarily represents young, emerging artists from China, and because of this most of our clients are primarily interested in local artists. We are, however, working hard to increase our relationships with foreign artists in hopes of introducing more Western art to Asian collectors.
4) Yes, we participate in Art HK, Liste, Frieze, Art Dubai, ARCO, etc.
President, PKM, Seoul
1) Due to the recession in the world economy, the art business is not as busy as before. However, young collectors’ interest in contemporary art is mounting gradually, and that phenomenon has resulted in diversity in collecting. Korea’s art business was dominated by Korean modernist art with an expansion in Western contemporary art. However, people have started to show interest in Korean contemporary artists now. For example, many museums have mid-career survey exhibitions for Korean contemporary artists — the first generation of Korean contemporary artists. This is an important phenomenon that could lead to first-generation Korean contemporary art becoming big in the art market when the recession is over.
2) Demand for Western artwork is gradually increasing. Interest in Asian art — except China — is still rather insignificant.
3) Due to improvements in technology, collectors in Korea can obtain and share information about foreign artists. For young collectors especially, they can accept any artist openly as long as the artist has potential in the market.
4) We have participated in Art Basel, Frieze, the Armory Show and the Hong Kong Art Fair. Meanwhile, Art HK and Art Basel will become the place where the Asian art market and the Western art market can coexist in a classy way.
Director, Pearl Lam Galleries, Shanghai and Hong Kong
1) The Chinese art market for now continues to boom, and has just overtaken the U.S. as the largest market for art and antiques in the world. There are new profiles for emerging groups of collectors across Asia, including a younger generation and others collecting for investment rather than as a personal activity or collectible asset. As with any international market based on perceived value there can be highs and lows. The game is changing and these are new times for the art market in China.
2) We are opening a new gallery in Hong Kong in the Pedder Building in May, in addition to our spaces in Shanghai. Hong Kong is an extremely well-connected city, with no import taxes, so the scene is very international with visiting collectors from the region: Taiwan and Indonesia among other territories. Tastes are also very international. We will be showing work by international artists and Chinese artists to Hong Kong and regional audiences.
We have found there are interesting differences between the markets in Hong Kong and China, and different taste profiles and popular artists for each. Zhang Huan and Cao Fei, for example, are rarely featured in the mainland auction market, while they are popular in the international Chinese market. Photography and sculpture are less popular in China. Contemporary works do better in Hong Kong, while oil and ink-and-brush paintings of more traditional subjects — landscapes and portraits — sell better in China.
3) International collectors and Chinese collectors collect very different work. Only recently has the gap narrowed, as there is a new group of Chinese collectors who follow auction results and buy art for “investment,” i.e., following the international market. With the growth of the Chinese art market, Chinese collectors are now looking at international works as much as they are learning to acquire works from their trusted dealers. Chinese from countries outside China who have adopted a “Western eye” are collecting Chinese works that have been ignored by Chinese collectors, e.g., photography and video.
4) Yes, Art Basel and Asian art fairs such as Art Stage Singapore and Art HK. Art HK has been a great success for Hong Kong. In only four years, it has made a great impact on the cultural scene of the city. Engagement from the general public and different sectors in the city has increased, and organizers from different sectors are more confident to curate more cultural events and exhibitions on different scales.
1) When did you start collecting?
2) Are your interests as a collector exclusively Asian or do you also collect Western artists?
3) Do you buy works directly from artists or solely from galleries?
4) Do you also buy work at international auctions?
5) Who do you think are the most interesting contemporary artists today?
6) Do you attend and purchase work at art fairs?
Founder and Director, White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney
1) I have always collected, even when I was very young. Gathering meaningful objects, or, more importantly, objects that were meaningful to me, has been a part of my life since my childhood in Africa. I have previously collected African wooden Madonna carvings, Coke bottles — all manner of things. I began seriously collecting Chinese contemporary art in 2001.
2) The White Rabbit collection consists solely of post-millennial Chinese art. For home, my taste is not limited to Asian art, though I do love many Korean works. My great passion for Chinese contemporary art, the inspiration for the White Rabbit Collection, does not exclude my interest in any art, from anywhere.
3) Most often, I buy directly from the artists. Sometimes I buy from galleries, but it’s not always even possible. Buying in China is not like buying in Australia or anywhere in the West. Many of the artists I meet with and collect have no gallery representation whatsoever. I put a great deal of effort into seeking out the most interesting and innovative artworks, and I do not base my choices on the stature or reputation of the artist. I have many brilliant pieces by students as well as prominent artists, so they have all come to me from different channels.
4) I have never bought any artworks from auction and don’t intend to in the future. When I first started collecting Chinese contemporary art, only a few artists were known in the West, the majority of which had become known through their incredibly high auction prices. One of the key goals of my collection is for it to offer a platform for many Chinese artists who haven’t had much exposure in the West. To me it seems that once an artist has made it to one of the large international auctions, everyone knows about them. I want to offer something fresh and new — pieces that will excite and surprise visitors to the gallery. My collection is not an investment. I don’t buy at auction, and nor do I sell.
5) Our current show “Down the Rabbit Hole” features two works by the Taiwanese group Luxury Logico. They are a collaboration between four exceptional artists, all Taiwanese, all under thirty-five. They are extraordinarily creative and are so supportive of their fellow artists. I think Christian Marclay is one of the most exciting artists today.
6) I do regularly attend art fairs. We’re excited that Art HK has become such a great fair. Being based in Australia, the proximity of Art HK is wonderful. The structure of the fair is excellent, and there is always so much to see and do. We also regularly attend Frieze and Art Basel Miami, among others.
Founder, Salsali Private Museum, Dubai
1) I started collecting at the age of 21.
2) Being born in Iran and having spent most of my life in Europe (specifically Germany), I do not limit myself to a certain geographical area. My collection at the Salsali Private Museum (the first private museum for contemporary art in the Middle East) reflects this approach, which is based on a simple fact: I love art for what it is, regardless of the origin of the artist. It is very important to like the art itself.
3) I prefer to work through galleries, but a few of the artists I collect have been friends for many years and some of them are not represented by any particular gallery. But I always recommend going through a reputable and professional gallery.
4) Yes, I buy works at international auctions on a regular basis.
5) A very difficult question! Sara Rahbar, Amir-Hossein Zanjani, Ali Zanjani, Pantea Rahmani, André Butzer, Philip Mueller, to name a few. Needless to say, there are many great artists who I adore.
6) This is what I really look forward to. An art fair is very important and saves me a lot of time. I can dedicate myself to seeing a large number of new works in two to three days. Additionally, it is an educational process like school is, and the beauty is that this school ends in three to four days.
Businessman, based in Jakarta
1) I started collecting about five years ago. I am passionate about comic/street art and new media works.
2) My collection is exclusive to Asia for now. I like to support not just the artists but the development of the art scene. Two years ago, I started indoartnow.com so people from around the world can have access to exhibitions involving Indonesian contemporary art. I am also in the midst of starting an artist residency program with a top Indonesian curator in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, where my business is based.
3) While many artists are my friends, I generally have a policy of not buying works directly from artists’ studios. I believe in supporting the art market ecology. The gallery’s role in promoting artists is a crucial one.
4) Yes, I buy from Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Bidding at auction gives a great adrenaline rush. I believe that the market is also an important aspect of the contemporary world — it adds to artists’ visibility in different ways.
5) Eko Nugroho, Wedhar Riyadi, Tromarama and Jompet from Indonesia. I also like international artists such as Cai Guo-Qiang, Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama and Vertical Submarine from Singapore. As for the younger stream of Indonesian artists, I have to keep it under wraps for now. I’m launching a book and exhibition project where the top five Indonesian curators recommend their pick of ten new artists. The book will be launched in October this year.
6) Yes, I attend Art Stage Singapore, Art HK and Art Dubai. Each gives a different vibe. I really enjoy seeing how art fairs are curated nowadays, and I learn a lot through art talks and sharing the experience with fellow collectors.
Giancarlo Politi is the founder, editor and publisher of Flash Art.
Lucy Rees is an editor at Flash Art International.