Para/Site’s “Taiping Tianguo”: Moving beyond the survey in Hong Kong

Hong Kong art space Para/Site’s latest exhibition goes beyond the pro-forma diaspora artist survey and attempts a model that is new to the city.

Running from 12 May to 12 August 2012, Para/Site Art Space‘s exhibition “Taiping Tianguo, A History of Possible Encounters” invites the viewer to find or imagine the common thread between the show’s participants by eschewing reductive connections.

View of the exhibition "Taiping Tianguo" at Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy Art Radar.

For their current exhibition, Hong Kong’s Para/Site brings together four artists who all lived and worked in New York City from the 1980s to the early 1990s: Ai Weiwei from mainland China, Frog King Kwok from Hong Kong, Tehching Hsieh from Taiwan and Chinese-American Martin Wong.

By exhibiting works by these artists alongside documentary materials from the period, the curators, the collective A Future Museum for China, do not posit themes or aesthetic connections between the artists, but rather allow the audience to imagine their own hypotheses. According to the exhibition text, it does not matter if these connections are “actual and concrete” or “tenuous or even possibly non-existing.”

View of the exhibition "Taiping Tianguo" at Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy Art Radar.

The four artists met each other while in New York. Ai and Wong spent time with Kwok at his gallery in New York’s SoHo district. Kwok supported Hsieh during his arduous “One Year Performances” series in the early 1980s, and many of Hsieh’s works in the Para/Site exhibition come from Kwok’s collection. Hsieh himself pops up in Ai’s photography. Yet from these hints of a common artistic world and a shared “time-space”, the exhibition draws no conclusions.

View of the exhibition "Taiping Tianguo" at Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy Art Radar.

Speaking with Art Radar, Para/Site staff noted that apart from their common environment and an attention in their work to New York life, the four artists’ practices are very different: from Ai’s documentary photography and Wong’s paintings, to Kwok and Hseih’s radically divergent performance styles.

Of the four artists, only Kwok, who returned to Hong Kong in the 1990s, was able to attend the exhibition opening. Martin Wong died of AIDS-related illness in 1999, while Ai Weiwei is forbidden from leaving Beijing due to his activism. Hsieh was the only artist among the four to remain in New York City permanently.

View of the exhibition "Taiping Tianguo" at Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy Art Radar.

Reviews of the exhibition looked positively on the curators’ goal to move beyond the themed period survey, which runs the risk of being reductive. In an Artforum review, writer Darryl Wee says,

A less adventurous show might have honed in on the so-called diasporic links that unite exiled and expatriate artists of Chinese ancestry, but the gathering deftly avoids sloppy thematic generalisations about national or ethnic identity, choosing instead to remain attentive to the nuances of these personal friendships and the resultant involvement of these artists in each other’s practice.

Martin Wong, 'Portrait of Little Brian', 1982, pen on book. Part of the exhibition "Taiping Tianguo" at Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy Art Radar.

Yet some believe that the curators might have swung too far towards objectivity. In a review for ArtAsiaPacific, Hillary Luong praises the exhibition’s emphasis on the artists’ individuality while also noting that “[the curators] may have failed to select works that adequately reflect the underlying relationships meant to sustain the exhibition concept”.

PR/KN

Related Topics: curatorial practice, art in Hong Kong, gallery shows, connecting Asia to itself, Chinese artists

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