ArtReview Asia’s name is a bit of a giveaway: it loves anything Asian. That’s why, only a few days ago, during a brief lull between parts two and three of Romance of The Three Kingdoms, it was reading the latest email shot from LondonLovesBusiness.com which pimped its feature on ‘Asia’s top 10 richest billionaires and crazy facts about them’. At number two is Alibaba’s Jack Ma – he was rejected by Harvard University 10 times! Isn’t life crazy? Meanwhile at number four is Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia – he once sued Forbes in London for underestimating his wealth back in 2013. He lost the case. Ker-ay-zeee!
Like all the best marketeers, the Mori Art Museum has deployed a photograph of an attractive lady in her underwear (Katayama Mari, you’re mine #001, 2014) to promote their big event: the fifth edition of the triennial weighing up of the latest developments in the Japanese artscene, Roppongi Crossing. The work is a self-portrait in which the pale- skinned artist, wearing white undergarments, light-gray stockings and bright-red lipstick, sprawls across a white bed, at once alluring and aloof. Look more closely, however, and you notice that the stockings end rather abruptly. There’s no left foot and nothing beyond Katayama’s right knee. If she were allowed access to its keyboard, this is exactly the point at which ArtReview Asia’s neighbour would interject to say that the photograph summarises all that’s wrong with art today: it never gives you the full picture. She’d be wrong, not just because Roppongi Crossing aims at giving a comprehensive survey of the state of Japanese society and art today (artists from Taiwan and South Korea also feature, courtesy of Kim Sunjung, director of Samuso and curator of Art Sonje Center, Seoul and Wu Dar-Kuen, director of Taipei Artist Village, who have joined Mori’s Araki Natsumi and Arts Initiative Tokyo’s Ozawa Keisuke to curate the show), but also because its overarching themes of the status of the body and self-identity in the age of proliferating virtual communication are ones that affect image-making everywhere right now.
Katayama Mari, you’re mine #001, 2014, lambda print, 105 × 162 cm. Courtesy Traumaris Space, Tokyo
Communication of a different sort also grounds this year’s Setouchi Triennale, which takes place across the 12 islands of Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, long an important transport nexus, and home to a series of unique cultures and lifestyles, many of which are in decline in the face of everyone’s contemporary bête noire – globalisation. No surprise then that cultural exchange forms one of the festival’s key themes. Alongside local foods and celebrations, look out for work by Japanese art and architecture stars such as Tadao Ando, Nobuyoshi Araki, Chiharu Shiota, Kazuyo Sejima, Kohei Nawa, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Mariko Mori alongside works by Tobias Rehberger, James Turrell, Janet Cardiff and George Bures-Miller, Pipilotti Rist, and Christian Boltanski.
Tatsuo Miyajima, Sea of Time’98, 1998. Photo: Kenichi Suzuki. Courtesy Benessee Art Site, Kadoya Art House, Naoshima
This issue’s cover artist Tatsuo Miyajima has taken over a 200-year-old abandoned house on Naoshima as part of the project, replacing its floor with a dark pool of water and 125 of his trademark digital counters. So you’ll have the perfect excuse to indulge in a little ‘compare and contrast’ if you pop over to the Japanese islands once you’ve seen his Time Waterfall (2016), which will cover the façade of the Hong Kong Convention Centre with a series of cascading numbers as part of this year’s Art Basel Hong Kong. Li Ka-shing, Asia’s fifth richest bonkers billionaire will almost certainly be looking out towards the Convention Centre from the private pool outside his office on the 70th floor of the Cheung Kong Center over in Admiralty. Apparently he has one of the world’s fastest elevators to take him up there. And perhaps like a certain celebrated loony confectioner he can additionally press a special button and make his lift burst out of the roof and take him to the Seto Sea. Now that would be crazy...
A thirst for profit may have been central to Li Ka-shing’s rise to the top of both the Asia billionaires list and the Hong Kong skyline, but when it comes to art it’s the city’s not-for-profit spaces that tend to lead the way. This March, Spring Workshop presents the premiere of Los Angeles-based Wu Tsang’s film installation Duilian (2016), the culmination of a decade-long research project into Chinese revolutionary poet Qiu Jin (who was beheaded for attempted insurrection against the Qing empire at the beginning of the twentieth century) and her calligrapher friend Wu Zhiying. Promising to fuse documentary, magical realism and martial arts, the film element of Duilian aims at exploring the relationship between Qiu Jin (played by performance-artist boychild) and the community of strong women (‘The Mutual Love Society’) that surrounded her after she had left her husband to study in Japan, all part of Wu Tsang’s ongoing investigation of invisible, historical and mythological queer histories in Asia. Duilian is one result of Spring’s residency programme and this season it’s also hosting Indonesian architect Farid Rakun (education coordinator of artist initiative Ruangrupa) and Filipina street photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani.
Wu Tsang, Duilian (production still), 2016. Photo: Ringo Tang. Courtesy the artist; Spring Workshop, Hong Kong; and Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin
For almost a decade, Bacani was a domestic worker for a Chinese family in Hong Kong. For the last four years of that period she used her only day off to shoot black-and-white photographs of the city’s streetlife on a digital camera bought with a loan from her employers. Some of those photographs will be on show in Afterwork, a major group exhibition at another of Hong Kong’s not-for-profits – Para Site. Part of an ongoing research project into Hong Kong’s domestic workers (most often seen occupying the city’s public spaces for communal picnics on Sundays) the exhibition engages with them as a means of understanding Hong Kong’s wider community in the light of issues of migration, representation, discrimination and the generally shifting notion of Hong Kong citizenship. Alongside Bacani’s photographs, look out for work by last year’s Hugo Boss Asia Art Award-winner Maria Taniguchi and Indonesian performance artist Melati Suryodarmo, as well as Chilean artist-architect Alfredo Jaar and the late, great German filmmaker Harun Farocki. It’s all a far cry from the commercial hubbub surrounding Art Basel Hong Kong.
Xyza Cruz Bacani, keep reaching for your dreams. Courtesy Para Site, Hong Kong
One Hong Kong entrepreneur who is investing in the local artscene is Adrian Cheng, whose K11 Artspace will team up with London’s Serpentine Galleries to present Hack Space, an extension of the latter institution’s recent exhibition of work by New Zealander Simon Denny. The London show, Products for Organising, featured a variety of media, trade-fair styling, and merged a history of hacking and its organisational forms with contemporary management and marketing practices. The Hong Kong extension, curated by the Serpentine’s Hans Ulrich Obrist and Amira Gad, in which Denny will be joined by 11 Chinese artists, including aaajiao, Cao Fei and Zhai Liang, promises to push Denny’s exploration into the world of shanzhai culture (which refers to the Chinese production of imitation or trademark-infringing products, mainly in the electronics industry). Let’s anticipate that China’s Lei Jun (cofounder of Xiaomi Inc, the world’s third-largest smartphone maker), Asia’s tenth most wealthy billionaire, is going to be interested in that; Xiaomi started off as a manufacturer of what MIT ’s Technology Review described as ‘cut-price Apple’ phones; now it is one of the leaders in the development of an ‘Internet of things’. Crazily, Lei invested in over 20 start-ups in 2015 and then announced plans to invest in 100 more. No info as yet as to whether or not young artists count as start-ups.
Simon Denny, Formalised Org Chart/Architectural Model: GCHQ 1, 2015, mixed media, 200 × 215 × 100 cm. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin & Cologne
When it comes to the Chinese artscene, one of the more bankable of its young artists, Guan Xiao (observant readers will have noticed that she graced the cover of the last issue of ArtReview Asia’s magazine – which is obviously why her work is so bankable), will be in London this April, when her first solo show in the UK opens at the capital’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. Guan’s work, which revolves primarily around sculpture and video, explores digital image circulation as an increasingly dominant source of knowledge and identity formation, and the consequent collapse of ideas of new and old, present and past, and less directly hints at the consequences of that. If that sounds like it might be a further extension of the themes of Hack Space, then you won’t be surprised to hear that her show is also supported by Cheng’s K11 Foundation. And Guan isn’t the only Chinese artist making her presence felt in Europe over the next few months...
Guan Xiao, Action, 2014. Courtesy Guan Xiao and Antenna Space, Shanghai
Bentu: Chinese Artists at a Time of Turbulence and Transformation, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, through 2 May
A short train ride beneath the English Channel will lead you to Paris’ Fondation Louis Vuitton, where Bentu: Chinese Artists at a Time of Turbulence and Transformation, the first group show in the French capital to be devoted to contemporary Chinese art in a decade, is currently on view. Featuring 12 artists – among them Cao Fei (see the March issue of ArtReview), Lui Wei and Yang Fudong – representing a range of styles, backgrounds and generations, the exhibition centres on the themes of flux and change (and oppositions such as technology versus tradition, economy versus ecology and city versus country), with which, at this stage in the preview, a reader will have started to become rather familiar. In case we forget, the foundation’s description of the show reminds us that ‘questions of identity are also a recurring theme’, and while China might be the show’s ostensible geographic arena for that, there’s no escaping the fact that many of these issues are also driving Europe’s present uncertainties about its political and economic future.
Yang Fudong, The Coloured Sky: New Women II, 2014, video installation, 15 min 48 sec. Photo: Aurélien Mole. © the artist. Courtesy the artist; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, Paris & London; ACMI, Melbourne; and Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tāmaki
And yet, if Europe in general (and the United Kingdom in particular) seems largely to be interested in contracting and reinforcing its borders, one of its bigger commercial galleries, Massimo De Carlo, is going the other way – adding to its Milan and London outposts by opening a new space in Hong Kong’s Pedder Building, to be inaugurated with an exhibition of work by Dijon-based Shanghai-born painter Yan Pei-Ming. Yan (who trained in France) is best-known for his large, mainly mono- or duochrome (often black-and-white or red) portraits of key figures from the cultural histories of both China and the West (Pablo Picasso, Barack Obama, Bruce Lee and Mao Zedong) that, as a result of his deployment of big, gestural brushstrokes (or sometimes broom- strokes), often play with perceptions of abstraction and figuration.
Yan Pei-Ming, Young Egon Schiele with palette (detail), 2016, oil on canvas, 130 × 100 cm. © the artist and Adagp, Paris, 2016
Different strokes for different folks, and at the opposite end of the scale when it comes to painting technique is Pakistan-born Shahzia Sikander, whose work draws on Indo-Persian miniature painting. Her exhibition at Asia Society’s Hong Kong outpost (last summer she won one of the Society’s awards for ‘Significant Contribution to Asian Art’, in part because she is credited with reviving interest in miniature painting in her home country) promises to explore the colonial complexity of Hong Kong in a series of works on paper and animations. Given the subject matter (and title) of the exhibition it’s perhaps fitting that it takes place in a former explosives magazine.
Shahzia Sikander, Parallax (still), 2013, three-channel HD digital animation with 5.1 surround sound, 15 min. Music by Du Yun. © Shahzia Sikander Studio. Courtesy Asia Society, Hong Kong & New York
From the north of South Asia to the south, and from the miniature to minimalism: the work of the late Nasreen Mohamedi, a pioneer of the move away from figuration and one of the major artistic figures of post-independence India, is the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the new Met Breuer (formerly home to the Whitney Museum of American Art) in New York. Including 130 drawings and photographs as well as the Indian artist’s rarely seen diaries, her first such exhibition in the US aims at revealing the cosmopolitan nature of her source materials and her move into abstraction and explorations of that classic modernist format, the grid. Beyond the merits of Mohamedi’s work, the show is, of course, symptomatic of the current obsession with internationalising the story of modernism and, more generally, defining contemporary art as a truly global phenomenon. Cynics might say that it also reflects the rise of Asian millionaires (potential sponsors and benefactors – this show is supported by Nita and Mukesh Ambani; the latter runs India’s second most valuable company, going on market valuation). But ArtReview Asia would never say that!
Nasreen Mohamedi, Untitled, c. 1975, ink and graphite on paper, 51 × 71 cm. Sikander and Hydari Collection. Courtesy Met Breuer, New York
Alternative perspectives also feature in Possibilities of Being Together. Their Praxis, Koki Tanaka’s survey show at Art Tower Mito. As well as featuring the research on collaboration and social conditioning that preceded and followed his breakthrough exhibition in the Japanese Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale (which featured a number of instructional works together with documentation of the instructions being followed), the show also includes a new work derived from video footage of a six-day communal lodging (of exhibition participants, facilitators and video crews) and workshops on an isolated mountain. Activities included reading, cooking and making pottery, as well as plenty of discussions on social interaction and communal living. What does all that mean? ‘I was there, you were there, and none of us know what it means yet,’ says the artist in typically cryptic fashion. But what’s clear is that exploring the potentials (and pitfalls) of trust together with an openness to new and looser possibilities of living in post-Fukushima Japan remains among the artist’s ongoing concerns.
Koki Tanaka, Provisional Studies: Workshop #4 Possibilities for being together. Their configuration (production still), 2015–16, six-day communal retreat with workshops, video documentation. Courtesy Art Tower Mito
Just as open-minded but arguably less abstract are the assemblages, paintings and collages of Shinro Ohtake, who, since his first exhibitions during the early 1980s, has become one of the key figures in recent Japanese art. Ohtake began making a series of scrapbooks in 1977, which incorporate found objects, comics, personal mementos and the artist’s own drawings into books that can be hundreds of glue- and paint-encrusted pages long and that, like diaries, reflect the artist’s thoughts, emotions and geographical location over time. At Take Ninagawa he’ll be showing new works from his related Time Memory (2011–15) series, for which the artist collages and weaves the letters, leaflets and other printed matter that flops through his letterbox as, in his words, a ‘material substitute for time’: appropriately then the results often echo the abstract grids of modernist architectures. Are they becoming smaller or less dense as the world switches to DMS and email? This is your chance to find out.
Shinro Ohtake, Time Memory 11, 2011, oil, tar, ink, pencil, glue, printed matter, rice paper, wrapping paper, recycled paper, brown paper and cardboard, 100 × 70 cm. Courtesy Take Ninagawa, Tokyo
Time past is also the focus of Index II, photographer Shigeo Anzaï’s second exhibition with London’s White Rainbow. The first focused on his documentation of the 10th Tokyo Biennale (which took place in 1970 and has also been the subject of works by Koki Tanaka, displayed at last year’s Parasophia: Kyoto International Festival of Contemporary Art); this exhibition moves the story on by featuring Anzaï’s portraits of artists he had met during the biennial and the years that followed when he travelled in Europe and the US. His subjects range from Bridget Riley and Andy Warhol to Yayoi Kusama and Damien Hirst, but more importantly trace a network of relationships across the international artscene of the late twentieth century, and the importance of major art events (such as Documenta or the Venice Biennale) as a forum in which artists can exchange ideas.
Shigeo Anzaï, Yayoi Kusama, Okhurayama, Yokohama, October 1986, 1986. Courtesy the artist, Zeit-Foto and White Rainbow, London
That sort of behaviour, however, is not currently encouraged in Vietnam, where Ho Chi Minh City nonprofit Sàn Art recently announced the cessation of its studio and residency ‘Laboratory’ programme, which offered a non-commercial environment for experimentation to artists who were under 40 and from the Southeast Asia region, while promoting international exchange along the way. The announcement comes after three proposed exhibitions were not able to gain a license and a warning from the Cultural Police not to host an artist talk ‘due to foreign attendance’. All of that means that the Laboratory Session 8 exhibition, which features new work by Questal Tay (Singapore), Nguyen Quoc Dung (Daklak, Vietnam) and Dara Kong (Phnom Penh, Cambodia), explores issues of transgenderism and the preservation of memory, and connects William Blake to the environment around Sàn Art, will be the last.
Dara Kong, 2016, sketch. Courtesy the artist and Sàn Art, Ho Chi Minh City
M+ Sigg Collection: Four Decades of Chinese Contemporary Art, Mobile M+ at ArtisTree, Hong Kong, through 5 April
What with its recent case of disappearing booksellers, it seems as if things are getting tougher in the freedom-of-speech stakes in Hong Kong as well. There, M+, the city’s much anticipated museum of visual culture, also seems to be having a few issues following the decision of director Lars Nittve not to renew his contract at the end of last year. That doesn’t stop the museum’s pre-opening programming from rolling on though and the tenth edition of its Mobile M+ programme (on show at the Artis Tree space – its website explains the pun – at Taikoo Place) celebrates one of the institution’s most important benefactors, Swiss collector Uli Sigg, part of whose comprehensive collection of Chinese art is now in the museum’s holdings. The M+ Sigg Collection: Four Decades of Chinese Contemporary Art covers the past 40 years of Chinese art arranged in three chapters and features everyone from Ai Weiwei to Zheng Ziyan – expect further evidence of art’s position in the relationship between freedom and a government’s desire for sociopolitical control to be on view.
Zhang Huan, To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain, 1995, chromogenic colour print, 69 × 104 cm. M+ Sigg Collection, Hong Kong. Courtesy the artist and West Kowloon Cultural District Authority
It’s precisely art’s place in that equation that Kowloon not-for-profit Things That Can Happen has set out to explore over its projected two-year programme. Currently in residence is Ocean Leung, whose previous works explore agriculture and activism through the medium of film, and who will use Things That Can Happen as a residence and workshop further to explore Hong Kong’s socioeconomic realities.
Courtesy Ocean Leung and Things That Can Happen, Hong Kong
Reality of a different sort is explored in the work of Taiwanese artist Wang Yahui, whose often achingly beautiful kinetic installations, projections and digital prints are on show at TKG+, the Taipei-based contemporary platform of Tina Keng Gallery. Her work aims at exploring the dimensions of time and space, and the relationship between human and natural existence in their manifestations through light and shadow.
Wang Yahui, Through the Deep Woods, the Slanting Sunlight Casts, 2016, digital print on paper, 90 × 90 cm. Courtesy the artist and TKG+, Taiwan
Landscape too plays a role in OCAT Shenzhen’s Digging a Hole in China, curated by its recently appointed artistic director Venus Lau, which takes as a starting point the emergence of Land Art in the US and simultaneous invocation of the land as the class-flattening ‘capital’ of China’s Cultural Revolution. The exhibition includes works by the ubiquitous Cao Fei, as well as Colin Siyuan Chinnery, Li Jinghu, Lin Yilin, Liu Chuang, Liu Wei, Wang Jianwei, Xu Qu, XuTan, Zhang Liaoyuan, Zheng Guogu and, Zhuang Hui, and will undoubtedly touch on issues of the anthropocene and current understandings of ‘the land’ in China.
Zheng Guogu, Unfinished Garden, 2004–, video installation. Courtesy the artist
From the earth to the skies and Japanese artist Ryoichi Kurokawa who takes things to an even more fundamental level in unfold, a new commission for Liverpool-based FACT. An audio-visual installation that uses 3D representations of space to explore how stars are formed in a molecular cloud, unfold exploits Kurokawa’s background in both electronic music and art to offer an immersive environment that operates somewhere between artistic production and scientific demonstration.
Ryoichi Kurokawa, galaxy collision image based on scientific data from CEA Paris-Saclay. Courtesy the artist
Physics and cosmic imagery also plays a role in The Propeller Group’s first public art commission, a video (drawn from the multipart 2015 project A Universe of Collisions) that is currently on view on the facade of the Contemporary Art Museum St Louis, from dusk until midnight. Inspired by an artefact – two bullets that had collided mid-air – discovered on a US Civil War battlefield, the Vietnamese cross-disciplinary group have filmed the moment of impact between bullets fired from a Russian AK-47 and an American M16 using high speed cameras. Set against a black background, the event, which looks something like what one might imagine the Big Bang to have been, is posed as a memory of the Vietnam War and the ideological confrontation of Communism and Capitalism, complete with lingering shots of the debris going everywhere. It’s completed by the text of a poem by Kansas-City-based José Faus that’s superimposed over the footage of the collision.
The Propeller Group, Fusion (After a Universe of Collisions) (still), 2015, HD video, colour, silent, 4 min 5 sec. Courtesy the artists and James Cohan, New York
Finally, and talking of going everywhere, March sees the opening of Australia’s largest contemporary art event, the 20th Biennale of Sydney. It’s titled The Future is Already Here – It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed, a quotation of a phrase coined by 1990s sci-fi superstar William Gibson, so you won’t be surprised to know that one of the primary points of engagement for the show is the interface between the real and the digital and its effects. Indeed, if you’ve read through the rest of ArtReview Asia’s previews, you’ll be well aware that this is one of the issues du jour. Curated by Hayward Gallery chief curator Stephanie Rosenthal, the event is spread across seven ‘Embassies of Thought’, boasts 13 curatorial ‘Attachés’ and works by over 80 artists, many of which – including Heman Chong, Lee Mingwei, Charles Lim, Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, and Chim Pom’s Don’t Follow the Wind project – you’ll be awesomely familiar with from recent issues of ArtReview Asia. So, if you’re not a billionaire, get saving for the ticket to Australia, in any case get packing, as you’ll want to exploit this opportunity to showoff your amazing art knowledge. Boychild will be there to perform on the opening night.
boychild, Untitled, 2013, performance. Photo: Michael Moser. Courtesy Biennale of Sydney
This article was first published in the Spring 2016 issue of ArtReview Asia.