22 shows to see this month across Asia and beyond

in Shanghai, Nanjing, Colombo, Singapore, New York, Milan, San Francisco, Bangkok, and Kochi

By Nirmala Devi

Kishio Suga, Diagonal Phase, 1969/2012. Photo: Tsuyoshi Sato. © the artist. Courtesy Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, New York & Tokyo Guan Xiao, From Unit 3 to Unit 7, 2016, resin, stainless steel, MDF, acrylic, speaker, C-stand, mesh fabric. Courtesy the artist, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin, Antenna Space, Shanghai Heman Chong, No Way #1, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 61 × 46 × 4 cm. Courtesy the artist and Fost Gallery, Singapore Will Alsop, OCAD University. Photo: Richard Johnson. Courtesy Colombo Art Biennale Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Untitled Curtain 7, 2015 (detail), Kriska aluminium curtain and laser-cut powder-coated steel frame, dimesnsions variable. Photo: Andrea Rossetti. Courtesy the artist and Esther Schipper, Berlin Sopheap Pich, Seed #4, 2016, found marble, burlap, oil paint, wax, dimensions variable. Photo: the artist. Courtesy H Gallery, Bangkok AES+F, Inverso Mundus, Still #1-20, 2015, chromogenic print on fine barite paper, 32 × 57 cm. Courtesy the artist and Kochi-Muziris Biennale Kan Xuan, Kū Lüè Er, 2016 (details), 13-channel colour video installation with sound, sandstone and marble. © the artist. Courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Alex Katz, Christy, 2015, oil on linen, 122 × 244 inches. © the artist. Courtesy Timothy Taylor, London & New York Wang Yi, Hub 2015–17, 2015, mixed media on canvas, 200 × 200 cm. Courtesy the artist and Aike-Dellarco, Shanghai Lantian Xie, The Sidewinder (detail) 2016, installation with Volkswagen Santana, excerpt from Egyptian Jazz by Salah Ragab, excerpt from The Sidewinder by Lee Morgan, LIFE magazine, dimensions variable. © the artist. Courtesy Grey Noise, Dubai Gao Brothers, The Three Narrations about the Death of Chinese Citizen Wang Qingbo, 2010, oil painting on canvas, 300 × 400 × 3 cm. Courtesy the artist and Nanjing International Art Festival Sion Sono, The bridge of ‘the verge of the verge of death’, 2016, dimensions variable, mixed media. Courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts, Singapore & Tokyo Neïl Beloufa, Superlatives and Resolution, People Passion, Movement and Life, 2014, installation with foam, Plexiglas, metal and HD video, dimensions variable. Photo: Rita Taylor. Courtesy the artist Hu Jieming, 100 Years in 1 Minute (Chaim Soutine, Zhao Wuji), 2014, video installation, 68 × 26 × 15 cm. Courtesy the artist and Shanghart Singapore Patricia Perez Eustaquio, Flowers For X, IV, 2016, oil on canvas, 154 cm diameter. Courtesy the artist and Yavuz Gallery, Singapore Jompet Kuswidananto, Reenactment of 1st of March 1949 War (video still), 2016. Courtesy the artist A Pottery Produced by 5 Potters at Once (Silent Attempt), both 2013, collaborations, video documentation. © and courtesy the artist Lee Kit, ‘You’, Readymade objects, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Aike-Dellarco, Shanghai Xu Zhen, Evolution series (detail), 2016, wood, pVc. Produced by MadeIn Company. Courtesy the artist

In the last issue ArtReview Asia began its previews by wondering what the collective noun for a group of biennials was. Having visited three in the past month, it’s decided that it must be a pestilence. It never ends: six biennials previewed in the last issue and two more opening up in the lifespan of this… What’s that? Well… don’t shoot the messenger and stuff… Oh… sorry. Got it.

11th Shanghai Biennale, Power Station of Art, Shanghai, 12 November – 12 March

Apparently this bit of the magazine is supposed to be about enticing you to go and see art, not putting you off. So, let’s start again. For those of you who can’t get enough of the biennial experience, never fear. November sees the launch of the Shanghai Biennale and, continuing the theme of Indian artists curating Chinese jamborees (which starts with the current Yinchuan Biennale, curated by Bose Krishnamachari), Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective has taken the helm for Shanghai’s big contemporary art event, subtitled Why Not Ask Again: Arguments, Counter-arguments, and Stories. Works by 92 artists and artist groups from 40 countries will populate three floors of the Power Station of Art (PSA), grouped around a series of ‘terminals’ that aim to recognise the way in which artists act as the shapers of discourse and engineers of the imagination. Alongside the terminals are four other substructures: the Infra-Curatorial Platform (seven subexhibitions organised by young curators within the main thematic display), 51 Personae (created with the Dinghai Qiao Mutual Aid Society, and geared to bringing the spaces of everyday life to the biennial), Theory Opera (an exploration of the ‘sensuality’ of thoughts) and City Projects (which expands the biennale out of the PSA and into the fabric of the city). If all that – singing theories, flights of imagination, etc – sounds a bit Willy Wonka-ish in the context of the PSA’s factory structure – then it’s only enhanced by the now familiar biennial gibber that constitutes the show’s preopening materials, such as: ‘Within the frameworks of the thematic exhibition are epiphytically folded the seven layers of the Infra-Curatorial Platform’. Which sounds genuinely like the recipe for some sort of fantastic seven-layer cake. Still, the real proof of the pudding is in the eating, and Raqs’s ambition to connect art to life is very en vogue (see this summer’s Manifesta in Zürich). More than that, for every Kendell Geers, Christine Sun Kim, SUPERFLEX or Peter Piller included in this biennial, there are two or three artists whose work ArtReview Asia, at least, has never encountered. And that alone makes this show worth a visit.

Nanjing International Art Festival, Baijia Lake Museum, Nanjing, 12 November – 12 February

Over in Nanjing, which this November hosts the third edition of its annual (shortly to become a more fashionably biennial) International Art Festival, it’s not the language that’s going to be baffling (this one is called, rather shoutily, given the capping, HISTORICODE: Scarcity and Supply), but the more-than-400 artworks (by 315 international and Chinese artists) that will be crammed into the city’s new Baijia Lake Museum. One of China’s increasing number of private museums, it’s owned by property magnate and art collector Yan Lugen, who also founded the festival. As you might imagine, given their number, the works on show during the festival have been assembled by a committee (comprising nine curators) under the direction of chief curator Lu Peng and cocurator Letizia Ragaglia (director of Museion in Bolzano, Italy), and offer up a definitely intriguing mix featuring the output of many of the best-known or most innovative figures in modern and contemporary art. From China there’s work by Wang Qingsong, Zeng Fanzhi and the Gao Brothers; from the rest of Asia look out for Thailand’s Pratchaya Phinthong, Japanese collective Chim↑Pom and South Korea’s Minouk Lim, and expect them to be joined by international colleagues Francesco Vezzoli, Adel Abdessemed, Walid Raad and, naturally, Joseph Beuys.

Colombo Art Biennale 2016, various venues, Colombo, 2–20 December

After all that, this year’s Colombo Art Biennale is going to feel like a relatively modest affair. Which, you might say, suits its environment. Moreover, having read the title and advance information about the Shanghai Biennale, you’ll probably feel that Alnoor Mitha’s title for this year’s edition of the Sri Lankan extravaganza – Conceiving Space – is ludicrously straightforward. It gets worse, as we’re promised an examination of ‘space as public and private; space as protest; space as tangible and imagined; space as community, memory and legacy; space as architectural, conceptual, performative, temporal, spiritual, symbolic, intuitive and rhythmic; space as liminal and ritualistic; space as embodied and meditative, virtual and transcendent’. What is the founding artistic director of the Asia Triennial Manchester thinking by being so direct? Doesn’t he know that any self-respecting biennial needs to epiphytically enfold things around its terminals? Still, like Raqs, Mitha has grasped the idea that the work of artists can be a conduit for engagement and discourse, and is looking to get 40 of them, gathered from around the world, to energise the local artistic community in order to make Colombo one of South Asia’s artistic hubs. The community outreach side of things will have a distinctly artistic flavour, with the inclusion of some of architecture’s more unconventional personalities, including Assemble, the collective that won the 2015 Turner Prize; Will Alsop; and Madelon Vriesendorp. Look out also for the work of Indian artist Mithu Sen.

Art 021, Shanghai Exhibition Centre, 10–13 NovemberWest Bund Art & Design Fair, West Bund Art Center, Shanghai, 9–13 Nov & ArtReview Asia Xiàn Chǎng, West Bund Art Center, Shanghai, 9–13 November

But you should go to Shanghai first, where the real excitement’s at this November. There’s the biennial, of course, and its opening coincides with not one but two art fairs. Art 021 sees over 80 international galleries crammed into the Shanghai Exhibition Centre; West Bund Art & Design takes a more boutique approach, with 30 international galleries housed in a cavernous aircraft hangar in Shanghai’s up-and-coming West Bund arts district (next to the Yuz and Long museums). Even better, the latter event includes ArtReview Asia Xiàn Chǎng. Yes, we have been busy. Xiàn Chǎng, which roughly translates as ‘site’, ‘scene’ (of a crime) or ‘setting’, features 24 solo presentations by Merlin James, Bosco Sodi, Laurent Grasso, Haroon Mirza, Shanzhai Biennial, Simon Dybbroe Møller, Bagus Pandega, Sion Sono, Philippe Parreno, Yutaka Sone, Imagokinetics, Wang Shang, Zhang Peili, Hao Jingfang & Wang Lingjie, Wang Yi, Zhang Ruyi, Bi Rongrong, Christopher Orr, Qiu Xiaofei, Jin Shan, Qiu Anxiong, Lu Zhengyuan, Sean Scully and Yi Xin Tong. The works, which are collectively focused on occupying and manipulating space and/or time are housed in a 1,000sqm tent and throughout the main fair and the West Bund complex. And obviously it will be so amazing that you won’t want to soil your eyeballs by going to see anything else.

Alex Katz, West Bund Art & Culture Pilot Zone, Shanghai, 7–13 November

But for those of you gluttons who still do, there’s London’s Timothy Taylor Gallery, who in addition to exhibiting at West Bund Art & Design, and who’ve recently opened a second space in New York, are expanding further with a pop up exhibition of works by Alex Katz. West Broadway and Spring, the largest-ever presentation of works by the eighty-nine-year-old painter in China, promises to bring some of the flavour of Manhattan, rendered in his typically spare yet iconic style, to Shanghai’s Art and Culture Pilot Zone. Katz’s paintings – portraits of family (most famously his wife, Ada) and friends, flowers and landscapes – offer a signature mix of the universal and the personal as part of the artist’s stated, if Sisyphean, ambition of representing the ‘now’.

Guan Xiao, Chi K11 Art Space, Shanghai, 9 November – 8 December

Maybe it’s as a result of the fallout from Brexit, and the UK capital’s need to compensate for the country’s referendum debacle by making new international friends, but the London–Shanghai route is one that’s seeing heavy art traffic at the moment, not least in the form of Guan Xiao’s exhibition Elastic Sleep, first staged at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in the spring, which now returns to the artist’s homeland to be showcased at the Chi K11 Art Space in Shanghai. The Beijing-based artist’s output – in the form of mysteriously totemic sculptures and drifting, staccato videoworks – focuses on the emergence of a nonlinear sense of time and space, and the relationship between digital and material realities (a subject that’s more ‘now’, even, than many of Katz’s), as well as the internal and external sense of connectedness therein: a form of relational aesthetics without the cooking or the sliding, but with the search engine and instantly accessible archive as generators instead.

Neïl Beloufa, Chi K11 Art Space, Shanghai, 9 November – 8 December

Also at K11 is work by Neïl Beloufa (he showed at the ICA, with whom K11 has a partnership, in late 2014). Besides being a fashionable play on words, Soft(a)ware is the French-Algerian’s first institutional solo show in China and will feature existing and newly commissioned works by an artist who combines technology, sculpture and video in immersive, performative environments, with, like Guan Xiao, a focus on the potential for active agency rather than passive viewership in the mix of them all. Welcome to now.

Holzwege, Shanghart Gallery, Shanghai, 10 November – 15 February & The Dynamics, Shanghart Singapore, through 30 November

Speaking of now, back at the West Bund, be sure to check out Shanghart’s new space following its move from long-term digs in the gallery cluster at Moganshan Road. The inaugural show, which celebrates the gallery’s 20th anniversary as well as its new home, is titled Holzwege, a term derived by philosopher Martin Heidegger to describe the overgrown, rarely trodden paths through forests that only those native to the environment will recognise. The exhibition looks back on the gallery’s pioneering history through the work of 30 artists, ranging from Chen Xiaoyun to Zhang Enli, via Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Jörg Immendorff and Sean Scully. Meanwhile, over (about six hours south and a little bit west as the airplane flies) at Shanghart’s Singapore outpost, multimedia art and its representations of the ‘now’ take centre stage. The Dynamics is a group exhibition featuring Hu Jieming, one of the pioneers of video and multimedia art in China, as well as compatriots Jiang Pengyi, Lu Lei, Shao Yi, Xu Zhen, Yang Zhenzhong and Zhang Ding, in an orgy of time-based artworks.

Patricia Perez Eustaquio, Yavuz Gallery, Singapore through 18 December

Not content with just having had a solo project (which ended in September and apparently evoked wilted blooms, carcasses and crumpled paper) in Paris’s Palais de Tokyo or with being included in the current Singapore Biennale, Filipino artist Patricia Perez Eustaquio is also having a November solo exhibition (Flowers for X) in the city-state’s Yavuz Gallery. Milking it! Anyway, in Gillman Barracks (where Yavuz is located) the Manila-based artist will be continuing her meditation on objects that have reached the end of their useful lives, here via a series of painted tondos featuring flowers that have just passed their prime. Sound like something that belongs in sixteenth- or seventeenth-century interior design? That’s part of the point. It’s not just flowers that fade, but also artistic styles and tastes. And love, of course, if you want to be romantic about things. The antique flavour is enhanced by the fact that the flowers are rendered in an ‘unfashionable’ manner generally associated with classic Dutch still lifes. The result is both a memento to and warning about fashion, taste, consumption, ornament and the inevitable passing of time. Look out, Singapore.

Heman Chong, Fost, Singapore, through 29 December

Also meditating on the vagaries of chance and deploying art’s ‘old-fashioned medium’ is Singaporean artist Heman Chong (regular readers will know by now that it’s almost as compulsory for ArtReview Asia to mention Chong in every issue as it is for it to bandy about references to Rirkrit Tiravanija), who has a hometown solo show, titled Portals, Loopholes and Other Transgressions, at Fost. Alongside a series of four new large-scale paintings will be NO or ON (2016), a sculpture that comes with the following instruction: ‘You can show the work as “NO” or “ON”: it’s completely up to you’. Rope, Barrier, Boundary (2015) – a sculpture that was part of Chong’s 2015 exhibition at the South London Gallery – featured a rope and stanchions arbitrarily dividing the exhibition space into two parts, which visitors could cross if they wished: most wished not to. Chong’s upcoming show extend this investigation into the nature of intentionality and decision making in art, and the general exercise of free will.

Jompet Kuswidananto, Jendela, Esplanade, Singapore, through 2 January

Back in 2013, self-taught Indonesian artist Jompet Kuswidananto (he comes from a musical and performance background) won the Prince Claus Award with his theatre group Teater Garasi (a collective with whom he has worked since 1998), and one year later he picked up the Prudential Asian Eye Award for his performative installation work, which generally deploys sound, video, sculpture and interactive mechanical parts. Both aspects of his output will be on show in his solo exhibition at Singapore’s Esplanade. Jompet’s work takes theatre as the stage upon which the swings and roundabouts of Indonesia’s recent sociopolitical history (from the colonial to the post-1998 democracy periods) and the conflicts of globalisation are made manifest. That’s why this show is titled Theatre State. Jompet brings to light frictions of governmentality (the governing and the governed), public and private space, and community dynamics in works that provide a less potentially kitsch alternative to the better-known (and more art-fair friendly) output of Javanese compatriots such as Heri Dono and Entang Wiharso.

Kishio Suga, Dia: Chelsea, New York, 5 November – 30 July

Talking of the better-known, this November Kishio Suga brings a recreation of his 1973 work Placement of Condition to Dia: Chelsea in New York; almost incredibly it’s the influential Japanese artist’s first solo show at a US institution. Perhaps it’s a sign of contemporary art’s terrifying quest for ‘nowness’ and novelty (though more likely that’s the result of laziness) that The Art Newspaper trialled the work under the headline ‘Kishio Suga’s 70s throwback at Dia: Chelsea’, going on to describe how the artist was ‘resurrecting’ the work, which comprises a series of marble columns leaning in different directions but linked by wire that coils around the columns so as to fix them in a network of what looks like mutual support, as if this founding member of what became known as Mono-ha (the School of Things) were some sort of modern-day Dr Frankenstein. Other people might say that the work (fitting for Dia: Chelsea, housed as it is in a marble-cutting factory) was an apt material summary of the immaterial connections that bind societies together. But go check it out for yourselves; you should never trust journalists.

Kishio Suga, Pirelli Hangar Bicocca, Milan, through 29 January

Simultaneously, Suga has his first European retrospective, titled Situations, at Milan’s Pirelli Hangar Bicocca, the cavernous spaces of which host more than 20 of the artist’s installations. Look out among them for Critical Sections, which has been reconstructed for the first time since 1984 and features strips of black and of white fabric, hung from the ceiling and interwoven with tree branches found onsite, the whole connected to zinc plates on the floor. ‘I bring a variety of things into the gallery, arranging them and giving them structure so that they occupy the entire space. The installations are never permanent and can be quickly disassembled or demolished. One might say that I create temporary worlds,’ the artist wrote in 2009.

Koki Tanaka, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 4 November – 14 February

Earlier on ArtReview Asia mentioned that Joseph Beuys would make a natural inclusion in the Nanjing International Festival. In part because his concept of artworks as social sculptures is having something of a resurgence of late (to a greater degree even than the prevalence it has always had) and partly as a response to the fact that we live in a time when large parts of the world (Europe, the US and West Asia in particular) are subject to a politics that seeks a certain social atomisation. Or, following the lead of some of ArtReview Asia’s colleagues at T** A** N********, it might be because the artistic ‘throwback’ is in fashion – take your pick. In any case, one of the more prominent figures to engage with notions of social sculpture is Japanese artist Koki Tanaka. This month his projects, which take the social as a central methodology, will be on show at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Including works from a series where people with a shared profession or interest are asked to collaborate to produce an artwork, the exhibition, Potters and Poets, gathers together A Poem Written by 5 Poets at Once (First Attempt) and A Pottery Produced by 5 Potters at Once (Silent Attempt) (both 2013), which will be here represented primarily by video documentation of the original performances. In the first project, five Japanese poets who write and compose in different styles work to produce a collaborative poem; in the second, five potters make a series of vessels. The end results are a mixed bag, but that’s the participants’ work, not Tanaka’s. He documents the negotiation (sometimes verbal, sometimes silent) between the participants and the means by which they engineer a final product (sometimes by one participant taking the lead, at other times through more egalitarian cooperation).

Tales of Our Time, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 4 November – 10 March

One show that, despite the most obvious reading of its title, claims to be steering away from memorialising any artistic ‘trends or phenomena’ is Tales of Our Time at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Moreover, the seven Chinese artists and one artist group (Chia-En Jao, Kan Xuan, Sun Xun, Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, TsangKin-Wah, Yangjiang Group and ZhouTao) whose work is on show seek to challenge fixed notions of place and the truth of official histories. The exhibition’s title derives from Lu Xun’s last collection of fiction, Gushi xin bian (Old Tales Retold, 1936). In it, Lu Xun (the pen name of Zhou Shuren), one of the leading figures of Chinese modern literature, recasts ancient fables to critique social norms and highlight the problems of his era. In the exhibition, organised by Xiaoyu Weng and Hou Hanru, the artists will deploy various types of narrative that blur fact and fiction in order to illuminate and investigate social and political tensions worldwide and in particular the notion of China as a fixed identity.

Sopheap Pich, H Gallery, Bangkok, 1 December – 28 February

Taking his own approach to notions of history and identity is Cambodian artist Sopheap Pich. Pich was born in Battambang, studied in Chicago (his family fled to the US in 1984, during Vietnamese occupation following the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge) and has been based in Phnom Penh since 2002; trained as a painter, he is best known for creating sculpture out of local bamboo. The material qualities of a variety of local and found materials (which also include burlap, stone and rattan) remain central to Pich’s work: ‘They were the stuff of childhood memories,’ he has said in the past. As well as being the vehicles for an exploration of personal identity, these materials are, in this artist’s hands, a means of exploring narratives surrounding the contemporary social and political history of his homeland, while grounding them in the reality of daily life. His solo exhibition at H Space in Bangkok provides an opportunity to review past work and preview new experiments. 

Lee Kit & Wang Yi, Aike-Dellarco, Shanghai, 9 November – 10 December

The relationship between art and life also features heavily in the work of Taipei-based Hong Kong artist Lee Kit, whose work, which began with his painting check patterns onto clothes, tablecloths and napkins (which he used) and has evolved into no less intimate installations and conceptual projects, operates on the borders of domestic/private and public space and confronts broader sociopolitical issues through objects that are right in front of him. Look for more of this mixing of the indirect with the direct in his third solo show (alongside painter Wang Yi’s first solo show at the gallery, featuring his colourful, trippy geometric abstractions) at Aike-Dellarco, who’ve recently moved to... yes, you guessed it: Shanghai’s West Bund. Now there’s a place that is beginning to have a fixed identity.

Xu Zhen, MadeIn Gallery, Shanghai, 6 November – 31 December

And just to ram that last point home, MadeInGallery, founded in 2014 by influential multimedia artist Xu Zhen (who also, since 2009, has operated as MadeIn Company, with Xu Zhen as a subbrand), has moved from Moganshan Road to Longteng Avenue, on the fringe of the West Bund development. This November Xu Zhen (the brand) opens Store, a show retailing artworks, clothes and other objects created by the brand: all part of Xu Zhen (the person)’s ongoing investigation into the ways in which art circulates in a world dominated by a digital culture in which, in his words, ‘“sharing” provides the starting point for “owning”’. Look out for African tribal sculptures fused (at the groin) with manga dolls (new works from the artist’s Evolution series) and some similarly bizarre paintings from his Losing Control series (both 2016).

Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Various venues, Kochi 12, December – 29 March

And so, to the end of this month’s art tour and the eternal return of the biennial: this time in India, at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, curated by Indian artist Sudarshan Shetty and titled forming in the pupil of an eye. Shetty’s concept focuses on the location of ‘the contemporary’ through an examination of the notion of ‘tradition’ as an evolving rather than a stable motif, and breaking down specialist notions of art by featuring contributions by practitioners from a diverse range of disciplines, from visual artists and musicians, to performers and poets. Central to all this, and to the ethos of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale itself, is the notion that art exists within, rather than apart from, a community. In terms of his own work, Shetty has previously described a tactic of trying ‘to seduce with the familiar’, and to a degree one can see similar tactics in the work of included artists such as Ahmet Öğüt, Stan Douglas, Paweł Althamer, Praneet Soi, T.V. Santhosh, Charles Avery and Yuko Mohri. They’ll be showing alongside a ‘Student’s Biennale’ involving 60 Indian art colleges and ‘Art by Children’, a ‘children only’ event that aims at initiating the young in the appreciation of art, both as artists and as audience. With that kind of indoctrination, it looks like biennale-tourism will be an even bigger thing for generations to come. 

This article first appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of ArtReview Asia.