ART NEWS, Volume 14 Number 1, January/February 2004
on the first page under the sculpture:
Wei, CO0919 (China China
series), 2003, bronze, signed Zhu Wei #5/12, on left shoes, height 58
cm. Photograph: Courtesy of Plum Blossoms Gallery.
on the second page (upper one):
Wei, Woodblock No.16 #1/8, 2003, woodblock print, signed Zhu Wei, 90 x
65 cm. Photograph: Courtesy of Plum Blossoms Gallery.
Shen, RockLore I, 2003, paper, ink, wax, stone, 37" x 22" x
21". Photograph: Courtesy of Art Projects International.
on the third page (upper one):
Feng, Civilization Landscape No.30, 2003, ink on paper, 110 x 200 cm.
Photograph: Courtesy of Ethan Cohen Fine Arts.
Sook Pahk, Large Buncheong Bowl with iron brush strokes, 2002, diameter
23 3/5 x height 13 4/5 in. Photograph: Courtesy of Gallery Pahk.
on the last page (upper one):
Lee, Untitled #1203, 2003, acrylic, ballpoint per on canvas, 60 x 42
inches. Photograph: Courtesy of Art Projects International.
Diao, Lying 2, 2000, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 108 inches.
Week Of Surprises
of what the general press might say about the popularity of contemporary
Asian art, introducing it to a wider audience has always been a
difficult struggle. The Asian Contemporary Art Week (ACAW) in New York
City is testament to this. The second edition is this event, which
finished at the end of November 2003, exemplifies a few of the struggles
to place contemporary Asian art at the center of art activities in one
of the major art cities of the world. Breaking down preconceived notions
about Asian art will, however, never by easy, even in New York.
evening in November 2001, Jack and Susy Wadsworth, collectors of Asian
art and trustees of the Asia Society, were lamenting the difficulty of
profiling Asian art in New York with Stephen McGuinness, the managing
director of Plum Blossoms Gallery. During that conversation, they toyed
with the idea of a collaborative project to raise awareness about
contemporary Asian art. So, they decided to contact Vishakha Desai,
director of the galleries and cultural programs at the Asia Society.
Both responded favorably to the idea and got in touch with other people
they thought might be interested in the endeavor. The result was a
dinner at Macelleria Restaurant in New York on January 22, 2002, where
about 15 people, including gallery owners, curators, and representatives
of non-profit organizations, wholeheartedly agreed on the need for a
collective effort to expand the audience for contemporary Asian art.
They scribbled their support all over the menu, turning it into a sort
of manifesto, and Asian Contemporary Art Consortium came into being.
goal of the alliance was to develop a weeklong event every year to raise
the profile of contemporary Asian art circles, museum curators, and the
general public. The consortium consists of 16 individuals, mostly
galleries, and a variety of other groups and people are affiliated with
it. "Our stated mission is to create a weighted foundation where
instead of having just one leaf blowing in the wind, we have a tree that
has roots," said Stephen McGuinness.
in its second year running Asian
Contemporary Art Week (ACAW), which ended on November 22, 2003, is a
noteworthy milestone in increasing awareness about Asian art in New
York. While a fair number of people in New York are familiar with Asian
antiques, less is known about contemporary Asian art and ACAW makes a
valuable contribution by exposing people to it. "It is a critical
moment in time since there is an intense curiosity in Asian art,
especially about Chinese and Korean artists," said Richard Vine,
the managing editor of Art In
America magazine, adding that events like ACAW had "some
effect" in raising the profile of contemporary Asian art galleries
and the field in general. Vine, who attended several of the events,
pointed out that the turnout was very good. "People were voting
with their feet," he said.
presence of contemporary Asian art in New York has steadily been rising
over the past few years and the birth of ACAW is a testament to that
trend. In 2001, the number of Asian artists exhibited in New York
galleries increased by 317% to 993 compared with 238 in 1992, according
to an Asia Society report. In museums and non-profit organizations, the
number of Asian and Asian-American artists included in exhibitions only
increased by 78% in 2002 compared to 1992.
these significant strides, there is still a pressing need to expand
people’s notion of Asian art and ACAW’s aim is to address that need.
So far, the event has had some success, but is still, as the consortium
members themselves acknowledge, in the embryonic stages of achieving the
lofty goals that they set out. "We’re still building
audiences," said Asia Society’s Melissa Chiu. Consortium member
Jung Lee Sanders of Art Projects
International remarked that it was "too early to tell how
successful it is," while collector David Solo, also a consortium
member, said more progress needed to be made in attracting collectors of
Western contemporary art.
ACAW’s role in promoting contemporary Asian art does deserve credit.
During a tightly packed week in November 2003 you could get a fairly
good dose of contemporary Asian art by both established and emerging
artists included in Chinese artists Zhu Wei, Cai Jin, Qin Feng, David
Diao, Yu Zhang, and Yi Chen, Korean artist Young Sook Pahk, and Indian
artist Sunoj D.
one of ACAW’s key goals is to lure collectors of contemporary art to
see the rich and interesting work being done by Asian artists today, it
has deliberately been planned in the middle of November to coincide with
the timing of the sales of Western contemporary art at auction houses
such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s. "We wanted to de-link it from
the world of Asian auctions and expand the audience," said
sense is that they want to ally themselves with the contemporary world
rather than the world of Asian antiques," said Mee-Seen Loong, head
of international Asian business development and client services art
ACAW has made some inroads into creating awareness amongst collectors of
Western art. "We’re starting to see results," said
McGuinness, noting that he sold some sculptures of Zhu Wei to a big
collector of Modern Western Masters. The sculptures have been exhibited
in the lobby of the IBM building in Manhattan.
Goedhuis of Goedhuis Contemporary, also a consortium member, said his
gallery was able to attract people who were in New York for the auctions
and sold some paintings to collectors who were buying Asian contemporary
art for the first time.
ACAW 2003, about 20 events, most of which were receptions of new
exhibitions, were crammed into a span of five days. Though the Week was
centered around these new exhibitions, there were a couple of lectures,
a discussion on contemporary art, some performance art, and studio
visits as well. About four to five events took place on average between
six and nine every evening with people scrambling from place to place to
make sure they saw as much as possible.
the explicit aim of the consortium is to reflect the diversity of Asian
art, the entire event felt overwhelmingly Chinese with a smattering of
Japan and Korea. Bose Pacia Gallery added some cultural variety to the
event with its exhibition of emerging Indian artists Sunoj D., Justin
Ponmany, and Sumitro Basak, who won the 2003 Bose Pacia Prize for
both abstract and representational, dominated the Week while video art
had hardly any presence except for one new-media project at Art in
General which showed Angie Eng’s interesting exploration of the
nomadic aspects of both ancient and contemporary cultures. Photography
made a brief appearance at Sepia International Inc., which showed the
work of 50 international photographers, including some from Asia.
the work exhibited was solid and represented a fairly good cross-section
of the Asian contemporary art generally shown in New York. However, Vine
of Art In America said that
some of the work coming out of Asia was far more cutting-edge than what
was exhibited at ACAW and, in that sense, not very different from the
avant-garde work being done in the West. But, the galleries here were
familiar with the tastes of the New York audience, he said, nothing that
they reflected that knowledge in their exhibitions. "Frankly,
there’s not a vast market for cutting-edge work anywhere," he
to the previous year, there was little critical discussion this year
except for one conversation between Asia Society’s Vishakha Desai and
Francesco Bonami, a former director of the Venice
Biennale which focused more on the international exhibition than on
contemporary Asian art. Last year, however, there was a day-long
symposium on issues related to contemporary Asian art and featured
curators, writers, and collectors from all over the world including
notable personalities such as Okwui Enwezor, the artistic director of Documenta
2002, Dan Cameron, senior curator at the New Museum of Contemporary
Art in New York, and Apinan Poshyanada, a leading scholar of
contemporary Asian art.
consortium members said that the plan was to have a grand affair every
two years. "This year was much more modest," said Ethan Cohen
of Ethan Cohen Fine Arts. "We’re saving our energy for next
lush, hot pink paintings of Cai Jin, whose work was exhibited at a solo
show at Goedhuis Contemporary and included in a group show at Chambers
Fine Art, were extremely alluring and recalled the work of the American
artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 - 1986). The imaginative renderings of a
banana plant Cai first encountered in China in 1990 are richly textural
and bursting with sensuality. She gave up art for two years when she
became pregnant in 1999 and created these paintings soon after she
returned to art. While there are no obvious references to pregnancy, the
work reflects a keen understanding and love of the physical world, be it
banana leaves or a body pregnant with child.
Plum Blossoms Gallery were powerful satirical commentaries on the
suppression of individuality in China in Zhu Wei’s paintings,
sculptures, and woodblock prints. His colorful ink paintings show bald
men with oversized, almost cartoonish heads sardonically making the
point about the importance of the individual in a society that generally
values the collective over the individual. The faces look vacant and
disoriented, almost as if they are past the point of cynicism. The
contrast between the bright colors of the paintings and the emptiness on
the faces creates an interesting sense of unease in the work. This theme
of the collective versus the individual continues into Zhu’s
sculptural series China China where
imposing figures in Mao suits stand at a slightly tilted angle,
signifying obedience to a higher authority. Particularly impressive were
his woodblock prints, which showed off both his creativity and
craftsmanship. Woodblock printing is an ancient Chinese art and Zhu
revitalizes it with his modern, incisive compositions of iconic images
of political figures and common people.
fiery ink paintings of Qin Feng exhibited at Ethan Cohen Fine Arts were
another standout. Qin wonderfully merges Abstract-Expressionist language
with Chinese ink traditions and making stunning art that blazes with
images of fire, blood, and light. In his monumental works, unbridled
expressions of turmoil, ecstasy, agitation, sexual desire - every
feeling that makes a human being human - are passionately and
energetically depicted. Bold and powerful, Qin’s paintings stir a deep
and primal sense of life in the viewer.
a group show at Art Projects International, the works of Korean artist
Il Lee and Chinese artist Hilda Shen were of note. Lee’s ballpoint pen
drawing of a dense tangle of lines and fluid, amorphous shapes was
captivating and looked more like a beautiful painting than a drawing.
Shen’s intriguing twisted and metamorphic sculpture made of paper, ink
and wax referenced the long tradition of Chinese scholars’ rocks,
which are collected and treasured as objects of contemplation. Covered
with the fingerprint marks of different people, her work is an
interesting meditation of the nature of transformation and the
historical impact of people or cultures.
a more traditional vein were the ceramic works of Young Sook Pahk at
Pahk Gallery. Pahk makes exquisitely crafted forms that draw upon the
traditional wares of the Chosun dynasty (14th to 20th
century) and then infuses there with a contemporary fell by boldly
painting many of her Buncheong works with iron, copper, or cobalt
glazes. The contrast between the cool perfection of the ceramic objects
and the free spirited crushstrokes make for striking work.
engaging was Qin Feng’s performance art piece at the Asia Society
where he painted Chinese characters and other motifs on a naked woman
with ink and a large brush. The work also had added significance since
it was the first piece involving nudity to be shown at the Asia Society.
"This shows that the Asia Society is very open to challenging
artists," said Ethan Cohen. "They have the wisdom to have a
contemporary Asian art curator and, I think, are taking the lead in
a lot of Asian contemporary art, most of the work exhibited during the
Week attempted to marry Asian traditions and themes with modernist,
Western mores. For example, Qin Feng used the traditional medium of ink
and brush to express himself in the modern language of Abstract
Expressionism. Cai Jin, on the other hand, drew inspiration from a
Chinese plant but used the Western medium of oil on canvas to express
her creativity. However, given that cultural specificity is getting
increasingly eroded in a globalized world and the fact that
Asian-American artists might not necessarily have strong connections to
Asian culture, events like ACAW beg the question of how Asian
contemporary art is defined.
think the boundaries and definitions are less than rigid," said
Asia Society’s Chiu, adding that at this point in time, where
contemporary Asian art is still in the progress of gaining greater
recognition, one had to be more forthright in one’s definitions to
achieve larger goals. "Of course, in an ideal world, it would all
just be contemporary art," she said.
said that contemporary Asian art was a "useful" term because
there were some real cultural differences between Asia and the West and
excising the term from one’s vocabulary would mean dancing around it.
According to Stephen McGuinness the definition and appeal of Asian art
lay in its "link to a culture." "I think art coming out
of very old cultures and artists who are dealing with this long
tradition," he said.
far as the allure of the exotic is concerned, Vine said people in the
West often leaned towards art that was in a "recognizable
avant-garde form but had some ‘exotic’ content." "While I
don’t think artists should exoticize to play to Western spectators,
but, at the same time, I don’t think they should completely give up
their cultural specificity either because part of what makes them
interesting is that they come from different cultures," he added.
most galleries and institutions dealing with Asian or Asian-American
artists in New York seem content with the term "Asian contemporary
art," others seem more ambivalent but do not necessarily resist it.
However, cone gallery owner openly said he did not believe in labels and
was not part of ACAW. Deepak Talwar of Talwar Gallery, which almost
exclusively shows the work of South Asian artists, said the work he
shows is simply contemporary art with no qualifiers attached. "I do
not represent Indian artists," said Talwar, "I represent
artists. I do not show Indian art. I show art. Art is about transcending
boundaries…art ethnic label based on the origin of the artist while
defining is restrictive in engaging a wider audience and dialogue."
events like ACAW do play an important role in exposing people to the
vast richness of contemporary Asian art, the event has the potential to
be much more meaningful by having well-curated exhibitions around
provocative and topical themes and greater discussion about conceptual
theory, I like the idea, but there was hardly context to view the art
in," said Shelly Bahl, a New York-based artist, about ACAW,
"There was no cohesive curatorial focus, it was more of an umbrella
project. It was a loose grouping of artists from different countries
linked by national identity. Somebody needs to put the stuff together to
tell a story. The only story I got was that there was a lot of art out
Cheng, another New York based artist, also echoed a similar sentiment,
saying that the event should have had greater significance if it had
addressed important issues like the effects of mass media, the use of
digital images, or preserving ancient techniques or traditions.
however, consortium members say, is still a work in progress, with plans
to improve continuously and to add to the event. Next year, the goal is
to involve other galleries that show contemporary Asian artists and to
publish a book. "We hope we can build a bigger and bigger base and
possibly even hand it to professional organizers in the future,"
said Stephen McGuinness. "This year, we were surfing the wave we
created last year."
Malhotra is the New York based contributing editor for Asian Art
News and World
Sook Pahk，粗笔画大腕，2002，直径23.6 ′高13.8英寸。照片由Pahk画廊提供。