Excitement at Asian Contemporary Art Week despite recession – interview Leez Ahmady director ACAW

ASIAN CONTEMPORARY ART WEEK NEW YORK 2009

Director Leeza Ahmady talks to Art Radar about some of the highlights of the Asian Contemporary Art Week in New York 2009 and tells us how excited she is that it has come together so well despite the recession.

This is the third part of a 3 part interview:

 

Back Seung Woo, Utopia #007, C print, 2008

Back Seung Woo, Utopia #007, C print, 2008

 

AR: Tell us a little about the specifics of the event.

LA: It is scheduled May 10 to May 18th for 8 days.

AR: Why did you choose 8 days in May? Any reasons?

LA: Usually we try to skip a year because we need that time to produce it but 2008 was such a big success in every way. We surpassed expectations. I was prepared to have about 30 institutions but we ended up with 47 and immediately after there was such a high and so many inquiries about whether we would do it again in 2009.

Because of the huge amount of work the team and participants had put into the event, we felt that we should continue the momentum even though the economic situation was just beginning to change. Some were beginning to be scared but everyone signed up. But since October things of course have changed dramatically and some venues did pull out.

But incredibly enough we have over 30 organisations  this year with many new and emerging participants. They are excited because of the history of the event and they want to be a part of it.

For example this year Tyler Rollins, which specialises in art from Southeast Asia, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia is presenting an exhibition and Tyler is also organising a panel discussion to give some perspective on what is going on in Southeast Asia.

AR: Do you work with artists who are not represented by galleries?

LA: Yes we do. In 2006 we did a video programme in which 85 artists were nominated by experts from all around Asia and after a jury selection 30 were chosen and screened in different participating venues.

 In 2008 we created a programme called Artists in Conversation and artists went through the same process but this time they had the opportunity to pair up with a curator or critic. It was called ”up close and personal with the best of the best in Asian art”. That was our slogan.

This year we have a programme called Open Portfolios. About 20 artists or more are part of it, two are from Central Asia. Kyrgryz artists Muratbek Djumaliev and Gulnara Kasmalieva will have a screening and discussion of their video work at MOMA on May 18th.

We have an event in which Qiu Zhijie, one of China’s leading artists, talks with Alexandra Munroe, senior curator of Asian Art at the Guggenheim Museum, at the China Institute May 12.

I am very excited about the Payal Choudhri event as she and her husband have one of the best modern art collections. They have agreed to hold a VIP event hosting one of our artists  Huma Bhabha from Pakistan in their home on May 12th.

We have all these exciting new venues and the question is how are they doing this? I am in disbelief about how this is coming together. I do end up talking a lot more about money than programming of course. Consortium members that participate and support the ACAW initiative include: Japan Society, China Institute, the Guggenheim Museum, Ethan Cohen Gallery, Bose Pacia, Art Projects International, and Sepia International. Other participants with wonderful programs this year are the Marlborough Gallery and MOMA. The Rubin Museum is hosting a special installation of art from Thailand.

AR: How are the events allocated over the days?

Usually the week is divided into locations. On Monday night we hold our signature event at the Asia Society. Melissa Chiu will be talking about the future of Asian art with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Documenta 13 Artistic Director.

Tuesday is dedicated to uptown galleries and museum, Wednesday midtown  and Thursday is Hot Chelsea Night… I sayhot because there are so many participants that day. Friday will be downtown and Tribeca and on Saturday and Sunday we go to different boroughs.

The idea is to create a circle of people who hop from one place to another. It is a powerful way to share audiences as normally venues are naturally very protective. In this way everyone’s programme is broadcast through the website and printed pamphlets and we ask everyone to promote this to their own audiences and it ends up being a wonderful way to connect.

AR: So what do you have to say to people in these gloomy economic times?

LA: Well I love what has been coming out of the Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong….these incredible public programming events like the performance of Raqs Media Collective. It is so incredible. Instead of stopping and staying quiet at this time they are forging on. And that is a message I would love to get out. We can curl up and say times are so bad and what are we going to do and it is going to get worse. Many people are doing that and  it is one option and the other option is to do even better with what you have.

AR: Do you find that you can reach out in another way in a recession because art has so many facets? It is different things to different people. Therapy, entertainment, education, sensory stimulation, distraction, spirtual connection, activism…all of these things come to the fore when you take out the investment and speculation buzz.

LA: Absolutely Absolutely. I feel the recession is going to change things dramatically. I don’t think that the recession will be the worst thing that can happen. I think it will help us all reflect on our relationship with art and its practice, and that is a really good thing.

This is the third part of a 3 part interview:

  • Part 1: How art from half of Asia has been missed
  • Part 2: Pockets of change in Asian art infrastructure
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