Ploughing up Pace…

Those who went to Pace in 798 yesterday afternoon would have found a brown cow ploughing up and down the gallery on a huge shallow platform filled with earth. This is Xiao Yu’s aptly named “Ground”— the first exhibition at Pace in 2014 and the artist’s first showing there (he has just signed with the gallery). We are told in the press materials: “The performance can be seen as a ritual regarding labor and consumption…” Xiao Yu (b. 1965) is best known as a performance artist and participant in the Polit-Sheer-Form group.

Xiao Yu:

“In fact, my work is comprised of two components: opening and fitting together. In this course of events, I try to find the inherent power of the material, the hidden power.
If an artwork only has one answer, it is a poison that stirs up public sentiment by false statements. It is brainwashing. It is conspiracy. I create artwork based on one’s practice, sparking the audience to mobilize their prior experiences and advance them into a state of reflection.
An artist can be persistently attached to single point. An artist can do useless and foolish things. As time advances, an artist can, on the contrary, genuinely approach wisdom.
Even if they integrate a picture and symbol, if there on the spiritual level there is not a consistent awareness, then an artist’s practice can change into vagrancy, drifting with the waves and going with the flow.”

For further images see Randian.

Xiao Yu, “Ground”, view of the opening performance at Pace Beijing


03 2014

Shigeru Ban Wins 2014 Pritzker prize

The Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is the recipient of the 2014 Pritzker Prize. He is recognized and applauded by the jury in particular for his deployment of cardboard materials, for example cardboard tubing, for a wide range of private and public architectural projects.

Ban’s 30-year career has homed in on experiments with cardboard engineering; major projects include the outpost of the Pompidou Centre in Metz, completed in 2010, conceived as a rippling rattan hat of bamboo and oiled paper.

Most deserving of recognition in the eyes of the Pritzker jury is Ban’s humanitarian work, whereby paper and card have been used to create essential temporary house, for example for refugees. “He is a force of nature,” said the jury chairman, Lord Palumbo, “which is entirely appropriate in the light of his voluntary work for the homeless and dispossessed in areas devastated by natural disasters.”

In 1994, prompted by the displacement of millions by the Rwandan civil war, Ban proposed paper-tube shelters to the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, followed a year later by paper log cabins after the Kobe earthquake, with foundations made of sand-filled beer crates and walls of vertical cardboard tubes. After founding the Voluntary Architects’ Network in 1995, he has tackled disaster relief in Turkey, India, China and Haiti, most recently erecting a magnificent cardboard cathedral after the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, rising in an elegant A-frame next to the ruins of George Gilbert Scott’s stone building.

The 56 year-old splits his time and work between Tokyo, Paris and New York. On winning the prize, he says: “I see this prize as encouragement for me to keep doing what I am doing – not to change what I am doing, but to grow.”

Source: Guardian newspaper

Read it on Randian

Shigeru Ban, 56, the recipient of the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize, in New York. Photograph: Richard Drew/AP


03 2014

He Yunchang: Worldly Fate

“Worldly Fate”: He Yunchang Solo Exhibition

White Box Museum of Art (798 Art District Of No. B07, Jiuxianqiao Road, Road No. 2, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China.) Mar 22–Apr 21, 2014

Those with strong stomachs and an interest in the continuation of Chinese performance art should see “Worldly Fate”—the solo exhibition by He Yunchang currently on show at the White Box Museum of Art in 798. He Yunchang has for twenty years been using his own body as a medium; indeed, he is somewhat alone in persisting with aggressive physical acts carried out upon himself as a medium for expression (his contemporary Zhang Huan, for example, has long since turned to less body-orientated practice). The texts accompanying the show present He Yunchang’s work in terms of “a physical proclamation that reminds us of the burdens imposed on the physical body”, and suggest that, for He’s audience, this is “an occasion to fully abandon arrogant concepts of art.”

In what is a shockingly graphic show, in places, a selection of He’s performance works are in evidence through photographs—and small blood stains on the floor. The day before the opening, the artist assembled a group of ten naked women, and asked surgeons to make sixteen incisions in his body. The blood collected from the wound was then applied to their finger and toe nails like polish. This piece, “The Spring” is characteristic of the determination, stamina, nakedness, drama and physical trauma seen across He’s practice—symptoms which amount to a repeated affirmation; in the words of the artist, interviewed in 2009: “After a performance work is over, I always think that every second in life is more valuable than gold.”

Read it on Randian

He Yunchang following the performance of “The Spring.” Photo: Ye Yuanfeng, White Box Museum of Art

He Yunchang, photographic documentation of the performance “The Sea Water of Venice”, 2013. Photo: Ye Yuanfeng, White Box Museum of Art

Photographic documentation of the artist during the opening performance of “The Spring” by He Yunchang at White Box Museum of Art


03 2014

On “Suspending”: Ma Yongfeng

“Suspending”: Ma Yongfeng solo exhibition

Jiali Gallery (4 Beijixiang hutong, Dongcheng District, Beijing) Mar 15 – Apr 26, 2014

The new exhibition at Jiali Gallery presents photographs by Ma Yongfeng. Almost without exception, these monochrome gelatin prints feature a focal image immersed in a black pool of background; context and situation have been removed—or denied.

The assembled images do not grasp one’s attention, but manage steadily to secure it. “Fragment” is an overused word implying accident and detachment; this is, rather, a deliberate and economical selection with a poetic ambience. At times, the images are very direct—for example the anomalous close-up of female genitals, and at others more vague, as is true for a view of bamboo stalks. On its own, a photograph showing just the side of the head of a Buddha statue, a view into a cavern grown over with coral or the line of a stream down a rocky slope might be incidental; but together, these little views (not altogether without a sense of nostalgia) succeed in drawing the eye in.

The result is a noiseless exhibition which encourages slow inspection within the sheltered space of the gallery. As such, it is somewhat out of turn with the sort of practices Ma Yongfeng is known for as a prominent member of the “Forget Art” collective, who pursue open creative activities outside the fixed site of an institution or gallery, and using ordinary, daily materials or actions. “Suspending”, then, could apply as much to these photographs’ relationship to Ma’s other work as to the feel of the show—for which this title is apt.

Further images and related articles can be found with the original post on Randian.

Ma Yongfeng, “The Secret of All Life”, gelatin silver print, 25.5 x 17.5cm, 2013

“Suspending”, Ma Yongfeng solo exhibition at Jiali Gallery, exhibition view

Ma Yongfeng, #3 from the series “Attached to Nothing”, gelatin silver print, 9.7 x 8.8 cm, 2013


03 2014

The Committed Artist: Han Sai Por

Han Sai Por is a Singaporean artist born in 1943. Having studied abroad, she returned to Singapore in 1983, and has since become an internationally-acclaimed artist—particularly for her stone sculptures based on natural forms. Her work has been produced, shown and collected widely in Asia and the West. The culmination of a recent residency at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute is an extensive and impressive solo exhibition entitled “Moving Forest.” With numerous freestanding sculptures, mixed-media drawings and deeply-textured works in papier mache and cast paper, the show testifies to Han’s manual sensitivity and strength of purpose. Away from the noise of the fair, Iona Whittaker met Han to talk about her work, career and perspective on the art scene in her home country.

Iona Whittaker: How did it all begin for you? You are from Singapore originally.

Han Sai Por: I am 70 now; over this time, I have seen the changing landscape in Singapore. When I was young, Singapore was still covered in lots of forest and trees. Now, because this very intensive use of land has developed, our forest and trees have almost gone. I did some outdoor sculpture here and there in China—Beijing also has some works of mine. I’ve also taken part in some exhibitions in China, the US and UK and Japan, and also worked there.

My work is about nature and the environment. When I was small, we were very poor; we lived during the Japanese war. We didn’t have toys; we only played with nature and with plants and sea shells by the beach. This has influenced my concepts in sculpture.

IW:  And you also studied in the UK, early on.

HSP: Yes, I was there for four and a half years. East Ham College and Wolverhampton College. Anish Kapoor was one of my lecturers—that was a long time ago; now he’s really famous.

IW: But at that time, in terms of the community of artists—was there one that you were part of?

HSP: No. I belong to the second generation. More people are doing painting than sculpture—it’s a very small group.

Han Sai Por at the exhibition “Moving Forest” at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute

IW: Was sculpture something that you were aware of as you were growing up, as a form of art? Or, as you realised you wanted to be an artist, did you see sculpture and think “This is what I would like to do.”

HSP: Actually, it was not that way; I am from a village, and woodcuts come from that village. Since I was small I have always been a very physical person, doing outdoor things. I liked hands-on jobs—all the materials. From the beginning I drew, and learnt the basic techniques of drawing and painting. When I went to Wolverhampton, I had never thought about being a sculptor. In my first year, I did painting and drawing, and after that we had to choose a major in either painting or sculpture. My lecturer gave me advice, saying I was very good in three-dimensional work. He advised me to do the sculpture course.

IW: You must have been one of very few artists who were travelling so far to study, at that time.

HSP: Yes, because one needs financial support.

IW: If it’s not a rude question, how did you raise the money?

HSP: I was teaching before I went to study—for more than ten years at a school here, though not an art school. I trained as a teacher, and taught four different levels from primary school to college level. So, I actually have a lot of experience in education. I saved some money, and I also got a loan from the Ministry of Education.

IW: Was that loan specifically for artists? How did it work?

HSP: It was because in the past, our governor really understood the importance of art and why we need art. Art is important for real life—and also can make money, that’s a government thing! (Laughs). You see outside how it’s happened. And then a few art colleges and art schools were set up.

IW: How does that feel in terms of your career and communication with people?

HSP: The whole world is changing, and very fast. And with technology comes art—there’s art everywhere! (Laughing). When you went to Art Stage, did you feel confused? There are so many booths.

IW: I know; it is a lot to take in.

HSP: One result is that the work becomes more and more plastic. Now, I see more and more conceptual art, and less using materials—actual, finished work. And by that I mean work finished by the artist themselves. You need the time to spend on it.

IW: Do you follow young artists closely here, and work with them?

HSP: Yes. Actually, we have a Sculpture Society which I founded. We are a group of about 50 members. We work together for different activities—all my friends are younger than me!

IW: Are there things you feel—as a more mature artist here—that you want to care of for Singapore?

HSP: Yes, because a lot of my work is concerned with environmental issues. The things we have lost will never come back again. A lot of my activities now are about what I’m aware of now. Singapore is facing a concrete wall, and deforestation and loss of the rainforest is an issue in South-East Asia. I think this inspires me. My show “Black Forest”, for example, was an installation using burnt wood at the NAFA (Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts) gallery.

IW: I feel that perhaps it could happen that the community of artists in Singapore could become quite split up, for example between the emerging and more mature artists—though perhaps this is inevitable anywhere.

HSP: Yes, yes. You need to be active. People will see your work; if they say you are traditional and out of time, they will forget you. Now, people are interested in young people and fresh, new ideas.

IW: But also un-formed ideas!

HSP: Yes, I know! It’s about the depth of the concept, not just the surface and whether it’s new and fresh—what is the content of the work?

Further images and related articles can be found with the original post on Randian.

Han Sai Por’s work in production at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute


03 2014

Guangdong Times Museum to Host Forum on Positive Museum Space

Beginning March 29th, the Guangdong Times Museum in Guangzhou will host 5 seminars and an exhibition on the subject of Positive Space. The term refers to an analysis of the relationship between architectural spaces and people; contrastingly, architectural spaces which are unstructured or organized in this respect are labelled “negative” spaces.

Curated by Bao Dong and based around selected topics, for example “On the ‘Locality’ of Self-Organization”, the program aims to explore the emergence of self-organized practice and small-scale institutes by artists in China in response to the negative effects of the museum/gallery system. The forum proposes that museums adapt to play a part in this new, expanded landscape, which it deems “positive space” in the sociological sense.

An exhibition from March 29–May 4, 2014 at Guangdong Times Museum will “probe into the different points of departure, focuses, structures of organization and methodologies of different institutes. The 12 participating institutes will present their self-perception and self-imagination as “institutional pavilions.” (Quoted from press release).

Read it on Randian


03 2014

Interview with Brian Wallace

Brian Wallace-1

Rightly credited with founding the first foreign-owned contemporary art gallery in Beijing, Brian Wallace came to China from Australia in 1984. In 1991, after studying Chinese language and then art history at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, he established Red Gate Gallery in a historic Ming Dynasty Watchtower at Dongbianmen. At the time, the contemporary scene in China was still nascent; none of the “art districts” seen today had begun. Some 22 years on, following an anniversary tour in Australia along with a group exhibition entitled “China: Chinese—a visual explanation of life in China,” Iona Whittaker spoke to Wallace about the history of the gallery—its times, its exhibitions and the ethos that has maintained its steady course through such a potent period.

Iona Whittaker: It’s been 23 years—how do you feel?

Brian Wallace: I look back and it’s actually been 25 years of doing shows here in Beijing, so we’ve seen it right from the beginning. From the early days when the artists were just organizing themselves to do shows. At that stage there were no galleries, so there was no other support. In ’91, we opened; the next gallery was the Courtyard, and then ShanghART, five years later; then Chinese Art and Archive Warehouse (CAAW) ; in 2001, 798 started, but really didn’t take off until 2004, after SARS. Right through to now we’ve been fairly lucky, being able to ride all the way through and grow a little, as well. For me, one of the most important things is that the artists that I’ve been dealing with for 20 years, 15 years or 23 years, are still working with us. We’ve seen their whole careers develop in different places and at different levels, of course. But all of them are still practicing artists.

IW: So would you say you feel satisfied, philosophical?

BW: Certainly, I feel glad that we’ve got through things. But when I look back and think about it, yes, I am very happy to have been part of it, and to be recognised. Continually, we have artists coming to us, and now we find we have very good young artists keen to join Red Gate.

Red Gate’s 20th Anniversary Show tour in Australia, exhibition view at Damien Minton Gallery, 2012

IW: The very early exhibitions that you did at the observatory and other places in the late ’80s, how did that first come about?

BW: My Chinese friends while I was at university here were artists, so I was knocking around with them all the time. Then we thought, “Where are the exhibitions?” Nobody had any clue about exhibitions, but I come from a family of organizers, and we sort of clicked. We decided to get together and try to do a show together. The ancient observatory was such an iconic location but also a very handy location for the arts community—which was the artists and the embassy people in those days; the observatory was directly opposite the embassy compound. The art work was not that aggressive. Some of it was landscape painting. There was one artist—Dagong—talking about different relationships through oil paintings. He was covering political relationships, sexual relationships… We all thought that was pretty groovy back then! We were very lucky—the Temple of Longevity, the Confucian temple and Zhihua Temple were all lying around empty; they were in quite dilapidated states, but we could use them.

IW: You seem to have a very skilful way of not being part of what look like fads. Maybe it’s because your space is outside 798? I don’t know what it is, but you don’t seem subject to the same feverishness.

BW: Stable…yes. And I’m happy that most of the artists have progressed. They haven’t kept doing the same things in that way that some of their other friends have been doing. You know, some artists have come and gone, but that is all par for the course; some of them are coming back. As I said, people are approaching us—even people who are middle-aged. A couple of the artists we introduced last year, though I’ve known them for a long time, I really haven’t done anything with them. Liang Changsheng, for example—these were very interesting shows, and now we’re looking forward to the next phase. We’ve done a lot of shows over the last 3-4 years where we’ve had guest-curators and artists coming to us to do a small group show. So what we’ve done is to look back over those 3 or 4 years at what the artists have been doing since those shows, and then selected some to approach to see if they want to come over to us.

Li Xiaofeng’s artwork performances at 798 Red Gate Gallery, exhibition view, 2007

IW: So it’s incremental.

BW: Yes, it’s not just a snap decision. I think they appreciate that, too – that someone is watching them.

IW: Your most recent show in Beijing was a visual explanation of life in China. I wonder, as someone who has lived here for so long, how you personally related to those particular views of life here?

BW: Many of the artists’ work is quite liberal—about the environment, so, I see that every day. And some of the other artists are commenting on the beautiful things you’ve got to look for here, and find, rather than just looking at today. There are many layers to living in Beijing and living in China. Me—I’m fairly easy-going, so I sort of learnt to roll with things, so I can maybe appreciate and absorb some of the things which are going on around us more easily because of my learning experience here. You know, learning not to get angry! In that sense it’s a very personal thing—if you’ve been here for a long time.

IW: What is the age range of the artists in the show?

BW: 25 to 60-ish.

IW: Is there anything in particular that you notice between the younger and older artistic observations?

BW: Well, for me what we’ve been going through in the last year or two is a generational change. It’s quite distinct to me. The older generation came out of the schools in the ’80s; they’ve seen everything. They’re take on things is very different from the younger generation. For me, trying to find the younger ones who have that maturity has been really hard. It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve started to see people who have a very serious take or comment on what’s going on—as well as being good practitioners.

IW: Right, so that’s how you would define that maturity—it’s about being able to make a comment?

BW: Yes—it’s not just about this consumer society or the fact that as they grew up, everything has been given to them, including education and travel—even if they’re only 25. They can do anything. They haven’t had the hardships—nothing’s really happened to them, so it’s really hard to find somebody who has a strong attitude about things, or who is somehow thinking it through. Some of them are quite mature. That new generation is not necessarily defined by age—we’ve got people in their 30s, maybe even early 40s, who haven’t been in the art scene that much, and then you’ve got those who are in their 20s—using the term “generation” and defining it by age—it’s a bit tight.

Red Gate Gallery

IW: How do you feel your location has served you—have you been happy to be outside the main art districts (in the watchtower at Dongmianhua)?

BW: Long ago, we were the only gallery. We started the residency program in 2001, so rented different spaces, and in 2003 we had our first space in Beigao. My assistant rang up and said “Brian, come over to this place Dashanzi”—I’d never heard of it—and have a look at these spaces, because you might want one for the residency.” And I said “No, no, I don’t need any more spaces.” So, I didn’t actually go in that first wave, but looking back I would have had one of those spaces for sure! But anyway, in the end we did open a space there, in 2006. We had that for three years, until our lease was up towards the end of 2008, when the financial crisis was coming. It was still interesting, but every time we talked to the manager up there the rental price went up. In the end, we left. We still had the watchtower, so we just consolidated that. So, you know, we were very much part of it [798] for three years, and we had a beautiful white space with the saw-tooth roof, grungy floor and all that—we put on wonderful shows there. But when the crisis came it just wasn’t practical. But 798 has been one of the main catalysts for contemporary art, for sure. And it still is—and Caochangdi.

IW: Do you go there much?

BW: Um, no. But I have been recently a couple of times and have been totally surprised by the development.

IW: Well, it must be quite nice sometimes to be out of it.

BW: Well, people come down to us (at the watchtower) all the time and say, “Don’t go to 798, Brian, don’t go back!” People don’t know where to go to find the good shows—we have to give them a copy of Time Out magazine and check off the name of the galleries to look for, otherwise you get frustrated looking for them. They don’t have that struggle with us. 798 has been great, and Songzhuang [art district] has been very different—it’s also a wonderful contribution to Beijing. Then you have things like the art fairs. Over the last 8-9 years—despite the crisis and the leveling off and sorting out—it’s been a very important time for contemporary Chinese art.

IW: You started an international residency program in 2001—what, at that point, made you decide to do it—because you must, again, have been the only one?

BW: Well, we were. But before that in Australia there was Asia Link, an arts foundation. They were sending one artist to Beijing once a year, and then to other parts of Asia as well. But they would come up here with the grant in their pocket and go to a hotel, then they’d have to find a studio. They were here for three months, and by the time they had done all of that, it was time to go home. This happened year after year, and because I had the gallery, I started thinking, “Well, why do we have to do this again and again?” So we found apartments and lined up with the Beijing Art Academy at the bottom of Chaoyang Park—so we had a small studio space there and found an apartment in Tuanjiehu. That was in the days when foreigners really couldn’t live outside the foreigner-ghettos. And I was also living around there so we got an apartment for them, and put the word out; other artists came. So it took off from there.

The entrance of one of Red Gate’s Residency studios

IW: What do you feel have been the constant features—the things that have not changed throughout your work with the gallery?

BW: Well, the artists I’m interested in: they’re critical about what’s going on around them. They really think things through. That’s been steady. Sometimes when I see an artist’s work that I really like without actually knowing anything about the artist, it turns out that he might be of the same generation, the same experience—you can see it, somehow. That’s consistent, too.

IW: Is there anyone or anything that has particularly influenced you?

BW: Well, when we started the gallery, there were people around who had a lot of experience. A couple of them have passed away, but they were all very generous, saying, “This is how we did it, and this is how you shouldn’t do it.” We had no idea – it was from the ground up. I just had had a couple of exhibitions.

IW: You say you come from a family of organizers—did you ever picture having a gallery, or otherwise becoming a curator or fulfilling some other role?

BW: Getting here, I had no idea where this was going, and sort of fell into it. When we got going, it was straight into the gallery and learning about that, and then the next thing, curating, putting together shows and all the other things followed on. I’m not a writer or a theorist, but there have been other people coming through and doing that now. The practice has been there for a long time, but there are other, softer things that have been a long time coming, and people have been very critical about how slow that has been and the lack of objective criticism of the work.

IW: But for you, early on, was it clear that a gallery was what was needed?

BW: Yes, and a gallery scene. There was also a lot of support from the audiences. We were waiting for other people to come, but it took a long time. Hans van Dijk had his little space off the side of CAFA on the old campus, and he was working with Ai Weiwei early on. He would get a lot of work, and he was always jumping from one space to another; he was very important for the art scene. There have been some very significant people. But all of that was very generous. In those early days everyone helped everyone. There wasn’t any bigotry or anyone to bitch to.

IW: Do you think there’s any secret to your having weathered all the ups and downs?

BW: Well, one was advice from Ray Hughes [an Australian art dealer]; he’ s been doing this so long that he’s been through everything. He said to me before it happened, “Cut your costs and hang on,” and at the same time we left 798, so that was a good call; we cut our program back a little bit, but in practice it really kept going—we didn’t go back to a quarterly show or anything. So we’ve been pretty active through it, and I think that’s been good.

IW: This year there has been so much attention on China, what with the Armory China Focus. What do these things mean to you?

BW: Crudely speaking, they generate more buzz around contemporary Chinese art. People are still very much in a learning mode about it. People talk about the contemporary art boom, and sure, it was there, but still it’s quite nascent and there’s still a lot of work to be done—things like the Armory or a Biennial in Cuba many years ago create more interest in China and Chinese art. All these things work into it and then it flows down—you get more inquiries and more people coming over, even if it’s for some other purpose.

IW: Do you do many Western fairs?

BW: Not at the moment, no. In an ideal world, we want to do one in the US, plus Art Hong Kong and one in Europe. We’ve got all these new fairs coming in, and we’ll just let them settle down for a couple of years and see.

IW: What do you feel you are most loyal to throughout your career?

BW: Well, Red Gate and the artists! We’ve stuck by them—very rarely have there been disagreements. Touch wood, the watchtower—it’s a most exotic location. There’s different possibilities that we have, like getting the residency programs up and running—we could grow it to twice the size if we wanted to, but we don’t. Supporting the artists—there are still poor, starving artists even at Red Gate, so I’m paying rent for a few of them—ongoing cash. Recently, I also came across a publication doing documentaries of Chinese artists. I’m really interested in supporting that kind of thing. It’s good when you can.

IW: What are you excited about this year?

BW: I’m looking forward to [Art Basel] Hong Kong—though we’re not in it. Just cruising! That’s a milestone—another one. Another very exciting thing now is that for the very first time I am commissioning an artist to do a work for me. I’ve been collecting for a while, but I’ve never actually commissioned something. The work strikes me but also the artist himself. He can’t afford to do the work, so I’ve commissioned it. I’ve also got plans for travel but they’re not art-related.

Ye Sen, “Sitting and Being Well-versed in the East and the West,” Jichi wood, dimensions variable, 2012

“Floating,” Liu Qinghe, exhibition view at the Opposite House, Beijing, 2012


03 2014

In Conversation with Jason Wee

Jason Wee is a Singaporean artist and the founder of Grey Projects, a non-profit artists’ space in Singapore supporting curatorial, exchange and publication work. Grey Projects is located in Tiong Bahru, and comprises a gallery, residency, library, work space and studio. In addition to a regular program of exhibitions open to the public and an expanding international residency, Grey Projects will soon launch a new journal on contemporary South-East Asian practices and an ongoing print project called “8-8-80”.

Iona Whittaker: Could you briefly introduce yourself?

Jason Wee: I work as an artist, having studied photography and philosophy in New York at Parsons School of Design. Afterwards, I did the Whitney Museum Independent Studio programme. But at some point I was invited back (to Singapore) to run a long-standing artist residency and artist space called PKW (Plastique Kinetic Worms). It was started by people who were very familiar with Singaporean art – people like Vincent Leow and Milenko Prvacki and Malenko’s daughter Ana Prvacki. Then it hit ten years and they were thinking “What shall we do next?”

IW: So PKW began as a collective?

JW: Yes, that’s right. They all paid some dues to run the space, and it became the place you went to to watch artists and have a conversation with artists. They moved to a couple of places around town. They were also the first visual arts group to receive a major grant from the National Arts Council.

IW: When was that?

JW:They received the grant in about 2001, and they ran from 1998-2008. Also, at that point, after speaking to me and having had a discussion among themselves, they decided to close the space. They decided to keep PKW as a legacy to the original members. I think they felt they had done what they could and wanted to do in terms of the space and with each other.  They could either hand over the space to younger members and a new team, or they could close it, and they chose the latter.

Library and office at Grey Projects

IW:It’s quite an interesting decision.

JW: I know. I miss the space. It was in Little India, which has all these different little areas; it has neighborhoods within neighborhoods. And there’s a trans-gender area and a queer area – it’s a long-standing street where you can find a community. At the time (when PKW closed), I felt there were no ore art spaces left. There was one other called Post-Museum, which was a valiant effort by Woon Tien Wei and his wife Jennifer, and that closed in 2011 because rent went up. I thought: there can’t be a scene in Singapore that’s only galleries and museums.

IW: Non-profit must be very difficult here.

JW: Yes…They too were in Little India, and they got the space because their friend was willing to lease it to them at below market rates. At the time, the street they were on was a little rough. So the landlord decided to just let them use it. But then the neighborhood changed, rents went up etc.

IW: It doesn’t seem as if Singapore has that much in the way of grass-roots, “arty” culture.

JW:Well, I’ve found a neighborhood, that’s where we’re operating at the moment. About 5 years ago I started Grey Projects – actually out of my apartment in River Valley, which is not far from the neighborhood I’m in now. But now we’re in Tiong Bahru, which I think has a chance to grow culture rather than have it, sort of, pumped in. There are always interesting areas – Jalan Besar is another – and artists are always interested in working outside institutions and government.

Yunrubin, “Situated Ground”, open studio exhibition view

IW: What was the catalyst for starting Grey Projects?

JW: It was the chance to begin a conversation in Singapore beyond the identity-talk, you know, the droning on about what makes Singapore or Southeast Asia contemporary. I mean, the institutions here have that mandate, and that’s their role, but I feel that for galleries and other kinds of spaces, there could be other discussions, on fiction, ruins, revolution, waves and a whole list of things. I think having an artist-run space connects artists here to conversations elsewhere. And that’s what we try to do. We do an exchange project; we partner with residencies elsewhere to exchange artists. Our first and long-standing one is with a space called Hangar in Barcelona.  This year we announced one for Bandung and one for Taipei; and one each with Shanghai and Colombia.

IW: Do you travel a lot yourself?

JW: Not so much for Grey Projects, but for my own work. I will be in Korea for an artist residency, for example. In the future we’re also looking at putting Grey Projects into networks of parallel spaces. There are networks of artists’ spaces based in Taipei and in Tokyo; there’s another of independent Asian art spaces in Seoul.

IW: But you are pretty alone in Singapore now?

JW: Yes, as far as opening a site for artists goes, where they have a library, galleries and studios. And the institutions that were more artist-oriented in the past have changed, partly because the cultural industry here has changed. The Singapore Art Museum has in recent years gotten closer to collectors instead.

IW: Do you have any interest in working with the fair and the Biennale?

JW: I’m interested in the Platform format (introduced at Art Stage Singapore last year). I took part in last year’s Singapore Platform. I think it’s an opportunity for curators and artists here to begin talking about what might interest arts practitioners outside the market – rather than necessarily making something that will sell. But that form of exhibition-making might not suit a fair.

IW: Would you also like to see more city-wide arts efforts happening?

JW:I would. There’s an initiative going on from the heritage perspective – I’m not sure how successful it will be. But the danger is the impression that art or heritage only happens at a certain time and in certain areas in Singapore. So you either go in January at the time of the art fair, or it only happens in Gillman Barracks. Outside of these cultural brackets, art disappears. But I’m hoping that by doing what I do, other young artists will, you know, open their studios, set up their own spaces – even if it’s just for a year or two.

Shubigi Rao, “Useful Fictions”, exhibition view at Grey Projects

IW: Do you find that Grey Projects is able to cater to a sufficient number of local artists? Are you oversubscribed?

JW: We actually do manage to plan further ahead than we originally imagined. We have a pretty full exhibition and residency calendar already. We’re launching new ideas like a Young Curators’ Program and a Print Portfolio to support and reach more people. We are launching the latter portfolio with the young photographer Jovian Lim. We also focus on under-recognized artists who might have been practicing for many years, but for some reason never managed to get critical attention – even if among the artists, we feel it would be well-deserved. One example is Jeremy Sharma. I have curated his work in about five shows in the last three years, and his profile has risen tremendously. I’m glad that he’s now in the Biennale and in the fair. We also look at a younger set of practitioners who are doing things that are difficult for museums or galleries to show. Last year we did a show of the work of queer artists from Singapore, called No Approval, a show that couldn’t happen in an institutional space.

IW: In what sense could it not be shown in an institution?

JW: How art institutions feel bound to maintain the state’s social boundaries, preserving the stigma that still persists with certain kinds of images, like political satire, nudity or queer bodies.

IW: How easy is it for you to put on what you want? Do people come and check?

JW: People do. There is definitely a system of checks, sometimes it’s in-person surveillance. But it’s also about understanding that this system that watches over us has triggers. But sometimes if I don’t set those off, I can get what I want done. So, for example, the “No Approval” show – it was never meant to be a ‘general public’ show anyway, so I wasn’t going to put an ad out in the paper. Instead, I did a lot of social media promotion, and spoke directly to the people that the show was created for, and that allows me to go around their worries that it will become a spark for public outcry.

IW: It’s more relaxed that way, too, in terms of the general atmosphere you are working in.

JW: That’s right, yes. Because the intent was not intended to ‘put on a show’ for the mainstream, but to open a space for the artists and their community. For me, the show was really to give visibility to the LGBT artists among their peers, and any provocation would be to spark exchanges within that circle.



03 2014

The Armory Show – Focus China 2014 Preview with Curator Phil Tinari

The first Armory Show in 1913 introduced European avant-garde painting and sculpture to the American public. Roughly a century later the New York fair has chosen contemporary works from China to be its focus. Sixteen galleries will travel to New York from Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Hong Kong next week and about half of them will be bringing the work of a young generation.  

This year’s curator for the Focus section is Philip Tinari. Formerly the Chief Editor of LEAP magazine, Tinari is currently Director of the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA), a non-profit organisation in Beijing. For Tinari, the shared commercial nature of exhibitions in China and his curatorial effort at the Armory is not irrelevant. On navigating the combined terrain of culture and commerce, Tinari explains, “in a fair you are putting the artists on show, but also the galleries, and by extension the whole system for contemporary art in China. You feel you have some kind of honesty in reflecting the vibrant scene on the ground in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong now. That was what really drew me to the project.”

Tinari sees the opportunity to feature Chinese galleries at the Armory in terms of time and context. For him, the most interesting aspect of this exhibition format “is that people go and are there in real time… and are able to see the work in a way that doesn’t happen as quickly in other channels.” Whilst the 1990s was a period of vital cultural exchange and Chinese creativity in New York he remarks that in the last few years “New York has been slower to see the developments on the ground in China…[This is] a nice chance to put those out there and say, ‘Here, have a look’…It’s about including things that lie somewhat outside the New York purview of contemporary Chinese art.”

Liang Shuo, Fit NO.8, Mixed Media, 303 x 144 x 303 cm, 2014; Courtesy of the artist and Yang Gallery, Beijing. At the Armory Show, Focus: China.

 The Chinese galleries who will attend the fair represent both emerging art and more specific moments from the history of the field. Around half are giving solo presentations by young artists from what has been deemed the “ON|OFF” generation, named after a fifty-strong exhibition at UCCA in 2013. The rest will show the work of two to four more mature artists that hint at different trends or moments from the thirty-five-year development of contemporary Chinese art. Tinari aims to strike a curatorial balance between these two aspects: “I hope that different threads will be visible, from socialist realism and its academic systems to various avant-garde movements that happened after different points in the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s, to the advent of real-time, present work.”

In what promises to be an energetic show of work, a common thread amongst the younger artists – for example Li Shurui, He Xiangyu, Zhao Yao, Zhao Zhao, Xu Qu and  Lu Pingyuan – is, in Tinari’s description, “art that speaks to a Chinese situation and conditions, but doesn’t actually look Chinese on the surface.” He feels this is a defining method for the current generation. From the more mature camp, 10 Chancery Lane Gallery (Hong Kong) will show abstract paintings by Huang Rui and Wang Keping; both were founding members of “The Stars,” a group of radical artists who first broke with official culture in 1979, hanging their work on the fence outside the National Art Museum in Beijing. In a nod to the experimental New Analyst group (active in the late ’80s and early ’90s) and the later Post-Sense Sensibility movement, American gallerist and long-term Beijing resident, Meg Maggio of Pekin Fine Arts, will bring Chen Shaoxiong, Wang Luyan, Zhao Liang to New York.

Zhao Yao, A Painting of Thought I -305 ; Courtesy of the artist and Beijing Commune, Beijing. At The Armory Show, Focus China.

In addition to Tinari’s exhibition of contemporary Chinese art, the artist commissioned to design the Armory’s visual identity is Xu Zhen, a selection revealing the heart of Tinari’s curatorial vision. “Yes,” he agrees, “this was a strategic choice. I see him as a bridge between the 1990s Avant-Garde and the younger generation which became known more in the 2000s.” Xu hails from Shanghai, and is arguably the most provocative Chinese artist at work now. Having dissolved his identity in a “company” called MadeIn in 2009, Xu works conceptually, toying with the societal, political and market systems that surround him. In response to the suggestion that nowadays it can feel less as if art fairs represent artists than the other way around, Tinari remarks, “most entertaining for me is that this artist also becomes – or their work becomes – the branding for the fair…” Xu’s Under Heaven series, for example, explores the commodification of art. Reflecting on Xu Zhen as apt for this year’s Armory Focus on China, the curator concludes, “He’s an artist who will not come away feeling as if his work has been exploited.”

Read it on ArtSlant

Art 14: Energy and Ennui

A quick glance at the body language of gallerists in their booths on the closing day of Art14 made clear that last year’s levels of satisfaction had not been matched in the second edition of the global London fair.

Amongst galleries Randian spoke to, consensus on sales was absent. Alexander Ochs Galleries enjoyed the strongest sales (plain to see from an ebullient Mr Ochs), including Zhao Zhao’s “Throne”. At Hong Kong’s Galerie du Monde, Li Hao and Qin Feng did well, with total sales over GBP 100,000. Emerging London gallery, Edel Assanti sold almost everything from their Gordon Cheung solo-presentation (one major international collector left empty-handed because the work they really liked was already sold). London-Zurich gallerist Kashya Hildebrand, noted particularly for emerging market artists, commented she was happy with the outcome of the fair, saying:

“It was a very good international eclectic mix of collectors and we made some good contacts. I saw very few English collectors but there were enough expats traveling through the fair. For us as a local gallery it was well worth our time and I am happy I participated.”

Meanwhile leading Taipei gallery, Lin & Lin said sales were middling. Smaller galleries with relatively less expensive works perhaps had more scope for sales. At least one major gallery director, while stating that she loved the presentation, questioned whether it was the right match for her gallery. One called it “so-so” and another complained about a want of collectors. It seemed overall that expectations (perhaps based on the relative success of the first year), had not been met.

Exhibition View

Exhibition View

Alongside these complaints, however, were observations of a lot of “good energy”. Certainly, the fair did not suffer from a lack of visitors—quite the opposite on opening night, with booths too crowded to sell (a common complaint from gallerists—they are a hard to please bunch). The opening was packed, and the weekend saw throngs of people moving through the doors flanked dramatically by Zhao Zhao’s waxed waterfall and Yinka Shonibare’s cannonball installation. The quality of the displays and projects was high, with some very well-designed commercial booths and projects providing mutual support. Like last year, the general look and feel of the fair was vibrant and engaging. One had the sense of being able to find work of good quality, and in addition, prices ranged from the very affordable (etchings for £350), to higher end (Pearl Lam’s expansive display at the front of the hall). Big names like White Cube, Long March Space and Pace were again not in attendance, but this didn’t necessarily feel like a loss.

In hindsight, this closing mixture of sellers’ ennui and spectators’ energy may be what sums up this second edition of Art14, its context and challenges. A large portion of the London public is mobile and interested in cultural events. A well-presented “global” fair like Art14 attracts high numbers of visitors interested in contemporary displays in a concentrated locale, which is what a fair offers; this is the sort of audience mobilised very effectively in recent years, for example, by Tate Modern.

Whilst these conditions boost the atmosphere, the challenge remains for Art Fairs London—the company behind Art14—to ensure that this is a financially viable opportunity for the far-flung galleries they aim to serve and will this be affected by, say, wider aisles (thus fewer galleries but better high-value presentation) and a more stringent selection policy (fewer emerging galleries)? Or more seriously (also for The Armory Show, on this week), the fact that Art Basel Hong Kong will be held two-months earlier from March 15-17. This fair is without doubt a timely addition to the commercial landscape in London; if serious buyers can be secured alongside an interested public and good-quality content, then the fair’s long-term potential could be sealed.

Read it on Randian