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.
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.
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.
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.
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