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Archive for the ‘Groups and Movements’ Category

Indian art market hits peak 2008 figures – modern art favoured

Posted by artradar on July 27, 2010


ART MARKET INDIAN ART MODERN ART AUCTIONS

For some time now, the Indian art market has been reviving after the post-2008 buying slump. New Delhi-based journalist John Elliott, who runs the current affairs blog Riding the Elephant, reports in a recent post that now it may well be on the first step towards similar pre-2008 peak figures. However, the artists raking in money this time around are not contemporary but modern Indian artists.

In June this year, Sotheby’s raised USD7.9m in a mostly Indian art sales. In the same month, Saffronart sold art worth USD6.7m, and together with a Christie’s two day sale of USD18.1m, Indian art sales for the month of June totaled a substantial USD32.7m.

Rabindranath Tagore. Portrait of a woman.

Rabindranath Tagore's 'Portrait of a Woman' sold for over USD461,000 at Sotheby's.

Elliott reports that ArtTactic, a London based art market analysis firm believes that average auction prices and volumes for modern Indian art are now back to levels seen at the market’s peak in June 2008. Anders Peterson, who runs the firm, adds that,

The return in the confidence for the Indian art market is at the high end of the market.

A significant change from the trends of 2008 is the consistent sales of established veteran artists of Indian modern art rather than contemporary artists. However, given the overall push in the performance of the market, contemporary sales have also picked up. ArtTactic reports that previously popular contemporary artists such as Subodh Gupta and Jitish Kallat are still lagging far below 2007-2008 prices.

Saffronart founder and owner Dinesh Vazirani agrees with ArtTactic’s line on modern art. He says,

Auction prices are reasonably close to their 2008 peak. Serious collectors are there and this is backed with confidence in the Indian economy and with people investing as a hedge against inflation.

But how much do these results tell us about trends in buying Indian art? Anders Peterson from ArtTactic believes that,

Auctions are now a filtered version of the reality in the art market. Lots that are likely to sell are works of high quality, rarity and outstanding provenance. Works that do not demonstrate these qualities are still selling at lower prices or not at all. Therefore the return in confidence is at the high end of the market.

SH Raza. Rajasthan.

SH Raza's 'Rajasthan'.

The highlight of the Sotheby‘s sale were the works of Indian modernist painter, poet, philosopher and Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, while Saffronart relied on modern art veterans like S.H. Raza, who was part of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group and now lives in Paris. His wife, Janine Mongillat, died in April 2002.

AM/KN/KCE

Related Topics: Indian art, Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, market watch- auctions

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Posted in Auctions, Business of art, Classic/Contemporary, Collectors, Indian, London, Market watch, Painting, Progressive Artists' Group | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

National Art Gallery Singapore pays homage to 1970s leading artist Yeh Chi Wei in a retrospective

Posted by artradar on July 14, 2010


NATIONAL MUSEUM ART RETROSPECTIVE SINGAPORE

The Story of Yeh Chi Wei” at the National Art Gallery, Singapore celebrates the life and times of pioneering artist Yeh Chi Wei, a critical current in the shaping of a unique Southeast Asian style of painting in the 1960s and 70s.

Born and educated in China, Yeh became a well-known artist and educator in Singapore. He is most remembered for his role as the leader of the influential Ten Men group – a group of artists and art educators that would later take on the form of the seminal Southeast Asian Art Association.

Credited with defining the course of the Singapore arts scene in the early days of the 1960s and 70s, Yeh became famous with his unique style that drew from his interests in Chinese woodblock print, Han dynasty carvings, decorations on bronze vessels and oracle and stone drum inscriptions. In his paintings,varied Southeast Asian painting traditions achieve an unlikely unity, evoking a monumentality in both figurative and non-figurative works.

Drummer by Yeh Chi Wei. 1963

Yeh Chi Wei, 'Drummer', 1963.

Yeh took influence from his travels across the Southeast Asian subcontinent with the Ten Men group. Imbibing local painting styles, flavors and colors, Yeh’s works move from representational to an investment in abstraction during his career as an artist.

Boats in Bali by Yeh Chi Wei. 1962

Yeh Chi Wei, 'Boats in Bali', 1962.

In the heyday of Yeh’s popularity as an artist, educator and part of the Ten Men group, Yeh moved to a village in Malaysia where his career took a downward turn. A lot of his works never made it out of Malaysia and the artist fell into obscurity. In an article in The New York Times, Southeast Asian curator Ong Zhen Min said,

It was not until we delved into the archives that we realized how interesting and innovative this artist was, and understood the uniqueness of his art. Most of his paintings were in his Malaysian studio and were not widely circulated beyond that point, so his name faded into obscurity. We hope this exhibition would be able to reintroduce audiences to his art works.

A lot of Yeh’s work stands out for its choice of palette. Of the artist’s unique selection and application of color, Ms Ong says,

Yeh was probably one of the most daring artists of his generation in his use of black. Most artists use black to highlight things, but he actually used black and its different shades as a color. From a distance, it almost looks like a cave drawing, which I think is an effect he was trying to achieve.

Drummer by Yeh Chi Wei. 1970

Yeh Chi Wei, 'Drummer', 1970.

Yeh taught art for 22 years at different schools around Singapore and Malaya and passed away in 1981. This exhibition is the first survey show since his passing, and is an overview of his artistic career and his contribu­tions to the Singapore art scene.

The Story of Yeh Chi Wei” is on at the National Art Gallery, Singapore until 12 September, 2010.

AM/KN

Related Topics: Singaporean artists, museum showsgroups and movements

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Posted in Chinese, Events, Groups and Movements, Museum shows, Painting, Singapore, Singaporean, Southeast Asian, Venues | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sa Sa Gallery and Art Project, new artist-run initiatives in Cambodia

Posted by artradar on July 8, 2010


CAMBODIAN EMERGING ARTISTS ARTIST-RUN SPACES PHOTOGRPAHY

In 2009, a group of artists and photographers called Stiev Selapak founded Sa Sa Art Gallery, Cambodia’s first artist-run gallery. The programming focuses on emerging Cambodian contemporary artists. With the idea of wanting to promote the Cambodian contemporary art by supporting emerging Cambodian artists, Stiev Selapak started a new non-commercial initiative in early 2010, the Sa Sa Art Project.

Art Radar Asia spoke with Vuth Lyno, manager of Sa Sa Art Gallery, to find out more about this remarkable and influential group, gallery and project.

Chhin Taingchhea, Untitled, from Old Building series, 2009. Image courtesy of the artist.

Chhin Taingchhea, 'Untitled', "Old Building" series, 2009. Image courtesy of the artist.

Stiev Selapak formed to share ideas

Artist group Stiev Selapak was formed by six Cambodian artists and photographers in 2007, after meeting at a photography workshop. The ideal behind the group is to share, to communicate and to learn together. Three of the members graduated from the Royal University of Fine Arts and the other members came from various backgrounds.

Vuth Lyno, Sa Sa Art Gallery’s manager, for example, began his career in the arts as an information technology and communications specialist. In his work, he was required to take photographs for promotional communications which lead to a desire to explore artistic photography.

“Later on I realised that photography is not just about taking photos of happy people. I wanted to show real lives of people. For me that was the entry point.” Vuth Lyno, speaking with Art Radar Asia.

Vuth Lyno, Untitled, from Reflect series, 2007. Image courtesy of   the artist.

Vuth Lyno, 'Untitled', "Reflect" series, 2007. Image courtesy of the artist.

Each of the members implement their projects individually, but also work together. As Lyno elaborates: “Sometimes we would go out, take photos and document, review and show them to each other, comment and share what could be improved in a way where we could reflect [on] our personal inner perspectives.”

Sa Sa Art Gallery is founded

Stiev Selapak opened Sa Sa Art Gallery in early 2009. Significantly, Sa Sa is an abbreviation of Stiev Salapak, who are also known as the Art Rebels. For the group, the name Art Rebels did not find meaning in rebelling, but saw it more as wanting to do something new. “We want to introduce contemporary photography to people here and promote it to a wider audience,” Lyno divulges.

In the beginning, the group wanted to find a space which they could work in. Having some support, they could start having exhibitions. Mostly these events showcased photographic works, but the group soon realised that it was not only about Stiev Selapak, it was also about Cambodian artists and Cambodian contemporary photography.

“I believe that we contribute to the local art scene. When we had finished our creation of Sa Sa [Art Gallery] we had attended a one year photography workshop; we had group exhibitions together from all the students graduating from the class. That for me was the big step into the scene, when we look at it from the contemporary photography side.” Vuth Lyno, speaking with Art Radar Asia.

In Cambodia, most of the galleries are foreign-owned. Being artists themselves, the members of Stiev Selapak felt that Cambodian artists did not have a productive and equal relationship with these galleries. They commonly felt they needed a space that was Cambodian-owned, independent and that helped other artists.

Creating the gallery, the founders did not only exhibit their own works, but also work from other local artist groups. Though the size of the gallery is limited, they can still present and sell a decent-sized body of work. ”It’s a matter of how we can present that. So far we’ve exhibited a lot of photography, but we also show paintings and drawings,” Lyno elaborates.

Kong Vollak, Untitled, from Building 2 drawing series, 2009. Image courtesy of the artist.

Kong Vollak, 'Untitled', "Building 2" series, 2009. Image courtesy of the artist.

Sa Sa Art Project – a haven for experimental art practice

Earlier this year, Stiev Selapak founded a non-commercial initiative called the Sa Sa Art Project. This project is dedicated to experimental art practice and can accommodate installation art, residencies, meetings, and classes. The main goal is simple – to create opportunities for young artists to realise new ideas, to share their experiences and knowledge, as well as to educate the next generation about art.

One of the main activities of the project is inviting new and emerging artists to live and work at the Sa Sa Art Project’s space. Here they can experiment with new ideas free of any of the limitations normally encountered in commercial galleries. Each residency ends with a short exhibition. One drawing class every week is also held under the project which caters to students and local artists.

Both the Sa Sa Art Gallery and the Sa Sa Art project were created and founded by  Stiev Selapak, but what sets them apart from each other is that the gallery is operating commercially, hosting artist talks and welcoming students. The gallery focuses on showcasing emerging Cambodian contemporary artists’ bodies of work. The art project’s aim is to foster a community of knowledge sharing among artists. It tries to create opportunities for new artists, but also works as an educational program.

Funding and support in the Cambodian art industry

Finding spaces for the gallery and the project was easy, but the more challenging task was finding sustainable funding. In early March this year, Stiev Selapak organised a fundraiser so that they could continue with the programming of the gallery and to expand activities for the art project. Though they sometimes depend on the support from the public, most of the time the founders fund the gallery themselves. Since it is run with minimal funding and minimal resources, their communication and marketing are limited as well.

At the moment, the Sa Sa Art Gallery doesn’t operate on the same scale as other galleries in Cambodia, who represent a number of artists. Sa Sa is limited to representing the founders of Stiev Selapak and a few other artists they have close relationships with. One of the founders, internationally-known artist Vandy Rattana, is one of the more exposed artists in the group, exhibiting his works in Asia and in the U.S.

Vandy Rattana, Untitled, from Fire of the Year series, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist.

Vandy Rattana, 'Untitled', "Fire of the Year" series, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist.

“We have a new wave of artists and photographers coming now, continuing their practices in contemporary photography.” Vuth Lyno, speaking with Art Radar Asia.

One big difference in the Cambodian art scene is that ten years ago there were maybe a couple of contemporary art galleries, a number which has increased significantly over the past few years. Having the experience of creating and starting a gallery, Lyno’s advice would be to consider the idea carefully.

“Putting on an exhibition might not generate enough funds to continue running the gallery. Those who wish to start thinking of opening a gallery need to consider it carefully in terms of marketing [and] connections with buyers and collectors. These approaches have been adopted by many other galleries in town already. There are many gallery/restaurant/café [establishments]. My approach when I mean art gallery, [I mean] a clean gallery where they can appreciate the art.”

Neighbouring countries are more established and more systematic in terms of the development of their arts industries. The founders of Stiev Salapak believe that artists should make an effort to engage with each other in order to learn more. As there is almost no support from the government for the art in Cambodia, artists need to make the effort to create opportunities for themselves in the Southeast Asian region as well as in Cambodia itself. In saying this, although the art scene in Cambodia is relatively new, there has been a significant advancement in recent years.

The main goal for Stiev Salapak has always been to promote Cambodian contemporary art and by doing that, they support emerging artists. As Lyno states, this original idea has not changed. It has evolved into something bigger, meaning that the idea has evolved into something that can now accommodate and support Cambodian artists adequately.

“When we started as a group, we thought we wanted to create a new way of contemporary photographing and to support that we needed a space. Later on we realised it was not about our group, but about Cambodian artists, new emerging artists, the Cambodian contemporary art scene and [making a contribution] to the art scene. We also wanted to welcome other artists. That’s why we created the art project, so we can engage more emerging artist to realise their ideas; to create opportunities for them to experiment [with] their new ideas without any limitations.” Vuth Lyno, speaking with Art Radar Asia.

JAS/KN

Related Topics: artist-run spaces, Southeast Asian artists, photography

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Posted in Art spaces, Artist-run, Artists as curators, Business of art, Cambodia, Cambodian, Emerging artists, From Art Radar, Groups and Movements, Photography, Promoting art, Venues | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Gao Minglu’s maximalist exhibition blurs boundaries between traditional and contemporary Chinese art

Posted by artradar on June 25, 2010


CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ART CHINESE AVANT-GARDE

Contrasts Gallery Shanghai was the host of the recent exhibition “Mind Space: Maximalism in Contrasts” curated by distinguished art scholar and curator Gao Minglu. While visually the works in the exhibition referenced Western modern or conceptual art, the philosophical underpinnings were quite different. Artists Zhu Jinshi, Zhang Yu, Lei Hong and He Xiangyu participated in the show.

All works in the exhibition where chosen because they fall under the term “maximalism”, a term used by Gao Minglu when discussing the philosophical core of Chinese abstract art. Gao characterises the art in “Mind Space: Maximalism in Contrasts” as being “incomplete and fragmented records of daily meditation.” According to the him, they are like a diary or running account showing the daily workings and activities of the artist, be they trivial or not, rather than a complete work of art. In this way, they present some similarities with Western postmodernist deconstruction.

Zhu Jinshi, Hui neng's work, 2010

Zhu Jinshi, Hui Neng's Work, 2010, ink on rice paper, 2000 x 72 x 130 cm.

Generally, the work of artists in the maximalism tradition is less popular or has largely been ignored. According to Gao, this is partly because of its lack of political subject matter and partly because of its literati aesthetics. Literati painters were Chinese scholar-officials who were not concerned with technical skill and commonly created black ink paintings. The style of the brushstroke was said to reveal something about the inner life of the artist.

“Although it [Maximalism] has never achieved mainstream popularity (in comparison with Political Pop and Cynical Realism), for decades some Chinese artists have devoted themselves to this low-key avant-garde practice.” Gao Minglu, taken from his essay ‘Mind Space: Maximalism in Contrasts’

How can we come to understand works created in the maximalist tradition? The curator states in his essay, Does Abstract Art Exist in China?, “to decode these works, the audience must do more than read the physical form of a work (that is, it’s surface, or text). It must understand the entire process of making the art, the context underlying the work.”

The four artists: Zhu Jinshi, Zhang Yu, Lei Hong and He Xiangyu

Zhu Jinshi (b. Beijing, 1954) is one of China’s leading avant-garde artists and was a member of the now legendary Stars Group, an artist collective active between 1979 and 1983. Zhu has dedicated the bulk of his career both in China and Germany to the exploration of abstract art and installation work. His medium of choice is Chinese rice paper and ink which he also uses in the exhibited installation, Soaking. Here he fills a metal container with ink and places a pile of rice paper partly immersed in this ink. The half of the paper that is outside the ink gradually changes colour without intervention from human hands. It is a work in progress and uses rice paper and ink; these literati characteristics put the work squarely within the maximalist tradition.

Zhu Jinshi, Soaking 2008

Zhu Jinshi, Soaking, 2008, 170 x 100 x 50 cm.

Like Zhu Jinshi, Zhang Yu (b. Tianjin, 1959) has also chosen rice paper and ink for his installation. For the past twenty years he has been using his finger prints; he dips his fingers into paint or water and randomly places them onto ink painting scrolls. He uses this “language” to express the relationship between our bodies and life. According to curator Gao,”[b]y being transformed from individual identification into repetitious ‘abstract’ marks, the fingerprints lose any expressional and symbolic meaning but regain a universal beauty and infinity through the process.”

Fingerprint 2004.10-1 Zhang Yu 2004

Zhang Yu, Fingerprint 2004.10-1, ink on rice paper, 200 × 260 cm.

For The Coca-Cola Project, young artist He Xiangyu (b. Dan Dong, 1986) cooked tens of thousands of litres of Coke which crystalized the dark liquid. He then made ink out of the created substance and used this “ink” to create his paintings and for writing calligraphy.

He Xiangyu, Skeleton no. 1, 2009 125 x 80 cm

He Xiangyu, Skeleton no. 1, 2009 125 x 80 cm

Lei Hong’s (b. Sichuan Province, 1972) work has the characteristic marks of Western abstract art – with its myriads of dots, lines and squares – but conceptually his motives are quite different. According to the artist, these marks are not born out of artistic concepts but rather out of imagery, akin to traditional Chinese ink painting.

Gao Minglu

The curator of the exhibition, Gao Minglu.

Gao Minglu and Contrasts Gallery

Gao Minglu, is an author, critic, curator, and scholar of contemporary Chinese art. He currently serves as Head of the Fine Arts Department at the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts and is a Research Professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh. He has curated many exhibitions in the U.S. and China including the “China/Avant-Garde” exhibition (1989), “Inside Out: New Chinese Art”(1998), “The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art” (2005), “Apartment Art in China, 1970s-1990s” and “Yi School: Thirty Years of Chinese Abstraction” (2008). An art research center in Beijing is named after him, the mandate of which is to work as an alternative research space into contemporary art in China that is neither involved with the government nor with commercial art galleries.

Contrasts Gallery is a Shanghai based gallery which was founded by Pearl Lam in Hong Kong in 1992. The focus of the gallery is to promote cultural dialogue and exchange between the East and West, not only in art but also in design and architecture.


NA/KN

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Posted in China, Chinese, Conceptual, Curators, Drawing, Events, Gallery shows, Groups and Movements, Ink, Painting, Professionals, Scholars, Shanghai, Venues | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Peabody Essex Museum loaned 3 giants of contemporary and modern Indian art: Anish Kapoor, Francis Newton Souza, Paritosh Sen

Posted by artradar on June 9, 2010


INDIAN ART AMERICAN ART MUSEUM COLLECTIONS

This year, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has acquired three major works on loan from the Harmony Art Foundation: Anish Kapoor’s Halo (2006), Francis Newton Souza’s Birth (1955)and Paritosh Sen’s Amhedabad scene (1984).

“We are thrilled to have these three key works from the Ambani Collection,” says Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, the James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Chief Curator at PEM. “Their extended loan is just one of the many ways in which we are bringing global contemporary art to PEM.”

Halo by Anish Kapoor. 2006.

Anish Kapoor, Halo, 2006

Anish Kapoor is one of the most celebrated contemporary Indian artists. Earlier this year, Kapoor received a commission to construct the ArcelorMittal Orbit in London’s Olympic Park, continuing his successes in London following a 2003 Unilever installation in the Tate Modern and a 2009 show at the Royal Academy. In the United States, he is best known for his 110‐ton stainless steel public sculpture Cloud Gate (2004), installed in Millennium Park, in Chicago.

Halo consists of a shallow circular cone of stainless steel, 10 feet in diameter. Its surface is pleated in a radial pattern, a manipulation more commonly associated with pliable fabric than unyielding steel. It will hang in the PEM atrium, on long‐term loan from the Tina and Anil Ambani Collection.

“Anish Kapoor is one of the most important artists working in the world today,” says Trevor Smith, PEM Curator of Contemporary Art. “The extraordinary technical achievement of his sculpture depends on contemporary technology while invoking a sense of wonder that is timeless.”

Souza and Sen are often pronounced fathers of Indian modern art. Breaking away from colonial training institutions in post independent India, they founded the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group and the Calcutta Group respectively. Both groups pioneered the modern art movement in India in the 1950s.

Birth by Francis Newton Souza

Francis Newton Souza, Birth, 1955

The Peabody Essex Museum has had a long history of collecting Indian art. In the year 2000, renowned Indian art collectors Chester and Davida Herwitz donated their collection to the PEM, fortifying its status as one of the best places to go for Indian art in the United States. Today the PEM has three galleries dedicated to Indian art.

“There is a tremendous synergy between the Peabody Essex Museum and Harmony Art Foundation based on our belief in Indian art, and our genuine commitment to bring it to the global stage,” says Tina Ambani, a former Bollywood star and founder of the Harmony Art Foundation, an institution which supports emerging and established Indian artists. “It’s time that the art world looks beyond current fads and market trends to establish an abiding interest in the incredible power and potential of Indian art.”

AM/KN

Related Topics: Indian artists, collectors, events – museum shows

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Curator Valerie Doran on ‘Hope and Glory’ and challenges for Hong Kong art world – interview

Posted by artradar on May 28, 2010


HONG KONG CURATOR INTERVIEW

Valerie Doran, Hong Kong-based independent curator, writer, and translator

For a place that has been repeatedly touted as a cultural desert, Hong Kong has managed to attract arts practitioners from many walks of life who are dedicated to working with the challenging realities present within the Chinese city-state. These creative professionals are forging an atmosphere in Asia where the contemporary arts are accessible and alive. Valerie Doran, an independent curator originally from Rhode Island in the United States, embodies the spirit of these determined arts professionals who are striving to transform the parched art landscape of the former British colony.

Her most recent project, Simon Birch’s Hope & Glory: A Conceptual Circus, has been lauded by Art Forum Online as a ‘critic pick’ and praised by numerous media outlets, including the New York Times. However, Doran asserts, the exhibition represents more than a critically acclaimed artistic endeavor, and serves as an ‘intervention’ into the Hong Kong art world, “finding a way to do something in a place where it’s impossible to do it.”

A creative spirit seeking revolution

Valerie Doran is a dichotomy: a gentle creative spirit who harbors an intense attraction to revolutionary ideas. As a Wellesley educated translator and arts scholar who majored in both Chinese and English Literature, she effortlessly exists in both eastern and western cultural worlds. As a Chinese translator and expert in traditional Chinese literature, she can read and speak fluent Mandarin.

Valerie arrived in Hong Kong in the early 1980’s as a Wellesley-Yenching fellowship recipient at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where she studied Chinese intensively and taught classes in the English department and core curriculum programme. She later studied at the National University of Taiwan while the territory was still under martial law, and became involved in the burgeoning local avant-garde arts scene, which was riddled with political activists. Of the mid-80’s Taiwanese art scene, she says:

“Artists and the dissidents were very linked, and were all kind of loosely affiliated during this interesting time. There was a lot of patronage of artists by corporate people who themselves were quite liberal… Many of these people were early supporters for what became the Democratic Progressive Party.”

Her Path to Curating

Doran’s journey to becoming an independent curator included working for the distinguished Johnson Chang at Hanart TZ Gallery, which has been an instrumental gallery in pioneering contemporary Chinese art. During her 3-year stint at Hanart, Doran first began dabbling in curating contemporary art exhibitions. It was then her interest in curatorial practice was thoroughly peaked, and she enrolled in the Hong Kong Art School’s curatorial studies program, run jointly at the time with New York’s Guggenheim Museum.

In 2008, Doran was one of the first independent curators selected to curate a show for the Hong Kong Museum of Art. Her exhibition, Looking for Antonio Mak, earned wide attention, and was named as the best Hong Kong exhibition of 2008 by Time Out Magazine, as well as being cited as one of the 10 best exhibitions internationally of that year by the China edition of Artforum Online.

Most Recent Project: Hope & Glory with Simon Birch

Her most recent project is Hope & Glory: A Conceptual Circus, inspired by Hong Kong’s British expatriate artist Simon Birch. The show encompasses 20,000 square feet in ArtisTree, a non-profit art space that exists within a sprawling office complex, and is one of the largest multimedia art exhibitions ever created in Hong Kong. The show’s installations utilize video, sculpture, costume and sound design, live performers and 2-dimensional paintings to create a fantastic, interactive environment. Running themes include the journey through life and transformation, the ‘hero’ mythologies of various cultures, and science fiction. The show also maintains a definitive preoccupation with craftsmanship and the process of producing art.

Art Radar’s writer and researcher Erin Wooters met with Valerie Doran to discuss her experience and the challenges of curating Hope & Glory, a mammoth and unprecedented project, with no comparable exhibition ever attempted in Hong Kong. Valerie’s revelations are surprising, and include details of the conceptual performance that didn’t come to fruition in Hope & Glory due to the grave injury of the human ‘artwork’, how exactly the Birch Foundation managed to secure government funding for the show within Hong Kong’s hyper-competitive and chronically under-funded art scene, and what this exhibition means for the future of contemporary art in Hong Kong.

'Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown', 2010. Hope & Glory installation shot. By Simon Birch in collaboration with Paul Kember. Curated by Valerie Doran.

How did you meet Simon and become involved with this project?

Simon was one of the artists in my ‘Looking for Antonio Mak’ show, so that’s how I met him. What I was looking for [in artists for Antonio Mak] was not a style—I was looking for a level of sensitivity and a voice. There were artists that I liked and I wanted to work with, and I wanted a figurative painter.  I had seen a painting of Simon’s, and I didn’t know who he was, but when I saw one of his paintings I was very struck by the texture of the brushwork. So I met him. He had never heard of Antonio, and I showed him Antonio’s catalogue and he was almost in shock because he responded so strongly to the work and the imagery. So he wanted to do it … After that show completed, he asked me if I’d work with him on ‘Hope and Glory’.

Can you describe the process of curating the Hope & Glory show?

We met for over a year, working on this concept, the floor plans, the narrative, and the sub-narrative. There was a lot of discussion. Then, 3 months before the show opened, Robert Peckham from Hong Kong University, who is a history professor who had seen both the ‘Antonio’ show and a smaller show that Simon did during his illness, which was a really powerful show called ‘Out of the Darkness’, got to know Simon and was very interested in this project, so we had discussions with him. There was a lot of in-depth conceptual thought and discussion, which lasted for about a year, that went into this show. The show was very formed in Simon’s mind and he already knew certain things that he wanted to do. However, the show as it is now also has elements that were changed, or gotten rid of.

This is a very unique show. How was curating this exhibition different from your previous experiences?

It was a very different experience from curating a show that I generated the idea. This is a situation in which an artist came to me with a concept for a complex multimedia installation, and asks to have it curated, so what does that really mean? It is a very different role. The closest analogy that I can come up with to describe our relationship is an editor and a novelist. Editors come across novelists with all different levels of formed work. Some may be very sketchy, or have just a few chapters. It depends on what stage you get into the relationship with the writer. So, you must challenge the language, challenge the structure, and challenge the concept.

'Crawling From the Wreckage', 2010. Hope & Glory installation shot, including an interactive viewer. By Simon Birch in collaboration with Douglas Young. Curated by Valerie Doran.

Were there any surprises or unexpected difficulties in the making of ‘Hope & Glory’?

One of the key installations, the living room installation, originally wasn’t like that. It was originally all stage, and a key concept that ended up not being able to happen, was that he hired a guy he knows to transform himself into a super being. To transform himself, an everyday guy, into an iron man athlete over the course of a year. So, the guy started training for about 6 or 7 months, and filmed himself everyday, and that was to be edited into a film about his transformation. And then over the course of the exhibition, over 2 months, the man was to always be sitting in the living room. What happened was that 6 or 7 months into his training, the guy almost broke his neck during training. It was just before Christmas, and he severely injured his neck, almost severed his spine. So obviously that didn’t happen. Simon has him on video on one of the TVs on the floor, but the overall concept had to go. It didn’t happen. We decided then it would be fun to change the living environment into the computer vector cage, and create a cage for humans in the living room space.

When it came time to build the show, it was also so complicated to build that he hired a production company that usually sets up rock concerts. Because, no one knows how to do an art show here, except people who work at the museum. No one knew how to build it. We had to start from scratch with everything. It was hideously difficult.

I also knew I was taking a big risk, as was Simon, who was taking the biggest risk of all, because he’s put everything he has into the show, and he busted his butt for over and year and had to find a way to do something in a place where it’s impossible to do it.

'Spinal Mount Starcracker', 2010. Hope and Glory installation shot, by Simon Birch. Curated by Valerie Doran.

Are you satisfied with the show? Does it achieve your intentions?

I think it fulfills Simon’s vision, and I believe it’s achieved something. I believe we’ve constructed a pretty interesting world for people to enter and take something away. I think it has communicated a lot of personal vision of the artist, and I think it is conceptually multilayered and very interesting in that way. I think in terms of the physical realization of the physical works, that partly due to time limitations and all the other limitations when trying to do this, such as money and space, that certain things weren’t pushed to the limit and there are things we weren’t able to realize.

I think my collaborative experience with Simon was more problematic than expected, but that’s ok. On many levels I feel very amazed by his achievement, and I’ve learned a lot… The fact that we were able to pull together so many interesting people in the forums, and to see the students coming in, it’s awesome.

The show has gotten a lot of attention and a lot of press, and there is a really great article in the International Herald Tribune, and that’s all great, but that’s not the key issue for me.

Were pieces transported into the space or built in ArtisTree?

The large-scale sculpture pieces like the star and the steel ball, and the letters were made in a factory in Guangzhou, according to the technical drawings. The production supervisor would go out there and send photographs back.

The steel frame for the trophy ball was created in Guangzhou, and the trophies were put on by hand, one by one. And engraved one by one. The cage living room (‘Crawling from the Wreckage’) was put up string by string.

What is inscribed on the trophies?

On the ‘Spinal Mount Starcracker’… The name of every artwork Simon’s ever made and every person he’s ever loved or has been a friend to him is on those trophies, so that’s why he calls it ‘my life in a thousand cheap trophies.’

Can you tell the story about how this was funded?

Simon is an outsider in the art scene. He’s a Westerner. This is a very personal show for him, and he’s taking risks and exposing himself to a very unsympathetic, hermetic contemporary art scene.  The show has done a lot of amazing things in a lot of ways, but people are suspicious, asking, why is there government funding? Why did the tourism board give money for the show? We find this criticism quite hilarious, because Simon was working on the show for two years, with me for one year, and was maxing out all his credit cards and scrounging for sponsorship.

We heard about a mega-event fund, through somebody over at the NGO art organizer. They said, there’s this crazy fund you should try for, because they’re supposed to fund entertainment, sports, and cultural events, and they’ve got a ton of money. The main criterion is that you have to guarantee that at least 10,000 people will come to your event. The second thing is that you have to show that it will attract tourism, and that it will help benefit the image of Hong Kong. So Simon was like, let’s go for this. I’m thinking, are you crazy, they’re never going to give this to a visual artist. But why not try it, what have we got to lose, right? So, I asked a friend of mine who worked with me on the ‘Antonio’ show, who used to be a government accountant and is now an emerging curator, to come look at these forms and help us understand them. Simon also did a lot of research online about how to fill out these forms.

We filled out the forms, submitted them, and Simon was really surprised when he got short listed and called back for an interview. Then, we made the second cut, which meant that we were one of nine proposals asked to submit a seven minute PowerPoint presentation to their selection committee. That amazed us. This was all in February—we didn’t even know we had any government funding until March. All these artists are accusing- oh, they could only do this because they got government funding—which is wrong.

We had KC Wong with us for the presentation, who is a friend of Simon’s and a really great artist. He was originally going to do a piece in the show but it didn’t work out. The 3 of us went to meet 20 people in business suits at the Tourism Bureau and Leisure and Cultural Services Department, and there was a question and answer session and it wasn’t hostile. I was so surprised they were actually interested in knowing more. I never expected they’d give us money.

We were really shocked when around February we were told they were going to give us a matching grant for up to 2 million [HK] dollars for production costs. That means that we have to spend 4 million [HKD] on production and they’ll give us 2 million. However, the overall value of the show is over 15 million Hong Kong dollars [approximately 2 million USD] . That includes the sponsorship, venue (which we didn’t have to pay for), the graphic design, and the banners. This is all sponsored. For our education program, we got $50,000 HKD from Louis Vuitton to do our forums, which we are also using to pay for buses to bus in students from less advantaged areas.We were able to invite the Symbiotic Dance Troupe, a community-based group incorporating physically handicapped dancers, to perform at our first forum, and they did an interactive work inside the installation, which was absolutely beautiful. So we’re using the money very wisely and producing an educational pamphlet for students.

All the actors in the films, the designers, the film directors, and the musicians—they’ve all done this for nothing or for very little. So the main cost is the production but the value of the show is on the scale of the Tate Modern.

So does this mark a first for artists trying for this government fund?

Well, it is a relatively new fund and most artists would never even consider it. They all go running to the arts development council, where artists usually get money… Yet, here is something interesting, because it’s supposed to raise Hong Kong’s international image. Hong Kong is trying to strengthen its creative industries and make itself the creative capital of Asia, but still does not include the fine arts or visual arts within their definition of a creative industry. So, the fact that we are able to get this money actually for a visual arts project from this unlikely source, and they are willing to take a risk and fund us, is a very good thing.

'Twilight Shadows of the Bright Face', 2010. Hope & Glory installation shot. By Simon Birch in collaboration with Prodip and LucyAndBart. Curated by Valerie Doran.

How do you feel about the critics who call Hong Kong a cultural desert?

The way I look at it is this: Hong Kong is not a cultural desert, and there are a lot of talented people that are doing excellent work whether in the performing arts, music, visual arts, or theatre. The ‘desert’ is the lack of platform for them. The desert is in the cultural policy of the Hong Kong government. It’s a conceptual desert, not a real desert.

So, what is the definition of a desert? It is a place where things don’t get watered. There are plants, water them! If not, they have to move elsewhere to survive. Except for the performing arts, which has more of a platform and is better known, everything else has to move to the periphery to find ‘water’. They have to water themselves. That’s the desert.

Of course art can never be government generated, but, in the West you have a mixture. You have the Guggenheim, a private museum created by a collector, you have PS1, and there are artist-generated spaces. But here, space is at a premium—it’s valuable, it’s money. The government also doesn’t know what to do, because they don’t trust the artists. Even the ADC [Hong Kong Arts Development Council] —if you apply for $120,000 [HKD], they give you $50,000 [HKD] because they assume you are exaggerating funding needs. Everybody is always under funded.

What do you think the show means for Hong Kong?

I don’t know. I just think it’s this weird entity that happened. One thing it means for sure is that more people have been exposed to a serious multimedia installation by an artist, and been exposed to an artist’s vision. That’s amazing. That’s what you want.

What is the biggest challenge for advancing the arts in Hong Kong?

Space is a huge issue in Hong Kong—space for the visual art, where  is it? The museum? No.

1A Space is great but it’s way out there. Artists have to invent their own spaces here in Hong Kong. They are amazing in that way.  But the problem is that they’re not accessible to most people so there tends to be this kind of interiority or privacy, a self-contained, almost clubbish atmosphere here in the contemporary art scene. If you’re not a member of the club, it’s a problem. When it’s like that in art, it’s not a good thing.

There are a lot of new laws, like the ‘80% law’, which I find to be criminal. For instance, if developers are able to convince 80% of tenants to sell their properties to them, then you would be forced to sell your flat. People talk about post-colonialism, but I don’t believe there’s any such thing. There is just always a new colonizer, and right now the colonizer is the developers, and the government allows it. Together, they are colonizing Hong Kong space. That has to stop, and needs to be more rational.

Which Hong Kong arts organisations do you appreciate?

In terms of an organisation that has made a new contribution in the past five to ten years, definitely Asia Art Archive. I think Asia Art Archive is a very important organisation.

1A Space is good, and has been struggling to stay open. They are artists in a government owned space; that’s really tough.

There are some important grass roots initiative projects run by artists. The Kai Tak River Project is run by artists and architects who are trying to preserve the Kai Tak River Area as a cultural space, and this involves a whole lot of other issues.

The musicians and theatre performers in the San Po Kong district who moved into factory areas to have rehearsal and performance space have also formed an organization. The government has a new initiative to develop the San Po Kong area, so they are trying to throw everyone out. But, where are they supposed to go? They have formed their own group to try to change things. [The San Po Kong Creative and Cultural Industry Concern Group]

'Tannhauser', 2010. Hope & Glory installation shot. By Simon Birch in collaboration with Gary Gunn. Curated by Valerie Doran.

Are there any particular galleries you value in Hong Kong?

When it comes to commercial galleries I prefer not to answer that question, but in terms of non-commercial galleries, I can say that it’s really great there are some new locally run galleries showing more conceptual works with a less commercial and more experimental style. Like the YY9 Gallery, and the Exit Gallery. These put on small and interestingly conceived shows that are less commercial, which I think is really great.

Do you attend biennales?

Not really. Frankly I don’t have a lot of time to travel because I’m very busy. I have a child and I teach. I get to some things here and there, but biennales are not a compelling interest of mine.

How do you stay informed about the art world? What do you read?

I think I read very much at random. I’ll read some of the Western art news, like Art Forum, Art News, and The Art Newspaper. I actually find a lot of interesting stuff in the Financial Times; they have a great Arts and Culture section. Occasionally the Wall Street Journal. I’ll also look at Yishu, which is a contemporary Chinese arts journal published out of Canada. And Orientations Magazine, because I am also interested in traditional art, and I have a background in traditional Chinese painting.

However, I do research a lot of particular topics that I’m teaching. For instance, I may read about Indian art or the contemporary scene in miniatures from Pakistan. I’m not the kind of person who regularly reads a whole range of things; I’m very much driven by my personal interests.

What literature and writers have influenced your thinking?

There is a very intriguing text by the 17th century ‘eccentric’ painter Shi Tao, called in English ‘Enlightening Remarks on Painting. It is quite a radical and conceptual text in its way, and I have re-read it and drawn from it many times since I first read it more than twenty years ago.

Another book is ‘Ways of Seeing’ by the British humanist and critic John Berger. In fact, the text of Hope & Glory’s educational pamphlet, which we designed for students, (conceived by myself and Robert Peckham of HKU, with text by Robert) was inspired by Berger’s approach.

What projects are you looking forward to next?

[Laughs] Sleeping! Actually, I am involved in another project but we have not gotten to realize it yet, partly because of Hong Kong’s weird ‘creative industries’ definition. The project is ‘In Dragon Garden, which is a beautiful private garden in Tsuen Wan, and the granddaughter of the founder has managed to preserve it from developers. With her aunt and uncle, who now own it, they want to create a public cultural and artistic environment and garden. However, getting the support to do that is very difficult. So I’ve been working on a prototype art project with that, and so far we have not been able to realize it because of funding issues.

I would like to do another show that breaks the mold of how things are usually done here. I would like to work with a single Hong Kong artist and just do a major show in a major space, because no one does that. Like in New York. I just want to do that to change the paradigm. It’s great to have art in these private intimate spaces, and that’s why Hong Kong art has developed the way it has, in a very interesting way. But we need to break out of that and think about projection.

The other thing I’d like to do is create a different kind of space. And I’d love to be a curator and get paid for it. That would be exciting. [laughs]

EW/KN

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Posted in Art Funds, Art spaces, Artist-run, Curators, Democratisation of art, From Art Radar, Funding, Gallery shows, Groups and Movements, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Artists, Installation, Interviews, Museum shows, Museums, Mythical figures, Nonprofit, Performance, Profiles, Research, Sculpture, Simon Birch, Sound, Space, Valerie Doran, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

American visual artists react to Google’s book grab

Posted by artradar on April 29, 2010


VISUAL ART GOOGLE LIBRARY PROJECT

American visual art groups plan to file complaint against Google’s library project

As reported in the New York Times earlier this month, a number of American groups representing visual artists have come together to file a class-action lawsuit against Google. They are reacting to the company’s plans to digitize millions of out-of-print books to make available or sell to the public.

Google books is already available to the public

These groups, including the American Society of Media Photographers, the Graphic Artists Guild, the North American Nature Photography Association and the Professional Photographers of America, as well as individual photographers and illustrators, want fair compensation for the artworks that appear in the books that Google has already “illegally” scanned.

A similar complaint was filed in 2005 by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers who are awaiting the approval of a US$125 million settlement. If approved, this will pave the way for the Google project.

“The agreement has faced a barrage of opposition from Google rivals like Amazon.com and Microsoft, as well as many academics and legal scholars, representative of authors and estates, and event some foreign governments.”

View the full New York Times article here.

KN/KCE

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Posted in Art and internet, Business of art, Groups and Movements | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »