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Blog provides ground view of Chinese contemporary art – interview Katherine Don

Posted by artradar on September 28, 2010


INTERVIEW CHINA CONTEMPORARY ART ARTS WRITERS BLOGGING

RedBox Review is one of the most prominent English-language blogs dedicated to Chinese contemporary art. In an interview with co-founder Katherine Don, Art Radar Asia gains some insight into the aims of this sort of online publication, the progressive nature of Chinese art and Don’s personal background.

The blog, which currently has around 8000 subscribers, was founded in 2005 by Katie Grube, Mike Hatch and Katherine Don, also a director of and art advisor for RedBox Studio. It features original articles, event listings, gallery reviews, and commentary on and links to other coverage on Chinese contemporary art. In this way, it is able to provide a unique view of the Chinese avant-garde. RedBox Review is aimed at people who either work with or are interested in contemporary art. Its success is based upon its selection of relevant information vetted by its young, bilingual team of writers who are actively involved in the Chinese art scene.

The homepage of English-language Chinese art blog 'RedBox Review'.

The homepage of English-language Chinese art blog 'RedBox Review'. Image property of Art Radar Asia.

Can you tell us about your background and how you became involved in art?

I am originally from Hawaii. I’m American. I’ve always been interested in arts. I went to school in New York at the Columbia University and studied art history there. I happened to spend a summer in China, where I was learning Chinese, and also started to intern for one of the galleries here. That was in 2001. I had travelled to China before then, just with my family. I am third generation Chinese-American…. [It was] through this relationship with China and learning about art when I was in school, that I became involved in the arts. I graduated with a dual-degree in Visual Arts, Art History and East Asian Studies.

So, how did you get involved in writing about art?

I have always wanted to write. The only way to be a better writer is to practice writing. So when I started working for a gallery in New York, focusing exclusively on Chinese contemporary art, I started writing. After two years, I moved to Taiwan to engage more in a faceted art community. But I realised that Beijing is the cultural hub of China, traditionally, but also with the contemporary art scene. So moving here to China was a way for me to get involved with the art scene and to see it on the ground. The curiosity and the desire to learn more about China from on the ground, this is RedBox Review.

You are one of the co-founders of RedBox Review. What is RedBox? What does it mean? How would you describe RedBox Review?

It’s our blog for viewing the contemporary art scene and art in China from [our] vantage point in Beijing. We write it in English, because that’s my mother tongue, but also I feel that there are numerous sites in Chinese that are available for the local audience to give them access to visiting shows or documentation about art. But in English it’s much more limited and if people don’t visit China, it’s very hard to know what’s happening…. RedBox Review is a way to edit the content by selecting which shows, news and articles we feature. We mainly do it objectively, linking to other articles, re-publishing texts that we think are worthwhile for reading. We’re not so interested in writing reviews of exhibitions. We’re more interested in being a research [tool] for people…. We’re not trying to be a critical voice.

Can you tell us the story of how RedBox Review began? What inspired you to start RedBox Review?

When I moved to China, I started… RedBox Studio. RedBox Studio began as… an art consultancy basically. All our projects are focused on promoting contemporary art in China. [RedBox Review developed as] a platform for my colleagues and I to share the information and the activities that we were seeing and doing here in Beijing.

You are also the co-founder for RedBox Studio. Can you tell us about this organisation?

Basically RedBox Studio is the platform for promoting contemporary art in China. We provide a variety of services, beginning with our graphic design studio. We print and publish artist catalogues, maps and guides for the art scene here. We also provide art advisory services.

Inside RedBox Studio, a China-based art consultancy firm.

Inside RedBox Studio, a China-based art consultancy firm. Image courtesy of RedBox Studio.

There are not many organisations like ours in China. The infrastructure is relatively young. I think that there is a need for art consultancy and people who provide a ladder-role between artists, galleries and museums. We are involved in a variety of different projects, basically introducing the art scene to new cultures, both Chinese and foreign.

We are not a gallery, but we are a consultancy, meaning that as an independent organisation, we work with different participants in the art scene – with galleries, with museums, with artists – directly to realise their projects. I do represent private clients and help them acquire acquisitions.

Over the time period that you have been covering art, what changes have you seen in the Chinese contemporary art scene? What are the biggest challenges facing artists in China?

There are many changes in the art scene in China, and that the artists are facing. But frankly, I think, by selecting shows or different articles and events on our website, we’re trying to provide a complete … picture of what might be happening here. Often the media abroad can only focus on, perhaps, sensational topics or the news [of] very well-known and established artists and often can’t really focus on some of the activities that are going on on the ground in China.

I think that there is a lot of room for development for art… [in] contemporary Chinese society. The way that people view art, the way that people understand art and collect art, is actively changing…. I think that this change is what is really exciting and interesting about the Chinese art scene today.

You also facilitate the sale of artworks. In your opinion, what are the current trends in Asian art?

In the past fifteen years, the Chinese art market has made its mark on the international stage and I think that the diversity of Chinese art, in terms of medium, makes [for] a very rich and engaging art scene in China. Artists are working in performance [and] video, exploiting different scenes such as Chinese painting, … photography, sculptures and oil-painting. There are artists experimenting with all mediums, but all with different kinds of content and different approaches to the art. I think that there is a lot going on in China.

Is there any particular information, news or advice you would like to share with our readers? What advice would you give to our readers about what websites and publications to follow about Chinese art?

Well, my first suggestion to people who want to know more about [Chinese contemporary art] is to read as much as they can. But if those sources are not available, my next [suggestion] is to visit China to take the opportunity to see what’s happening, because things change so quickly. The diversity of Chinese contemporary art goes beyond what can be reported and documented on in a two-dimensional format, meaning online and in pictures.

Installation view of work by Wang Tiande at the NBC Studio, Olympic Media Center (2008).

Installation view of work by Wang Tiande at the NBC Studio, Olympic Media Center (2008). The placement of these artworks was facilitated by RedBox Studio. Image courtesy of RedBox Studio.

How do you see the Internet being used to promote or communicate information about art in China? How important is it? Where and how do you see the art and the Internet evolving in the future?

I know a lot of people involved with contemporary art are trying to use and exploit the Internet and technology as a way to create a wider audience space. And it’s true, there’s a lot of opportunity [that comes] with using the Internet and technology, such as creating a virtual museum or electronic books or websites and blogs. But, I think that the first step is not only to invest in using the Internet, … people need to understand how diverse … art in China is and have an interest in viewing it and understanding what’s happening [here]. The diversity of art in China is really interesting…. It can’t be easily defined into one category. I think that the Internet plays a great role in disseminating information. That is actually quite innovative and I think it’ll continue to change in the future.

What is the biggest problem in obtaining information about Chinese art? What information is difficult to get hold of? What do you think could be improved?

Not reading Chinese. I think the language barrier is one of the biggest problems. I think one characteristic is that a lot more people [from China] can read English than those from abroad can read Chinese. They are very well-read and exposed to international art activity. In regards to writing, practiced critical writing, [this] is something that leaves a lot to be desired in the art scene here. I think objective critical writing is an evolving practice.

Where would you like to see RedBox Review go in the future? Do you have any plans or innovations?

I hope that more people read it and find it useful for understanding the art scene. Our plan is to continue contributing to this site [with] thoughtful and objective descriptions and posts about the art scene.

About Katherine Don

As a writer and specialist in contemporary Chinese art, her writing has been published in local publications, as well as Art in America and Art Asia Pacific. In 2005, she co-founded RedBox Studio, an art and design studio providing a unique combination of art consulting and graphic design services to the art community in Beijing and abroad. As Director, she works with artists, curators, galleries and institutions to realise exhibitions, art programs, and publications dedicated to the promotion of art and design in China.

JAS/KN/HH

Related Topics: interviews, art and the Internet, arts writers

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Rubin Museum breaks tradition to show the first Tibetan art show in New York – New York Times

Posted by artradar on September 16, 2010


TIBETAN CONTEMPORARY ART NEW YORK MUSEUM SHOWS

Until October 18, Rubin Museum, usually New York’s home for traditional art of the Himalayas, will run the first Tibetan contemporary art show in the city. Titled “Tradition Transformed: Tibetan Artists Respond“, this exhibition showcases the works of nine Tibetan artists born within the period 1953 to 1982. In a review published by The New York Times, critic Ken Johnson comments on each of the artists’ works.

Kesang Lamdark from Zurich presents Johnson’s most highly recommended works. On display is a sculpture made of perforated beer cans. As one peers through the drinking hole they can see a “glowing, dotted-line image of a Tibetan deity.” He also presents O Mandala Tantric, a pin-pricked black disk of four-foot diameter.

The holes on 'O Mandala Tantric' by Kesang Lamdark are back-lighted, such that they create a complex mandala pattern composed of images of skulls and animals, erotic Buddhist art imageries and modern pornography. The work touches upon themes of “debasement of sex in the modern commerce” and the East-West divide over views on eroticism.

The holes on 'O Mandala Tantric' by Kesang Lamdark are back-lighted, such that they create a complex mandala pattern composed of images of skulls and animals, erotic Buddhist art imageries and modern pornography. The work touches upon themes of “debasement of sex in the modern commerce” and the East-West divide over views on eroticism.

The collages presented by Gonkar Gyatso from London are “graphically appealing,” but Johnson notes they would be more impressive if they advanced “the genre of Pop collage or ideas about spirituality and business.” One of the works on display is called Tibetan Idol 15.

'Tibetan Idol 15' by Gonkar Gystso is a collage of “hundreds of little stickers imprinted with familiar logos, cartoon characters and other signs of corporate empire” which form the “atomised silhouettes of the Buddha”.

'Tibetan Idol 15' by Gonkar Gystso is a collage of “hundreds of little stickers imprinted with familiar logos, cartoon characters and other signs of corporate empire” which form the “atomised silhouettes of the Buddha”.

The computer-generated prints by Losang Gyatso from Washington are, according to Johnson, “technically impressive” and “optically vivid”, but should attempt to draw a clearer relationship between “Buddha-mindedness” and “digital consciousness.” Clear Light Tara is one such work.

Large and colorful, 'Clear Light Tara' by Losang Gyatso is a computer-generated print which features “abstracted traditional motifs.”

Large and colorful, 'Clear Light Tara' by Losang Gyatso is a computer-generated print which features “abstracted traditional motifs.”

Ken Johnson comments on the paintings like Water 1 by Pema Rinzin from New York, stating that they are “uncomfortably close to hotel lobby decoration.”

'Water 1' by Pema Rinzin is a painting of “curvy, variously patterned shapes gathered into Cubist clusters.”

'Water 1' by Pema Rinzin is a painting of “curvy, variously patterned shapes gathered into Cubist clusters.”


Penba Wangdu from Tibet presents Links of Origination while Tenzin Norbu from Nepal presents Liberation. Both painters have the greatest “potential for narrative and symbolic elaboration,” but their works are “disappointingly decorous”, says Johnson.

Tenzin Norbu's 'Liberation' is made with stone ground pigments on cloth.

Tenzin Norbu's 'Liberation' is made with stone ground pigments on cloth.

Penba Wangdu’s 'Links of Origination' outlines a sleeping woman whose body contains a “dreamy, pastoral landscape where little people make love, give birth, drink beer and paddle a boat on a peaceful lake.”

Penba Wangdu’s 'Links of Origination' outlines a sleeping woman whose body contains a “dreamy, pastoral landscape where little people make love, give birth, drink beer and paddle a boat on a peaceful lake.”

Tsherin Sherpa from Oakland, California, presents a large watercolor painting which features, as Johnson describes, an “angry blue giant with a vulture perched on his shoulder and flames roiling behind him.” Another of the artist’s major works, Untitled, features on the official website of the exhibition.

Tsherin Sherpa's 'Untitled'.

Tsherin Sherpa's 'Untitled'.

Tenzing Rigdol from New York presents a large watercolor painting named Updating Yamantaka.

'Updating Yamantaka' by Tenzing Rigdol is composed of “crisscrossing bands” which are “layered over colorfully traditional imagery of deities and ornamentation.”

'Updating Yamantaka' by Tenzing Rigdol is composed of “crisscrossing bands” which are “layered over colorfully traditional imagery of deities and ornamentation.”

Dedron from Tibet is the only female artist in the show. We are Nearest to the Sun is painted to resemble to a “modern children’s book version of folk art.” It is a painting of a village “populated by little bug-eyed characters,” projecting the theme of “nostalgia for preindustrial times.”

'We are nearest to the Sun' by Dedron, the only female artist represented in "Tradition Transformed: Tibetan artists Respond".

'We are nearest to the Sun' by Dedron, the only female artist represented in "Tradition Transformed: Tibetan artists Respond".

Johnson sums up by stating that it is paradoxical that the “freedoms granted by modern art and culture” do not generate much imagination in the show’s artists, who still cling onto that classic Tibetan style of art that has existed “hundreds of years prior to the 20th century.” He conveys a hope that in future Rubin shows he will discover some Tibetan artists with “adventurous minds.”

CBKM/KN/HH

Related Topics: Tibetan artists, museum shows, New York venues, Buddhist art

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The Power 100: curators up and artists down on ArtReview’s annual list

Posted by artradar on December 2, 2009


THE POWER STRUCTURES OF THE ART WORLD

ArtReview: The Power 100What a difference a year makes. Last month, ArtReview magazine released its annual list of the one hundred most powerful people in art (see list here). ArtReview’s introduction to the list outlines that the financial crisis of 2008 caused a lot of big shifts in the art world and the list is a reflection of these changes: a third of last year’s entries, both artists and collectors, have fallen off the list and been replaced by newcomers. For instance, Director of MoMA Glen Lowry was not even on the list last year, and this year he enters the chart at number two. The magazine praises the likes of Lowry for being part of a new generation in the art world that they describe as follows:

“…percolating up from the middle ranks is a new generation of highly networked, flexible, globetrotting curators – men and women at the very centre of a new way of working.”

Curators top the list while artists have less clout and websites have more

Overall, it was curators who had one of the strongest presence on the list, with Swiss curator and writer Hans Ulrich Obrist at the top of the list and Sir Nicholas Serto, the director of the Tate Gallery, at third. Artists, by contrast, did not have such a strong presence in the top ten: the first artist on the list was not until American Golden Lion Winner Bruce Nauman at number ten.

The Independent newspaper goes so far as to suggest it is “The Year of the Curator”, which suggests that curators have a stronger influence in shaping what we know about art than the artists who create it. A change in the system of endorsement was also reflected by the increase in webmasters included on the list. It seems that technology now also plays a significant part in disseminating notions of what “art” is.

Profession 2008 vs. 2009

Professions in the list: 2008 vs. 2009

Questions of power

So who gets to be on the list and how they do they get there? ArtReview explains that its entrants are ranked as follows:

” [It is] a combination of influence over the production of art internationally, sheer financial clout (although in these times that’s no longer such a big factor) and activity in the previous 12 months – criteria which encompass artists, of course, as well as collectors, gallerists and curators.”

That said, it still remains ambiguous as to what exactly it takes in order to get a mention in the Power 100. For example, how does ArtReview compare the merits of two entirely different professions? How do they rank success when success in the art world is often based solely on a system of endorsement? In other words: how is power in art defined? Perhaps future lists will provide us with more answers to such questions, or at least continue to prompt us to reflect on who really is in charge of the art world.

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Hong Kong artist Joey Leung is Saatchi online critic’s choice October 2008

Posted by artradar on October 31, 2008


'Banana Fashion'

EMERGING ARTIST HONG KONG

Reminiscent of Ming and Yuan dynasty art, Joey Leung’s work tells a pictorial story in a manner which falls somewhere between a modern cartoon strip and ancient Chinese scrolls. The scratchy fine drawings of fantastic fruit, animals and stick-like humans resemble the ancient pictographs from which today’s Chinese calligraphy has evolved.

Although the form, tone and colours are inspired by classical Chinese art, the subject matter is contemporary and fiercely satirical. In ‘Banana Fashion’ human forms preen, strut and frolic across the paper forming an involved pattern as they indulge in licentiousness and excessive consumption. Oblivious to their surroundings, their narcissistic posing gives the viewer a deliciously sharp reminder that those who consume excessively are themselves consumed.

(By Kate Evans for Saatchi Online see more images on Saatchi website)

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Buddhist motifs, artist collectives in Tibetan art – Asia Art Archive

Posted by artradar on October 24, 2008


BUDDHISM, COLLECTIVES CONTEMPORARY ART TIBET OVERVIEW

The last couple of decades have seen an explosion of international interest in Tibetan contemporary art writes Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa, assistant Professor of the University of Alabama in a column for Asia Art Archive.

A common theme of this art is religious iconography – including celestial beings, Buddhas, and ritual implements – being adapted to portray  ideas of identity, cultural preservation, globalization, and tensions with the perceived colonizers – the Chinese immigrants that represent the control of the Chinese state.

The various collectives of Tibetan artists that exist both within the PRC and also abroad in exile have distinct philosophies regarding their art. However, all of them include artists who consciously use Buddhist themes and iconography to convey very different concepts of identity, cultural preservation and globalization.

Interestingly, some contemporary artists originally studied under a traditional Tibetan system of artisan apprenticeship (for example, Karma Phunstok) before becoming a ‘contemporary artist’, while others have chosen to do so as a means of developing their contemporary practice (for example, Gonkar Gyatso).

Certainly, many contemporary artists do not associate their work with Buddhism; some resist associations explicitly to avoid stereotypes of the Shangri-La image of Tibet, whereas others such as the prominent artist Gade (b. Lhasa, 1971) use Buddhist images in a playful way to explore contemporary issues in Tibet.

Others consciously identify their motivation in undertaking particular pieces as being connected to their Buddhist faith and practice. The artists mentioned below are individuals who use Buddhist terminology in describing their art, and cite their motivations as being similar to traditional artisans – as a form of meditation, or an offering.

Artist statements often deflect attempts to politicize their work through the incorporation of traditional forms of vocabulary. Despite growing up during the Cultural Revolution when religious was suppressed many artists strongly self-identify as Buddhist and depict this identity in their work.

Several different artistic collectives reflect some of the different motivations of contemporary Tibetan artists.

Sweet Tea House

Sweet Tea originally started in Lhasa in the late 1980s with the intention of portraying and exploring contemporary Tibetan life through art, though was short lived due to government interference. However, one of its members, Gonkar Gyatso (b. Lhasa, 1961) revived the name in 2003 when he opened a gallery in London.

Gongkar Gyatso portrays some of the ambivalence felt among Tibetan artists about the connection of Tibetan identity with Buddhism. In an interview, he discussed how in traditional Tibetan art as well as in Maoist ideology the ‘assertion of individualism … [is] outlawed.’ Gyatso’s incorporation in his work of Buddhist motifs and the body of the Buddha, in particular, is used as a signifer of Tibetan identity, as well as commenting on contemporary images and political images surrounding Tibet.

Disney Plus 3 (2004), for example, includes an image of the Buddha along with images of Mickey Mouse. Both of these images are instantly recognizable as cultural markers, but the depiction of them together subverts expectations of their traditional uses.

Gedun Choephel Artists’ Guild

The Gedun Choephel Artists’ Guild is based in Lhasa, and artists from the group often collaborate and exhibit in Gyatso’s Sweet Tea House gallery. One of its most prominent members, Gade, like Gyatso, has grown up without a traditional Buddhist education. His work is a commentary on contemporary Tibetan issues yet often incorporates traditional motifs. Railway Train (2006) is an example of a piece that depicts this contrast which includes images of traditional Tibet, such as monks and nomads, alongside Coca-cola signs and the train that dominates the landscape,

Mechak

Mechak is a more recently formed initiative that encompasses other collectives through the use of the internet and by including artists from within the PRC as well as those in exile. The term ‘Mechak’ itself conveys the ideas of the group: me (me) meaning fire and chak (lcags) meaning iron refers to a traditional Tibetan iron-edged tool used for creating sparks. Mechak states that its mission is to ‘ignite a renewal of Tibetan culture’ through the inclusion of Tibetan artists from around the world. One of the group’s intentions is to explore new forms of expression while maintaining ‘a spiritual centre’. Indeed, many of the artists involved, including one of the founders, Losang Gyatso, use Buddhist imagery and themes.

Ang Sang (b. Lhasa, 1962) is one artist who incorporates traditional themes, particularly Buddhist ones, in his art for example in ‘White Tara’, a modern image of the goddess Tara. In his artist statement Ang declares that, ‘Painting to Ang Sang is the Buddha Nature in his heart; his works express faith and devotion. Through the exploration of the artistic language of Tibetan spirituality, he tries to find common characteristics between ancient and traditional Tibetan art and Western avant-garde art.’

Other young artists also incorporate Buddhist themes in their work, although their subject matter may not appear as explicitly to be Buddhist.

Palden Weinreb (b. 1982, ) born in and still living in New York City was educated in a western artistic tradition. His work incorporates mixed media and also refers to Buddhism. In his artist statement, he describes how, frustrated on one occasion, he began to recite mantra (symbols recited as a form of spiritual practice), reached a meditative state and found his pencil moving of its own accord. Fascinated by the results, Palden continued to use this method, explaining that through doing so, ‘I discovered a new sensibility in approach and aesthetics. I possessed a new appreciation for the illusion and deception held within a mark, creating ambiguous passages and environments … There was a beauty and a depth in the relation between systematic and unconscious patterns.’

Tibetan artists incorporate Buddhist motifs in their work for different reasons. Some reflexively use them as signifiers of ‘Tibetan-ness’; others as social or political commentaries. However, some artists have also consciously used them in a manner similar to traditional artists: as a form of spiritual practice.

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