Recently ArtReview Asia has been rereading Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need Is Kill (2004). It will spare you the details of the invading aliens, the terraforming and the time loops, and merely state that the main protagonist is doomed to relive a fatal battle with the aliens, day after day, until he works out ever more skilful ways of killing them, how not to get killed himself and, as a result, how to win it. Sometimes that’s what it feels like when ArtReview Asia weaves its way through these previews, creating ever more ingenious links and segues from one to the next: each time it thinks it’s all over, people start opening new shows, a new issue is underway and ArtReview Asia has to start all over again.
Heman Chong: An Arm, A Leg and Other Stories, South London Gallery, London, through 28 February
& Heman Chong: If, Ands, or Buts, Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, through 3 May
In All You Need Is Kill, our hero’s saviour is someone called the Full Metal Bitch, who has been through the looping thing before; ArtReview Asia’s version of her is Heman Chong, who currently seems to be opening an exhibition every month. Indeed, it feels as if the Singaporean artist has managed to be everywhere for the past year. Not least in ArtReview (for which he created the cover of last November’s Power 100 issue) and ArtReview Asia (further on in this issue you can read his interview with Douglas Coupland). At the end of last year, Chong’s An Arm, A Leg and Other Stories opened at the South London Gallery, with one million slickly blank black business cards littering the floor of the main exhibition space; if letters and numbers are what’s absent from the cards, they are present in the 66 paintings of spam emails, paperback fiction covers (sadly All You Need Is Kill is not among them) and abstract forms that hang on the gallery wall. At the beginning of this year Chong is on the other side of the world (almost), when ‘everywhere’ includes the Rockbund Art Museum (RAM) in Shanghai, where (having familiarised himself with the premises while judging the 2015 Hugo Boss Asia Art Award) the conceptual artist’s solo show Ifs, Ands, or Buts takes up residence throughout the building. Look out for endless reruns of Mr. Bean and the Road Runner cartoon, and for the theme of constraint and how to avoid it to be further pursued in the museum gift shop, here transformed into a dispensary of legal advice thanks to a selection of law books chosen by Ken Liu (whose biography has him as a science-fiction and fantasy writer, poet, lawyer and computer programmer) and available for sale.
Max Pinckers, The Horse to be Sacrificed Must be a Stallion, 2014, inkjet print, 133 × 109 cm. Courtesy the artist and Dillon Gallery, New York
Picture This: Contemporary Photography and India, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, through 3 April
If Chong gives the impression of being comfortable anywhere, the subtitle of Picture This, the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s four-person photography exhibition, lays out Contemporary Photography and India as the rather awkward meeting of two distinct concepts. Perhaps, though, it’s simply a reflection of the way in which Gauri Gill (whose work focuses on marginalised communities), Sunil Gupta (queer politics), Max Pinckers (social realities) and Pamela Singh (the experience of women) are connected to India in different ways. Don’t only expect conventional photography (Singh for example often paints and collages her images); do expect issues of gender, sexuality and identity in general (of course) to shape the scene.
Vandy Rattana, Monologue, 2014–15. Collection the artist
Time of Others: Contemporary Art from Four Museums across the Asia Pacific, Singapore Art Museum, through 28 February
Otherness is evidently part of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM)’s Time of Others, a survey of work by 17 artists that explores the vexed issue of how an artist can be true to the particularities of their local context while at the same time being part of a globalised world. With the enormous 64,000sqm National Gallery Singapore recently opened down the road, home to the largest public collection of Southeast Asian art (these regions are consolidating), the timing couldn’t be better. SAM’s show draws on the collections of five museums in the Asia Pacific region: Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (MOT); National Museum of Art, Osaka (NMAO), the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) and, of course, the current host institution. Heman Chong pops up again, and is joined by heavy hitters such as Danh Vō and On Kawara, but look out as well for works by Cambodian Vandy Rattana (also on show in the recent Hugo Boss Asia Art Award at the RAM; his video Monologue, 2014, picks up on the country’s history of conflict and the effect it has on the land and the people living in it) and Hong Kong’s Tozer Pak (his 2008 A Travel without Visual Experience: Malaysia comprises travel photographs taken when the artist had his eyes (so they’re the product of some extra-sensory instinct, perhaps) closed during a five-day trip to Singapore’s nearest neighbour; here the photographs are on show in a darkened room and only become visible via the camera flashes of viewers’ mobile phones).
Jane Lee, PLAYING I,I (detail), 2015, produced at STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery, Singapore. © the artist and STPI, Singapore
For those art-lovers determined to keep it real, Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI) presents a solo exhibition by local artist Jane Lee. Already known for pushing the boundaries of painting into the domain of sculpture, expect Lee to take matters one step further here by exploiting STPI’s papermaking and printing expertise to produce a series of new works (the result of an earlier residency at the institute) that explore issues of capture and release through ostensibly figurative works involving birds and other forms drawn from nature.
Yutaka Sone, Hong Kong, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 122 × 183 cm. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York & London
When it comes to pushing around media and wrapping that into a fascination with nature, Yutaka Sone is a past master. On show at roughly the same time as Jane Lee’s display at STPI (albeit a continent or so removed), his exhibition Day and Night at David Zwirner New York goes in exactly the opposite direction to the Singaporean’s recent moves: turning sculptures into paintings. More precisely, the Japanese artist mines the iconography of his large-scale white-marble sculptures of, among other things, the skylines of Manhattan and Hong Kong to produce paintings of the same scenes illuminated at night, almost in the manner of an abstract pattern. Expect Sone’s sculptural riffs on artificial light and artificial nature to be on show too.
Joan Jonas, They Come to Us without a Word (production still), 2015. Courtesy the artist
Joan Jonas: They Come to Us Without a Word, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, through 3 April
That last jump between Singapore and America isn’t as random as you might be thinking. As ArtReview Asia told you at the start, at the moment it seems like everything repeats. And so on to an American exhibiting in Singapore, as pioneering performance and multimedia artist Joan Jonas’s exhibition at the US Pavilion during last year’s Venice Biennale arrives at the home of its curator, Ute Meta Bauer (director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore). How do you spot a master? Well, one way might be when she produces work that encompasses many of the themes ArtReview Asia has been highlighting elsewhere among these previews (that’s popularly called the zeitgeist, btw) – self-reflection, humanity’s relationship with nature and with place – all woven together in an immersive, intricate but never overwhelming environment that is testament to Jonas’s seventy-nine years of experience.
William Kentridge: Peripheral Thinking, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, through 27 March
While we’re on the subject of experience, South African William Kentridge is offering a new one to the art lovers of South Korea (assuming they’ve never left the country), where he’s currently in the midst of his first solo exhibition in the republic. In 2015 he produced the staging for a performance of Alban Berg’s Lulu (1937) in New York, showed the drawings for that in a separate exhibition, presented a new animated film (touching on his recent experiences in China) in London, gave a South African premiere to his multimedia performance Refuse the Hour (2013) and there was the trifling matter of solo shows in Mexico City, Amsterdam and Cape Town. Yep, currently Kentridge makes Chong look lazy. In Seoul he’ll be showing work from the past quarter-century, from nine animated films in the Soho Eckstein series (1989–2011) with which he made his name, to The Refusal of Time (2012), which was a highlight of Documenta 13. Oh yes, in between everything else he also showed these works at Beijing’s UCCA last summer.
Jung Yeondoo, Bewitched #2 Seoul, 2002, digital silver print, 159 × 131 cm each. Courtesy the artist
As Western art stars go East, Eastern art stars go West, and this ever more constant churn sees work by Lee Yongbaek, Minouk Lim, Haegue Yang, Yee Sookyung, Suntag Noh and Jung Yeondoo gathered for The Paradox of Place: Contemporary Korean Art at the other SAM (you see, you see! – everything repeats, although this time it means the Seattle Art Museum). The show explores the paradoxes inherent in a split nation in preparation for local equivalents following the ascent of Donald Trump. Here Lim builds a TV studio to restage media coverage of the funerals of North Korea’s Kim Jong-il and former South Korean president Park Jung-hee; Noh falsely registered himself and his family as resident in a border village in order to photograph the US military’s radome (radar + dome); Jung exhibits a series of photographs documenting how his subjects actually appear (their day jobs) and how they wish to be; while Lee presents a video of soldiers camouflaging themselves into piles of flowers.
Minouk Lim, The Promise of If, 2015, two-channel video projection, 30 min. Courtesy Korean Broadcasting System
Meanwhile, back in Seoul’s PLATEAU, Lim, whose multimedia work of the past couple of decades has focused on the social cost of the Republic of Korea’s modernisation, is bringing some of that home, presenting The Promise of If, a new installation that returns to the theme of families dispersed and separated by Korea’s North–South divide, taking its cue from the 1983 KBS live broadcast Finding Dispersed Families to explore a localised diaspora whose connections are fading away over time.
Chung Chang-Sup, Return one H, 1977, mixed media on canvas, 163 × 112 cm. Photo: Sang-tae Kim. Courtesy Kukje Gallery, Seoul
When it comes to recent Korean art, it’s artists from the Dansaekhwa (Korean monochrome painting) movement who are currently riding the crest of the commercial wave. To what extent the artists involved were part of a movement in any conscious sense (no manifestos, no particular self-identification with a formal grouping during the rise to prominence of the style during the 1970s) is open to debate, although most were under the spell of French Art Informel. But if you want to figure out what’s behind it all, then work by the late Chung Chang-Sup, one of the leading practitioners of the style, goes on show at Kukje Gallery in February. Chung’s philosophy was that the artist should be one with his materials, and here his ‘unpainted paintings’ will be on show: they’re made by moulding traditional Korean papers after soaking them in water – a perfect example of Dansaekhwa’s emphasis on process rather than the achievement of specific results.
Park Seo-Bo, Ecriture (描法) No. 42–73, 1973, pencil and oil on canvas, 80 × 80 cm. Photo: Ben Westboy/ White Cube, London & Hong Kong. © the artist
Of course there’s something slightly ironic about the current expansion of interest in a group of artists whose work was initially concerned with a certain amount of repetition and constraint (at least partly shaped by the aftermath of the Korean War and the military dictatorship that ruled South Korea during the 1970s). Nevertheless Park Seo-Bo’s first solo exhibition in London’s White Cube, which focuses on monochrome works into which repeated pencil lines have been incised, will be an important introduction (and indeed induction) of the movement to another new audience.
Zhai Liang, The Extensity, 2015, oil on canvas, 180 × 300 cm. Courtesy the artist and White Space, Beijing
‘New York is a Big Liar’! That’s how Zhai Liang introduced himself to New York back in 2014, using the accusation as the title for his debut solo show. Back on home turf, at White Space, the Beijing-based artist, currently among the ‘hottest’ – as ArtReview Asia’s art-fair friends put it – Chinese emerging talents, is a little more circumspect. His current show is simply titled Notes. Don’t let that fool you, though: the paintings and watercolour drawings on show here tackle big themes of art and cultural history (both Chinese and international), geometric form and its effect on mood, as well as a cat, a rabbit and a lunar love song.
Yoko Ono: Golden Ladders, 2015 (installation view). Photo: Jonathan Leijonhufvud. © Faurschou Foundation, Beijing
Someone who’s no stranger to love songs is Yoko Ono, currently holding her first solo exhibition in Beijing, at the Faurschou Foundation (hey, have you noticed that ‘first’ is to art exhibitions as ‘sexy’ is to fashion magazines? Check how many times ArtReview Asia has had to repeat the former word in its previews. It’s like Groundhog Day!). Anyway, Ono’s show begins with a garden and an extension of her Wish Tree project (1996–) in which the audience is invited to write down a wish and hang it from the tree. Because art is part of a global world, the wishes will then be sent to Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower (2006–07) in Reykjavík, which comprises 15 searchlights pointing vertically into the sky, in memory of John Lennon. In a similar escape from the constraints of specific venues, Ono will position a new word (examples given are ‘dream’ and ‘imagine’) on advertising billboards, banners and posters throughout Beijing every 20 days for the duration of the exhibition. For those of you who make it inside the venue, expect a survey of the artist’s work from the Fluxus days and beyond. Ono is a ‘present-day living icon’, Faurschou’s press release squeals. Certainly the artworld is determined to celebrate (and perhaps to manufacture) her late-attained cult status, with her early Cut Piece (1964, in which she allowed an audience to cut off her clothing) regularly cited by art historians and critics, and both New York’s MoMA and Tokyo’s MOT giving her retrospectives last year (MOT’s is on through 14 February). At this rate it won’t be long before people (right now ArtReview Asia is thinking of you, The Japan Times) stop saying that she’s best known for the Plastic Ono Band and being married to John Lennon.
Zhang Hongtu, Quaker Oats Mao, 1987, (from the series Long Live Chairman Mao), acrylic on Quaker Oats box, 25 × 13 cm. Private collection
But ArtReview Asia doesn’t like change. That’s why it’s going to carry on with this East–West ping-pong and Zhang Hongtu, a China-born, US-based artist, a retrospective of whose work is on show at the Queens Museum, New York. Zhang, a Muslim, left China to escape persecution and gain the freedom to say what he wanted about the regime back there; by 1989 (he arrived in New York in 1982) this took the form of Quaker Oats jars with overpainting to suggest Mao’s face where the Quaker’s would be. But equally fascinating are Zhang’s takes on immigrant life in New York – notably Soy Calligraphy (1995), a reproduction of a ‘help wanted’ ad for a local sweatshop painted in the titular condiment.
Yuichi Inoue, from a photo published in Shukan Asahi, 5 February 1956
Yuichi Inoue on the other hand is an actual calligraphy artist (albeit one who passed away in 1985), who helped modernise the traditions of sho (calligraphy) by introducing a degree of free expression to it during the postwar era. His ‘action’ style of painting (sometimes experimenting with one-character works) garnered the Japanese artist comparisons to Jackson Pollock. More interestingly for all you collectors out there, Yuichi was such a perfectionist that he destroyed anything he considered subpar, meaning that very few of his works survived. Go check out what’s left in an exhibition to mark the centenary of his birth at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, and expect it to be a mecca (if that’s not a metaphor too far) for ink-art enthusiasts. And in ArtReview Asia’s humble opinion, everyone should be an ink-art enthusiast.
Haroon Mirza, The National Pavilion of Then and Now, 2011. Photo: Omar Mirza. Courtesy hrm199 Ltd and Lisson Gallery, London, Milan & New York
This spring, opinions less humble will almost certainly be on show at the latest edition of the biennial Dhaka Art Summit, organised by the Samdani Art Foundation, which now lays claim to being the largest ‘non-commercial platform for South Asian Art’. You don’t have to be South Asian to be there, however; the festival will feature major works or new commissions by artists including Lynda Benglis, Tino Sehgal and Shumon Ahmed, Haroon Mirza and the excellent Simryn Gill, among others. Hans Ulrich Obrist, Chus Martínez and Beatrix Ruf will be among the other familiar faces in town. That’s not so say that South Asia isn’t the focus: Mining Warm Data is a group exhibition featuring artists from across the region. Alongside that will be media-specific focuses on film and architecture as well as an extensive array of talks programmes and radio projects. Oh yes, and ArtReview Asia as a media partner. On which note, it’s off to find out why no one invited Heman Chong to that.
This article was first published in the January 2016 issue of ArtReview Asia.