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Asian Art News 香港《亚洲艺术新闻》

Volume 14 Number 1

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2004 二零零四年一/二月刊


ASIAN ART NEWS, Volume 14 Number 1, January/February 2004


Illustration on the first page under the sculpture:

Zhu Wei, CO0919 (China China series), 2003, bronze, signed Zhu Wei #5/12, on left shoes, height 58 cm. Photograph: Courtesy of Plum Blossoms Gallery.


Illustrations on the second page (upper one):

Zhu Wei, Woodblock No.16 #1/8, 2003, woodblock print, signed Zhu Wei, 90 x 65 cm. Photograph: Courtesy of Plum Blossoms Gallery.

(below one):

Hilda Shen, RockLore I, 2003, paper, ink, wax, stone, 37" x 22" x 21". Photograph: Courtesy of Art Projects International.


Illustrations on the third page (upper one):

Qin Feng, Civilization Landscape No.30, 2003, ink on paper, 110 x 200 cm. Photograph: Courtesy of Ethan Cohen Fine Arts.

(below one):

Young 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.


Illustrations on the last page (upper one):

Il Lee, Untitled #1203, 2003, acrylic, ballpoint per on canvas, 60 x 42 inches. Photograph: Courtesy of Art Projects International.

(below one):

David Diao, Lying 2, 2000, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 108 inches.


A Week Of Surprises

By Priya Malhotra

Regardless 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.

One 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.

The 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.

Now 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.

The 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.

Despite 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.

Still, 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.

Since 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 McGuinness.

"My 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 Sotheby’s.

And, 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.

Michael 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.

At 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.

While 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 Contemporary Art.

Painting, 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.

Overall, 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 said.

Compared 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.

But, 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 year."

The 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.

At 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.

The 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.

At 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.

In 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.

Particularly 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 America."

Like 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.

"I 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.

Vine 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.

As 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.

While 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."

Although 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 issues.

"In 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 there."

Emily 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.

ACAW, 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."

---Priya Malhotra is the New York based contributing editor for Asian Art News and World Sculpture News.



香港《亚洲艺术新闻》20041/ 2月号    


朱伟,CO0919(中国×中国系列),2003,铸铜,左脚鞋上签有“朱伟 #5/12”,高58cm。照片由万玉堂画廊提供。 


朱伟,木刻版画 No.16 #1/82003,木刻版画,签字“朱伟”,9065cm。照片由万玉堂画廊提供。 






Young 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。 














不管怎么说美术周在推广当代亚洲艺术上的作用应该得到肯定。在日程紧密的200311月这一周里,你有很好的机会一览亚洲已成名的和刚崭露头角的美术家的作品,包括有中国美术家朱伟,蔡瑾,秦风,大卫-刁,于张,义辰,韩国美术家Young Sook Pahk,和印度美术家Sunoj D 






尽管联盟的本意是展现亚洲美术的多样性,但整个活动中国美术占了绝大多数,只有少数日本和韩国的美术点缀。伯斯-帕奇亚画廊给活动带来了点文化多样性,展出了印度正崭露头角的几个美术家,Sunoj D.Justin Ponmany,和赢得2003年伯斯-帕奇亚当代美术奖的Sumitro Basak 







“伊森-科恩工艺美术”画廊展示的秦风的充满激情的水墨画也是一个闪光点。秦风很好地把抽象表现主义语言和中国水墨传统结合起来,创作出惊人的爆发出火、血、和光的图像。在他意义深远的作品里,对躁动,迷幻,煽情,性欲- 所有人之所以为人的感觉- 等感情表达都有热情的充满活力的描绘。大胆而有力,秦风的绘画激发起观众对生命深刻的原始的意识。 


Pahk画廊展出的Young Sook Pahk的陶艺作品则更具传统风格。她精巧的工艺源自朝鲜王朝(14世纪至20世纪),但又通过在表面涂绘铁、铜、钴釉而赋予作品当代感。陶器的澹泊和随心所欲的涂画形成的鲜明对比使作品非常震撼。