Do Artists Need to Leave Africa to be Successful? Art Basel Conversation – video

South African artists Candice Breitz and Zanele Muholi discuss their decisions to leave or stay during Art Basel 2017.

Art Radar brings you the highlights from the discussion between two of South Africa’s best-known contemporary artists as part of Art Basel’s Conversations.

Only for talk "Do Artists need to leave Africa to be Successful?"

Valerie Kabov, Zanele Muholi, and Candice Breitz on stage at Art Basel Conversations, 2017. Image courtesy of Art Basel.

“Africa is seen as a developing continent without a developed art education infrastructure, art markets and institutions, or gallery systems, which appear to make leaving more of an imperative than elsewhere,” noted Valerie Kabov, gallerist and editor-at-large of ART AFRICA Magazine. “But those factors that motivate some to leave are precisely factors that motivate some to stay.”

Raising the question “Do artists need to leave Africa to be successful?” Kabov, alongside South African artists Zanele Muholi (b. 1972, Umlazi, South Africa) and Candice Breitz (b. 1972, Johannesburg, South Africa), tackled the topic during the hour-long conversation at Art Basel in June 2017. Muholi still lives and works in South Africa, while Breitz counts Berlin as her base. Reflecting on their divergent experiences, the artists delve into Africa’s art landscape, what makes them stay or leave, and, most importantly, what it means to be a successful African artist.


Paradoxes within Africa: Art Markets and the African Artist

There is a “paradoxical relationship”, Kabov notes, between the art context within Africa and without. Artists in Africa face the problem of a shortage of professional galleries to represent them, a shortfall of serious local collectors, and not much to speak of by way of governmental support for arts and culture. As a result, international audiences and institutions become a bulwark for young African contemporary artists. Most of the collectors of contemporary African art are not African. The paradox, it seems, lies in the fact that art communities within Africa rely on people, institutions and networks outside their geography. Breitz remarks that to even speak of a local “art market” within South Africa was a recent phenomenonit was “impossible” for young artists to imagine supporting themselves exclusively via their own practice until recently.

Valerie Kabov, gallerist of First Floor Gallery Harare, and editor-at-large of Art Africa, speaking about issues artists face. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Valerie Kabov, gallerist of First Floor Gallery Harare, and editor-at-large of Art Africa, speaking about issues artists face. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Foreign cultural associations, non-profit and other non-governmental organisations remain prominent funders for the arts in Africa. With various developmental needs and a nascent local art market, artists cannot count on governmental support or African collectors. For Kabov, this creates one main issue: a “steep ideological skew” that affects the kind of art that comes to be identified with African contemporary art today. Kabov expounds on the fact that the kinds of visual arts that emerge as a result of this heavy international funding are usually those that are closely aligned with Western interests.

The trickle-down effect to art production is apparent: artists have a necessity to create works that are seen to fall in line with this ideological skew, resulting in a stark question of “Whose South is it anyway?” What would, indeed, happen if African collectors were, instead, dominant in collecting the contemporary art of their own continent? What kinds of pressures would African artists be free from?

And yet, Breitz’s first exhibition in South Africa was supported by the German cultural institution Goethe-Institut. Without the help of institutions such as these, there seems to be little avenue for art like hers to be shown in South Africa. The circulation of African contemporary art is inextricable from foreign agents, institutions and associations, and the relationship between the two cannot be denied. The more important question, to Breitz, would be:

How to expand and broaden [the art landscape in Africa], so that those institutions are not left to exclusively define what gets shown and who gets shown?

For Muholi, who based much of her career in South Africa, the question becomes even more simple: are there spaces for her to show her work? As a queer artist whose works that unabashedly grate the status quo just by their pure existence, the struggle when starting out was finding a gallery that was even willing to take a risk on the work that she was making. Galleries are not fond of showing, and supporting, works that could potentially invite controversy and contention. She expounds:

This was before the [creation of the] ‘art market,’ so for me, I wasn’t even thinking of the art market, to be honest. For me, it was a matter of my sanity, my sensibility, and also trying to negotiate a space that, in many ways, are confined.

Video and photographic artist Candice Breitz speaking from experience at Art Basel, 2017. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Video and photographic artist Candice Breitz speaking at Art Basel, 2017. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Leaving Versus Staying: A Strategic Decision?

“I never really actively decided to leave South Africa,” Breitz remarked. In fact, she had wanted to stay: the year that she was due to leave was 1994, a tremendous watershed year for South Africa (in that year, Nelson Mandela was elected president, and the country transitioned from a system of apartheid to majority rule). For Breitz, “It’s always somewhat painful to speak about [this] when people ask me when I left South Africa, the crucial year of our transition.”

Unable to defer acceptance of a scholarship for her studies, Breitz’s first exit turned into a long sojourn away from South Africa. There was, she said, never a specific moment when she decided to definitively exit the country; in her own words, it was “never strategic”. The question of whether the African artist needs to leave Africa implies a certain stratagem and schema that does not necessarily underpin the migration of every single African diasporic artist. Rather, for Breitz, the shortfalls of the art infrastructure in South Africa was not a major push factor that brought her to other shores.

Interestingly, staying was the explicit choice for Muholi, as she says that “It’s very important for the work that I produce to say that leaving is not an option.” Muholi does not call herself an artist per se; she calls herself a visual activist, documenting, researching and photographing, with a dogged intensity, the marginalised communities of South Africa. Staying in South Africa was a way to ensure that there would always be people documenting the activities and happenings of these communities and that their perspectives would make their way into South African archives. She says:

We still have a mission that we are fighting for, just to be heard, just to be recognised, just to be respected as human beings before anything else.

Her identity as a queer black African woman meant a fight that could not be put down easily. In more ways than one, Muholi is far more motivated by her connectedness to South Africa and her engagement with its socio-political issuesthe very locale of South Africa is the raison d’être of Muholi’s work.

Visual activist Zanele Muholi speaks about her practice and her experiences. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Visual activist Zanele Muholi speaks about her practice and her experiences. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Success. What Does it Mean to the African Diasporic Artist?

But what of the artists who do leave Africa, and who are circulated on the international art scene? African contemporary art, notes Kabov, “really is a creature of the international art market”. It gains its value from the people on the outside looking in. It commands higher prices than before, charged with the notion that it performs a certain authenticity of what Africa, as a term, means to the outside world, attracting collectors and institutions from all over the world. Was there a phenomenon of African diasporic artists re-identifying with the continent, because of the mechanics of the art market?

Breitz does not think so. The way artists are perceived may not even be fully up to the artists to control: she notes that there are broader critical, curatorial and market forces at work that frame artists in a certain angle, complicating whether an artist is identified, primarily, as African or not. And even then, what are the communities that the artist identifies with? Identity is a confluence of so many intersectionalities that still need to be parsed on an individual basis. She says:

I don’t personally spend too much time worrying about how I will be perceived, or whether I am authentically performing my roots, because […] what is the community that I identify with? Is it a national community, a gendered community, a diasporic community?

The private identity of an artist is already, in this way, complicated; the workings of the wider art landscape to position and perceive an artist from a certain angle and make him or her “successful” is another layer that makes giving a hard yes or no answer to the impossible question. In the first place, Breitz states that “Artists live where they can look after their practice and where they can continue doing what’s important to them.” The choice to become diasporic, it seems, is a lot less calculated than most would imagine it to be.

But what, then, does success mean to the artist? Success has always been implicitly defined, even in the conversation between Kabov, Breitz and Muholi, as a certain amount of financial stability and critical acclaim. Yet the term carries more complexity, as Breitz thinks that “what success means in a place like Basel is really consistent with what most artists are aspiring to within their practice.”

Similarly, Muholi’s concerns are far less skewed towards conventional art market aspirations:

When I take a photograph now, I’m not thinking about the art market, I’m thinking ‘How do I produce this image? And how do I make sure it is distributed widely, and people are educated around it?’

With a term as loaded and complex as “success”, formulating a single working definition of the word is sheer hard going.

Art Basel’s artist talk unpicks the threads that tie the African artist and the international art world together, raising questions of the kinds of conditions needed for artists to sustain and show their practice in Africa. This is a complicated question tugging on the network of structures, systems and mechanisms that set the conditions for creative work. Perhaps it is only fair to say that the conversation has only just begun.

Junni Chen


Related Topics: African artistspromoting art, art fairs
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Priyanka and Prateek Raja on Experimenter Curators’ Hub – interview

Gallery directors Priyanka and Prateek Raja share their experiences of developing discourse around contemporary visual art in South Asia and beyond.

With the first edition of the Experimenter Curators’ Hub (ECH) held in 2011, the platform has grown from strength to strength and is now a key event in the international visual art calendar.

Portrait of Priyanka and Prateek Raja. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Portrait of Priyanka and Prateek Raja. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Experimenter is a contemporary art space established in 2009 in Kolkata that presents multidisciplinary work of young Indian and international artists. Dedicated to supporting emerging and mid-career artists, the gallery believes in the role of visual art to contest as well as interpret challenges in the contemporary world.

Experimenter Curator's Hub, 2015. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Doryun Chong at Experimenter Curator’s Hub, 2015. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

The gallery is also engaged in fostering public dialogue, and as a result in 2011 they held their first edition of the Curators’ Hub. The platform fosters debate on curatorial practice and exhibition making over three days, bringing together artists, curators, gallery directors, writers and thinkers from across the region and beyond. In 2017, ECH will run from 27 to 29 July and will include the participation (PDF download) of important art professionals like Hammad Nasar, Reem Fadda and Pedro de Almeida among others.

Art Radar caught up with Priyanka and Prateek Raja to find out more about their vision for the Experimenter Gallery and the Curator’s Hub.

Adip Dutta, installation of 'By Darkling Ground', 17 May to 8 July at Experimenter Gallery. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Adip Dutta, installation of ‘By Darkling Ground’, 17 May to 8 July 2017 at Experimenter Gallery. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

How have the gallery’s mission and activities evolved since Experimenter Gallery opened in 2009? 

We feel our exhibitions have strengthened over the years. We are able to forge relationships with institutions and curators at a much faster pace in the increasingly global world, to place the work of our artists in collections that have global significance and to manage the careers of some of the finest artists in the world. Having said that, our core objectives are essentially the same since we started.

Adip Dutta, installation of 'By Darkling Ground', 17 May to 8 July at Experimenter Gallery. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Adip Dutta, installation of ‘By Darkling Ground’, 17 May to 8 July 20017 at Experimenter Gallery. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Experimenter, as the name suggests, is an incubator for new things and experiences, but we are very focused on what we do, even if it involves experimentation. We are interested in representing the careers of artists who we feel capture the mood of the contemporary world that we live in. The programme keeps the artistic practice at its centre and presents a dynamic, active and challenging body of work to the art viewing community. We continue to push boundaries that we have set for ourselves and, through the work of our artists, ask questions that could be uncomfortable and even confrontational at times. There needs to be a consistency within what we show and we are fortunate to be working with some wonderful people.

Could you tell us a bit about how you select the artists you work with? Are there any emerging South Asian artists, in particular, to watch out for?

Artist relationships, as we have said before, are like marriages to us. There is, at first, a mutual attraction, when we are already partly in love with the artist’s practice. Then like most love stories, there is a first point of contact, a conversation, a connection between us and the artist, followed by a certain kind of mutual courtship and following. Eventually, we go on a date or two through group exhibitions and other smaller projects and then gingerly enter into a relationship and eventually a marriage of sorts. By the time we have established the relationship, we know everything about each other. It is a unique way of looking at things and the artists’ interests are always our primary focus.

Adip Dutta, installation of 'By Darkling Ground', 17 May to 8 July at Experimenter Gallery. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Adip Dutta, installation of ‘By Darkling Ground’, 17 May to 8 July 2017 at Experimenter Gallery. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

If one looks at the artists whose practice we represent, one will find a certain thread of connection between them. The kind of aesthetic that represents our point of view of the world is reflected in the practices of the artists we show. We can say that we look at ourselves constantly and critically at all times. We attempt to break down our structure periodically to keep ourselves challenged in the same way that we started out with.

In terms of emerging artists, there are a lot of artists – in our opinion – who are doing exceptionally well and are breaking through in many ways. Naeem Mohaiemen, for example, is on an amazing trajectory, with major work at documenta 14 and the 2015 edition of the Venice Biennale. Prabhakar Pachpute has shown at some of the most important group exhibitions in the world. Ayesha Sultana and Praneet Soi are the other two artists we would like to highlight. There is also the amazing Samson Young from Hong Kong who is really a rising star – he represented Hong Kong at the Venice Biennale this year. Sahej Rahal is an excellent artist with a very strong practice. Rathin Barman recently did some amazing work at the Singapore Art Museum for the Singapore Biennale. He has some very strong developments on his career. Sohrab Hura is an amazing photographer who has an excellent practice. These are only some of the artists that come to mind! There is a lot of exciting work happening in South Asia and this is by no way all-inclusive.

What sort of changes and trends have you seen in the contemporary art scene in India, or specifically Kolkata, since you opened Experimenter Gallery? 

I think the quality of artistic practices and exhibition making has gone from strength to strength. Display, for example, in Kolkata and the rest of the country has significantly improved. There are also some well-designed publications that have found the light of day. Two things that have significantly impacted the contemporary art scene in a positive way are a new generation of young curators who are pushing the realms of their own practices. They are open to looking beyond their own regions and reviewing practices of artists that may have been historically under explored.

Hoor Al Qasimi at Experimenter Curator's Hub, 2015. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Hoor Al Qasimi at Experimenter Curator’s Hub, 2015. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

The second aspect is the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, one of the best biennales in the world in my opinion, entirely run by artists, and that has the potential for tremendous possibilities in making the region significant.

A highlight of the Experimenter calendar is the Curators’ Hub. Could you explain why you established the Hub and how it has evolved since the first edition in 2011? 

We founded the Hub, as we recognised that there is a lack of art infrastructure in our country. In the absence of this, we feel it is crucial that private organisations – in whatever their capacities – fill that void in the interim, in the larger interest of the social and cultural fabric of the nation. We are very happy to take this lead and are hugely indebted to all the partners who enable this to happen.

Curators at Experimenter Curator's Hub, 2015. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Experimenter Curator’s Hub, 2015. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

We started with a simple idea, a basic need to discuss curatorial practice in India and to be able to bring to the country some of the most influential minds in contemporary practice we have access to. It felt important to us as individuals to make this growing pool of people accessible, first to our own city and then to the rest of the country.

We ourselves are participants in the discussions and equally keen to know how and what informs the conceptual frameworks of how the curators work.

Experimenter Curator's Hub, 2015. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Experimenter Curator’s Hub, 2015. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Sharing that knowledge in an intense hub-like huddle over two-three days has been extremely rewarding, and creates a framework for the public (both in person and via online platforms) to participate in the discussions. It remains a unique and intimate, conversation-led initiative, which attracts people from all over the world for the three days it is held.

These have remained the ethos and the core fundamentals upon which the Curators’ Hub continues to exist. The scope of the event has expanded over the years and we are proud that its impact is felt not only in the South Asia region but also the world over.

Adip Dutta, installation of 'By Darkling Ground', 17 May to 8 July at Experimenter Gallery. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Adip Dutta, installation of ‘By Darkling Ground’, 17 May to 8 July 2017 at Experimenter Gallery. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Do you see the relationship between curators, critics, artists and galleries changing in India? If so, in what ways? 

Relationships are always evolving and getting stronger by the day. The art world in India is going through a phase of consolidation, which is great for the larger interests of the art community. I see a lot of exhibitions these days that have strong curatorial frameworks and artists are not shying away from expanding their practices, growing within their core areas of work and research, and of working with new materials. I see a lot of research and context by writers and critics when they are reviewing shows, and all this can only be good for the scene.

Adip Dutta, installation of 'By Darkling Ground', 17 May to 8 July at Experimenter Gallery. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Adip Dutta, installation of ‘By Darkling Ground’, 17 May to 8 July 2017 at Experimenter Gallery. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Are there any specific challenges or opportunities in the field of curating contemporary art that are specific to the South Asian context?  

I think the biggest challenge at the moment is to build a significant knowledge base for practices from South Asia which have historically been under-represented. Amazing examples of Modernism were developed in India in the 1950s. These artists, exploring their own practices within the modern world, have left a huge body of rich material. There is an urgent need to archive, preserve, and build on those conversations that can be re-examined today. There are numerous possibilities that can be explored but the challenge is to work with the material responsibly.

What are some of the key themes that arise in the Curators’ Hub discussions? 

The Hub has always been a driver for knowledge and a source of informed discourse. Audiences are ensconced in a high-energy, high involvement atmosphere which is a catalyst for new ideas, collaborations and possibilities of newer ways of thinking about contemporary art. Challenges and opportunities of curating exhibitions are deeply discussed and debated. I think the biggest takeaway is an intense conversation led discourse that allows a certain point of introspection.

Adip Dutta, installation of 'By Darkling Ground', 17 May to 8 July at Experimenter Gallery. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Adip Dutta, installation of ‘By Darkling Ground’, 17 May to 8 July 2017 at Experimenter Gallery. Image courtesy Experimenter Gallery.

Experimenter has been working to extend the Curators’ Hub on online platforms. How do you use online and social media channels to reach out to wider audiences? 

The Hub has grown from strength to strength technologically. We have enabled live streaming, webcasting and even added an interactive edge through social media tools, adding to its reach and impact. Over the last two years, we have been live blogging as well as submitting end of day blogs. Another tool that we have come to use is Twitter, which we use to highlight some of the key aspects of the Hub and quotes by curators. It drives a lot of interest and online discussion. On occasion, we have also had a curator make a presentation through video conference because he could not come to India due to personal reasons at the last moment. This is a perfect example of the way technology plays such a fundamental role, to enable the Curators’ Hub to function in a global setting.

Claire Wilson


Related topics: Curatorial practice, events in Kolkata, Indian artists, curators, the art scene and events in India, interviews

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Art internships and opportunities | 2017 Songzhuang International Photo Biennale, Free Arts NYC, Biennale of Contemporary African Art Dak’Art… and more

Looking for new career options in the arts? Art Radar Opportunities is an archive of openings in the visual art world. 

Whether you are an artist or an aspiring curator, a market analyst or a scholar, Art Radar Opportunities has listings that will pique your interest. Every week we add new positions suitable for a variety of backgrounds and levels of experience. 

Reader offer! We’re offering free job listings to all of our readers. If you would like to advertise your opportunity to 25,000 visitors a month, fill out our Internships or Opportunities submission form.

New this week!


OPEN CALL | Online | Call for Entries | Fusion Art – 27 July 2017

With over 15 years of experience, Fusion Art is an online art gallery and art professional networking platform striving to promote and connect emerging and established artists with collectors and art enthusiasts. It is now inviting international artists to enter “the Black & White Art Competition” with works of art and photography using black, white and all shades in between. Six winning artists selected from the two prize categories “Traditional Art” and “Photography and Digital Art” will receive a cash award and be invited to participate in the 2nd annual group show in Palm Springs in California, USA, in November 2017. An entry fee of USD25 is required for up to 2 images per applicant. MORE HERE


OPEN CALL | London | Call for Entries | Wotisart? – 28 July 2017

Wotisart? is a portfolio magazine providing emerging artists with a platform to show their work and gain international exposure through both in-print and online featuring. The magazine is now taking entries for the August issue. Artists from all over the world are invited to submit an image of their works addressing the question “What is art?”. There are no restrictions regarding artwork media and genre whilst the image quality will need to be high. MORE HERE


OPEN CALL | Dakar, Senegal | Call for Artists | Biennale of Contemporary African Art Dak’Art 2018 – 31 July 2017

Over the last two editions, The Biennale of Contemporary African Art Dak’Art has been showcasing some of the finest contemporary African art to international audiences and building new partnerships among African creative professionals and also between African creators and creators from other continents. The 13th edition of the Biennale will be held from May to June 2018 in Dakar, Senegal. The organisation is now calling all African visual artists and African diaspora art practitioners to submit their artworks for the exhibition opportunity. Candidates will provide their portfolios with other required files while filling in the online application form. MORE HERE


INTERNSHIP | New York | Unpaid Internship | Free Arts NYC – 1 August 2017

Free Arts NYC is a non-profit organisation striving to empower underserved youth through art and mentoring programmes to develop their creativity, confidence and skills to succeed. The organisation is currently seeking interns to undertake administrative work and participate in one of their programmes, Free Arts Days, to gain hands-on experience working with young people through art engagement. The internship requires a minimum of 10 to 25 hours per week for 8 to 12 weeks. The incumbents will receive internship credits for their education programmes (if applicable) and professional reference upon completion. Priority is given to applications before 15 July 2017. MORE HERE


OPEN CALL | Beijing | Call for Artists | 2017 · Songzhuang International Photo Biennale – 10 August 2017

2017 · Songzhuang International Photo Biennale (Songzhuang Photo) is a major part of the 10th Annual Songzhuang Art Festival. The theme of for this year’s open call is Live in This Moment, Return to the Origin. Chinese and international photo artists and photographers over 21 years of age are welcome to participate. There are two major categories for submission: International Contemporary Photography and Early Chinese Photography Review and Collection. The Biennale will be held in the Czech China Contemporary Museum (CCCM) from 29 September to 13 October 2017. There is no entry fee and all applicants will be informed of results by 25 August 2017. Successful candidates will be responsible for delivery arrangement and costs. MORE HERE


Did you know that Art Radar runs its very own online art writing course? Click here to find out more about Art Radar‘s Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

Looking for more opportunities in the contemporary art world? For Art Radar’s complete list of jobs, internships, residencies, courses and open calls, click here.

Closing this week!


JOB | Hong Kong | Producer, Digital Programme (Video) | M+ Museum – 14 July 2017

Located in the renowned West Kowloon Cultural District, M+ Museum is seeking an experienced video producer to join the team. The incumbent of the position will be in charge of a range of digital production responsibilities essential to the Museum’s development and collection, such as developing video production briefs and project documents, shooting, editing and coordinating high-quality videos, and coordinating with external collaborators and stakeholders for general digital development outreach. The applicants are required to have at least 3 years of digital production experience, strong communication skills, and demonstrate fluent English and Cantonese and/or Mandarin language capabilities. Apply online with a professional CV and the link to a portfolio of recent work. Successful finalists will be invited to an interview within 4 weeks from submission closing date. MORE HERE


OPEN CALL | London | Call for Entries | The Cockpit Arts / The Arts Society – 17 July 2017

The Arts Society is a leading art education charity with a global network of 385 local Societies, which bring people together through a shared curiosity for the arts. Together with The Cockpit Arts based in London, the Society is providing sponsored places at its creative business incubators as an award to support professional craftspeople working with traditional craft skills. The Cockpit Arts / The Arts Society Award recipient will be awarded a match funded space at a Cockpit Arts incubator for one year worth EUR2,000 (approx. USD2,282). Benefits include business and professional development services, selling and collaboration opportunities and access to office and studio facilities. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to an interview in the week commencing 24 July 2017. The successful candidates are expected to move into the studio by 1 September 2017 and attend the Awardee Induction Day on Tuesday 19 September 2017. MORE HERE


JOB | New York | Director of Education & Public Engagement | No Longer Empty (NLE) – 20 July 2017

No Longer Empty is a non-profit gallery in New York dedicated to community and public engagement with contemporary art through exhibition curation and education programmes. NLE is looking for a Director of Education & Public Engagement to lead, plan and manage its education initiatives, community partnerships and public engagement. The full-time position encourages creative risk-taking and cross-platform collaboration beyond national borders. Key selection criteria include Master’s Degree or equivalent experience required in art education, arts administration, social practice or related fields; minimum of 5 years programmatic and staff management experience; robust knowledge of NYC’s five boroughs, relationships with public schools, local social service organisations. International applicants are welcome and second language skills will be a major plus (particularly Spanish speakers). Early applicants might be given priority. MORE HERE


This is just a sample of art world opportunities we gather each week. If you’d like to see more, click here to sign up for more information on how to get full access and feeds of opportunities.

No art internship this summer? No panic! Learn 3 even better options …

So you haven’t landed an art internship yet? Panicking?

Stop right there….

Art Radar Institute tutor Kate Nicholson interviews an artist at ARCO Madrid.

Former Art Radar Institute tutor Kate Nicholson interviews an artist at ARCO Madrid.

If you are considering a career in the art market or the art world, you already know that an internship is a super smart thing to do. But if you haven’t landed that all important internship yet we have some suggestions we think employers will like just as much or even more.


But huh? Internships are the gold standard, no?

Yes, it is true what everyone is telling you:

  • internships help you stand out from the crowd in the highly competitive world of art jobs
  • internships are a low risk way to sample a variety of art jobs to help you find out which corner of the art world will suit your skills best
  • internships often lead directly to permanent jobs later
  • plus all the other reasons (networking, soft skills like team-working and time management)


Everyone is right.

If you are serious about a career in the art world it is true that an internship is going to be a breakthrough step for your career.

Are you beating yourself up right now? Are you asking yourself. Yikes. What happened? How did I get to this point in the year with nothing lined up for the vacation?

Stop that too.


Honestly ….how you got here isn’t that important. What you need now is an actionable plan to fix the problem …..FAST. Like yesterday.

So what can you do now? Here is the low down….

For high status museum or formal gallery internships, yes indeed it is too late.

What about informal internships? Networking your way into an informal internship requires relationship-building and that can take many months. Not realistic.

Feeling resigned to a vacation full of fun, flights and festivals instead? Not so fast.


Here are 3 alternatives to internships which you may not have considered. Each of these ideas can massively accelerate your chance of landing a dream job in the art world.


1. Learn art journalism and get published this summer

In every corner of the art world employers from dealers to auctioneers to archives are seeking writers with proven experience in writing and publishing stories about art, artists and art events. We should know. Running an art magazine we are often approached by our art professional readers asking us for help with finding writers.

So we developed a course to help aspiring art writers meet the needs of art employers and get published.

This part-time 12 week course, which is designed to mimic the real life working experience of an art writer on a live magazine, will take you through writing and editing process with an experienced editor who will provide personal one-on-one support via Skype and email. You can do it from anywhere part-time even on your travels. You can also do the course on a fast track basis if you prefer.

Think …by the end of this summer you will be a published writer with an insider’s experience of working on an art magazine. You can show future employers that you can work in a team and meet deadlines.

Click to find out more about Art Radar’s flagship course and subscribe for more information.


2. Become an expert in a niche area

Recently I met a dealer who told me that she received a valuable career tip from an art world contact when she was young. He told her to develop expertise in a niche in an up-and-coming area of the art world. In those days interest in contemporary Asian art was burgeoning – so she went to China, studied the developing art scene and created a network of connections. It  was easy to land a job, because there were few other people with the skills and knowledge she had developed.

You can do something similar.

If you plan to travel somewhere obscure and remote outside big cities this summer, why not explore the local art scene and develop a niche expertise at the same time. Boost your art career and travel all in one.

Start with finding a local curator and through them learn about the history, techniques  of local art practices and meet undiscovered, undersung artists. Print-making in Goa, eco art in Taiwan, art in Myanmar or Mongolia. Africa is a wide open field. So much remains undocumented and unknown.

While you are away write up some posts for magazines. If you aren’t confident about writing you can create picture reports. (Or think about doing Art Radar’s flagship Certificate Course in Art Journalism and Writing).

But how do you know which areas are up-and-coming? If you are interested in working in the art market look at the catalogues of the big auction houses and check out how their catalogues are changing. Are they opening offices in new countries? Increasing the size of sales of certain types of art? Focus on those.

And any art employer will be impressed with your initiative, networking abilities and research skills. But above all they will be impressed with your special expertise… and that is something a formal art internship can’t give you.


3. Get hired for an art fair

If you haven’t got an art internship for the vacation, think about applying to help at an art fair. Often you pack in as much learning in the 4 days of a fair as a 4-week internship in a gallery where you are sitting around a lot when you are not on a coffee run.

The key benefit of working in art fairs is that you get valuable exposure to art buyers and collectors, which just doesn’t happen in a formal internship at a gallery or auction house.

Art fairs need a lot of temporary staff – approximately 70 – and start recruiting 2-3 months before the fair dates. Most art fairs don’t run in July or August, but you can apply now and fit in fairs in September or around your study and other commitments in the autumn for instance.

Where can you find a list of art fairs?

Take a look at Art Radar’s page of art events.


*  *  *


So that is it – our three ideas which are just as good as formal internships. So no more despair and sighs – you can still do something spectacular for your career in your vacation. And the good news is that with each of these activities you can still do the festivals and exotic travelling too.

If you want to get published this summer, CLICK HERE for more about Art Radar’s Certificate Course in Art Journalism and Writing .

Being a published art writer allows you unequalled access to people and institutions. Writing about art is a powerful tool for building your art network.











“Provisional Studies”: Japanese artist Koki Tanaka at Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum

Japanese artist Koki Tanaka’s first solo exhibition in Austria uses ‘experimental setups’ to stress the importance of collective experience.

Currently on show until 28 August 2017 at Kunsthaus Graz is “Provisional Studies (Working Title)”, an exhibition by Japanese artist Koki Tanaka addressing the power and potential of collective action.

Koki Tanaka in the exhibition at Kunsthaus Graz. Photo: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner.

Koki Tanaka in the exhibition at Kunsthaus Graz, 2017. Photo: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner.

Through a series of text, film and photographic works, Koki Tanaka’s first solo show in Austria “Provisional Studies (Working Title)” considers what people can achieve when they work together. Curated by Barbara Steiner at Kunsthaus Graz, the explorative and dialogical nature of Tanaka’s work focuses on creating situations, or ‘experimental set-ups’, which invite ‘people to try out tasks that seem impossible’.

People may be asked by Tanaka to jointly write a protest song or compose a soundtrack on a piano by Tanaka, all of which is documented and subsequently displayed in a gallery setting. This exhibition includes new work from the artist, which centres around anti-nuclear protests, continuing Tanaka’s aim to ask difficult, provocative questions and create frameworks through which visitors and spectators engage in these social issues. The exhibition therefore stresses the importance of shared experience and collective participation, commenting on wider sociological questions bound up in strike action and demonstration.

Koki Tanaka, "Provisional Studies (working title)", 23 June - 27 August 2017, Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum. Photo: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner.

Koki Tanaka, “Provisional Studies (working title)”, 23 June – 27 August 2017, installation view at Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum. Photo: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner.

Themes of collectivity, democracy and community are crucial to Koki Tanaka’s work and inform this show, in line with his previous work. Prior exhibitions such as “Provisional studies: Action #5 Conceiving the Past, Perceiving the Present” at The Showroom in London focused on collaboration and encouraged visitors, including historians, seniors and school children, to contemplate local histories and bring along personal objects to exchange and share. Whilst his exhibition at Kunsthaus Graz does not rely so literally on the visitor, it does stress the impact that shared experience and social exchange have on collective and individual identity.

 Koki Tanaka, "Provisional Studies (working title)", 23 June - 27 August 2017, Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum. Photo: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner.

Koki Tanaka, “Provisional Studies (working title)”, 23 June – 27 August 2017, installation view at Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum. Photo: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner.

Tanaka’s practice is layered, focusing first on a particular project or event, and then displaying its documentation within a gallery setting. His work is designed to provoke and stimulate thought on a range of social and political issues, often linked to Japan but often based elsewhere; in this case, Austria. This allows him to be both an ‘outsider’ and a ‘local’ when working on different projects, and providing different perspectives. Tanaka describes himself as an “objective observer:”, organising meetings, shoots and situations which he sees as “frameworks” to let things happen, underpinned by conceptual thinking which allows “unclear things” to happen. He explains how his approach “is to set up uncertain goals or even no goal, and ask people to get lost with me”.

Provisional Studies: Action # 8 Rewriting A Song For Zwentendorf, © Koki Tanaka.

Koki Tanaka, ‘Provisional Studies: Action # 8 Rewriting A Song For Zwentendorf’. © Koki Tanaka.

One of the show’s key works is Provisional Studies: Action #8 Rewriting a Song for Zwentendorf, a film made specially for the exhibition. Focusing on a protest in the 1970s against the startup of the Zwentendorf Nuclear Power Plant in Austria, the project brings together those who were involved in the original protest with young people to rewrite the original protest song. Participants, both Austrian and Japanese, were then invited to the power station itself, which never became operational, where the new song was performed and recorded.

These events united perspectives and experiences across different generations, and the resulting film links the Austrian anti-nuclear protest in 1970 with issues surrounding the Fukushima disaster in 2011. As Tanaka states in a publication on the exhibition,

This is not about nostalgia. This is about the present. The future for which the original protesters fought is our present, and our present is someone else’s future. Over the course of rewriting the song, visiting AKW Zwentendorf and revisiting the history of protest, I hoped past, present and future would meet.

Precarious Tasks # 7: Try to Keep Conscious of a Specific Social Issue, in This Case 'Anti-Nuke' as Long as Possible While You're Wearing Yellow Color, © Koki Tanaka

Koki Tanaka, ‘Precarious Tasks # 7: Try to Keep Conscious of a Specific Social Issue, in This Case ‘Anti-Nuke’ as Long as Possible While You’re Wearing Yellow Color’. © Koki Tanaka.

Tanaka’s work also considers how to participate in protests or demonstrations without physically being there. Another key work in the exhibition, entitled Precarious Tasks #7: Try to Keep Conscious about a Specific Social Issue, in This Case ‘Anti-Nuke’ as Long as Possible while You are Wearing Yellow Color, is a photographic project that considers the weekly protests that take place every Friday outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Tokyo, in the wake of Fukushima. Takana explains:

It would be difficult to participate in every protest each Friday. We have our lives, our everyday jobs. But I wonder if there is some way for us to participate in the protests while maintaining our lives at the same time.

When Tokyo-based artist Kenjiro Okazaki suggested on Twitter that people around the world wear a yellow t-shirt on Fridays as a mark of anti-nuclear solidarity and participation, Tanaka, who is based in Los Angeles, responded by taking over a gallery space, turning off the electricity and preparing yellow cloth and scissors on a table for visitors to create their own yellow clothing to wear in protest, in a way that suited them. What interested Tanaka most was the individual reactions of visitors to the cloth, and the shared bodily response that everyone experienced: as it was a hot day of 36°C, the guests were extremely sweaty. Tanaka explains:

Divided across different positions, we nevertheless experienced the same bodily responses […] Having embarked upon a political action and reconsideration of art history, the bodily response of sweating was what remained ultimately.

The project was documented through photography and is displayed in the exhibition.

Koki Tanaka, "Provisional Studies (working title)", 23 June - 27 August 2017, Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum. Photo: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner.

Koki Tanaka, “Provisional Studies (working title)”, 23 June – 27 August 2017, installation view at Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum. Photo: Universalmuseum Joanneum / N. Lackner.

Other projects include Project title: Provisional Studies: Action #6 1985 School Students Strike, which was commissioned by the Liverpool Biennial in 2016, a restaging of a Strike in Liverpool where thousands of school children marched against the Conservative government’s Youth Training Scheme. Also on show is A piano Played by Five Pianists at Once (First Attempt), a film which sees five musicians compose a “soundtrack for collective committment” and then play it on unison on one piano. Underpinning these works are ideas of exchange and community, of working together towards a common goal, even if the outcome is uncertain.

 Anna Jamieson


Related topics: Japanese artists, museum showspolitical art, video art, performance

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6 young South Asian artists at Latitude 28, New Delhi

6 South Asian artists share politicised art practices in “Dissensus” at Latitude 28 in New Delhi.

Entitled “Dissensus”, the group exhibition is on display at Bikaner House until 16 July 2017. Art Radar takes a look at the artists in the exhibition.

Hit Man Gurung,' We are in war without enemies', 2016, stippling drawing on printed canvas and acrylic on canvas, 239 x 360 x 5 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Hit Man Gurung,’ We are in war without enemies’, 2016, stippling drawing on printed canvas and acrylic on canvas, 239 x 360 x 5 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

The exhibition at Latitude 28 in New Delhi seeks to approach the current political map the South Asian region, with a focus on the ongoing conflicts in Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran and Kashmir, through the lens of six emerging artist’s work. “Dissensus” explores the work of six South Asian artists – Hit Man Gurung, Khadim Ali, Neda Tavallaee, Priyanka D’Souza, Veer Munshi and Waseem Ahmed – highlighting innovative new modes of thinking about the role of aesthetic practices in forming the politics of the region.

Veer Munshi, 'Relics From Lost Paradise - III,2017, 27 x 12 x 7 inches, Wood, papier mache, fiber and fabric. Installation view at "Dissensus" at Latitude 28 Gallery, New Delhi, 2017. Image courtesy Latitude 28.

Veer Munshi, ‘Relics From Lost Paradise – III’, 2017, wood, papier mache, fiber and fabric, 27 x 12 x 7 in. Installation view of “Dissensus” at Latitude 28 Gallery, New Delhi, 2017. Image courtesy Latitude 28.

As the press release states,

These intimate testimonies and observations employ the aesthetic to develop a micro-poetics of the stakes borne by civilians whose concerns are overlooked in media-narratives driven by political figureheads, capital and diplomatic ties. It is not coincidental that several artists find a language in the subtlety of the miniature tradition to voice their politics. Scale and detail evoke the marginal locations of their themes, and the multitude that is united in these narratives.

Several artists in the exhibition, including, Priyanka D’Souza, Waseem Ahmed, Neda Tavallaee and Khadim Ali, are trained in the miniature painting tradition, recuperating the ancient art form and diverting it as a vehicle for communication towards current events.

Art Radar takes a look at the six artists in the show.

Neda Tavalaee, 'About Havva', 2017, 29.7 x 42 cm, Cyanotype. Image courtesy the artist.

Neda Tavalaee, ‘About Havva’, 2017, Cyanotype, 30 x 42 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

1. Neda Tavallaee

Iranian-born Neda Tavallaee’s (b. 1973, Tehran, Iran) work is very much informed by her experiences of living between Iran and the United Kingdom after her family fled the 1979 revolution. Since graduating from the University of Fine Arts in Tehran, her work has focused on exploring dominant representations of women in current media depictions, often comparing current pop culture tropes with representation of women in regional myth and ancient culture. Her painting, sculpture and textile work is often made, as expressed in a 2012 artist statement, “as a tribute to the everyday life of every Iranian woman.” Speaking in a press statement about the current body of work, entitled About Havva (2017), Tavallaee says:

Behind this body of work is the lack of heroes in our society. Coming from an ancient culture abundant with stories of such men, it is ironic that in this day and age we have none of the kind. The work was inspired by some arrests that took place a while back in Iran that were to my knowledge unjust. I decided to use pages of the Shahnameh, a book abundant with tales of heroism and patriots as the background in contrast with the image of the damsel in distress, symbolic of Hawa (Eve in Islam) who has to solve all her problems by herself and seek for justice alone.

Hit Man Gurung,' We are in war without enemies', 2016, 239 x 360 x 5 cm, Stippling drawing on printed canvas and Acrylic on canvas. Installation view at "Dissensus" at Latitude 28 Gallery, New Delhi, 2017. Image courtesy Latitude 28.

Hit Man Gurung,’ We are in war without enemies’, 2016, stippling drawing on printed canvas and acrylic on canvas, 239 x 360 x 5 cm. Installation view of “Dissensus” at Latitude 28 Gallery, New Delhi, 2017. Image courtesy Latitude 28.

2. Hit Man Gurung

Nepalese artist Hit Man Gurung (b. 1986, Lamjung district, Nepal) works across painting and public intervention to develop works that address the effects of war on civil society, focusing particularly on the working conditions of Nepalese migrant workers in diverse countries across Asia. His work can be seen as a visual archive of experience that seeks to bear witness to and contest the poor labour conditions so dangerous to the lives of Nepalese workers migrating elsewhere, a phenomenon that has increased significantly since the civil war in Nepal.

Speaking about the work in the exhibition, the artist stated about We are in war without enemies (2016):

The Government of Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal raised $4.1 billion in relief and rebuilding funds. It has been more than a year since the earthquake and still thousands of families are living in poor conditions and temporary shelters. The process of reconstruction and resettlement by the government has been slow and leisurely. Additionally, the climatic condition has worsened the situation. Hundreds of people have died in the cold, floods and landslides as they lack a safe place to stay. We are in war without enemies […]. I is from the series ‘This is My Home, My Land and My Country…’, dedicated to the earthquake survivors who lost their home and beloved ones in 2015.

Khadim Ali, 'Forlorn Foe 3', 2016, 17x13 inches, Gouache and gold leaf on wasli paper. Image courtesy the artist.

Khadim Ali, ‘Forlorn Foe 3’, 2016, gouache and gold leaf on wasli paper. Image courtesy the artist.

3. Khadim Ali

Khadim Ali (b. 1978, Quetta Pakistan) is perhaps the most widely shown artist in the exhibition, having exhibited work at Documenta 13 and completed artistic residencies at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (2006) and Arts Initiative Tokyo (2007). Born in Pakistan as an Afghan refugee, Khadim Ali spent his early years escaping persecution as a Hazara minority. In Tehran he completed studies in calligraphy and mural painting and went on to study traditional miniature painting, before finding contemporary art contexts to develop the aesthetic and political critique that his current work forwards.

The works presented in the exhibition depart from research into the Shahnameh, or the Persian ‘Book of Kings’ – an epic poem composed between 977 and 1010 by the court poet Firdausi. It records the mythical history of Persia preceding the 7th-century Islamic conquest. Speaking about the work Forlorn Foe on display in the current exhibition, Khadim Ali states:

The pluralistic aspect of Shahnameh holds a psychological appeal for me, and it may for other Hazaras. Since Ferdowsi was a defeated poet from a dying era, Shahnameh, one could argue, is more of a story of failure, than a saga of heroic enterprise. Almost all of the characters in Shahnameh have a defeating fate, including the hero Rustam. Hence, if we consider Shahnameh to be tales of killings in a future past, it becomes aligned with the contemporary geopolitics. The Islamic world today, just as the Persian world, is drowning in the Killing(s) of future. A brutal past is destroying the heart of the present.

Priyanka D'Souza, 'No Urdu on Dilli’s Wall Miyan 7', 2017, Watercolour on paper and canvas, 6.5 x 12.5 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

Priyanka D’Souza, ‘No Urdu on Dilli’s Wall Miyan 7’, 2017, watercolour on paper and canvas, 6.5 x 12.5 in. Image courtesy the artist.

Installation view at "Dissensus" at Latitude 28 Gallery, New Delhi, 2017. Image courtesy Latitude 28.

“Dissensus”, 7 – 16 July 2017, Latitude 28 Gallery, New Delhi. Image courtesy Latitude 28.

4. Priyanka D’Souza

Priyanka D’Souza (b. 1995, Mumbai, India) is a young MSU Baroda trained artist. She uses Mogul miniature painting in her work, which explores contemporary political crisis of representation across the global media. In a press statement about the series included in the exhibition, the artist states:

This body of work was my response to Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee’s poem, No Urdu In Dilli, Mian which uses rather delicately, the imagery of the wall to encapsulate a very political statement, its language in keeping with the lyricism of Persian and Urdu poetry. I’ve tried to understand ‘the writing on the wall’ (a phrase taken from the Judaic narrative of Daniel common to Islam) as scripture, drawing from the rich bibliophilic tradition in Islam.

Script, therefore, as a signifier of a community and its engagement with the political was of interest to me. Visually, the nuances of the Nastaliq script and quiet sensibilities of surface textures and qualities, appealed to me. As the body developed, the wall took on even more connotations as a metaphor of separation, with recent political events like Donald Trump’s wall and his Muslim ban, contextualizing the work in a manner differently yet not opposed to the original intent.

Veer Munshi, 'Relics From Lost Paradise - III, 2017, Wood, papier mache, fiber and fabric, 27 x 12 x 7 inches. Image courtesy the artist.

Veer Munshi, ‘Relics From Lost Paradise – III, 2017, wood, papier mache, fibre and fabric, 27 x 12 x 7 in. Image courtesy the artist.

5. Veer Munshi

Violence, terror and fear has been a constant in Kashmir since the late 1980s when nearly the entire Kashmiri Hindu population were displaced from the Kashmir valley. Veer Munshi (b. Srinagar, Kashmir, India) works from his position as a ‘refugee’ from Kashmir and dedicates his practice to mapping the private and collective anger and pain of displacement, using art to recuperate and enter into dialogue with Kashmiri heritage. Veer Munshi’s decades-long painting and video practice serves as a document of the psychological and social effects of the ongoing conflicts in Kashmir and India.

Speaking about the series Relics From Lost Paradise (2017), the artist states:

Relics from Lost Paradise is an expression of the situation in Kashmir, which happens to be my homeland. I perceive my position in this war-like situation as an outsider-insider, where the personal becomes political to condemn the human loss be it soldier or civilian. It made me often think, why war? Followed by the questions: ‘What is war?’ ‘What causes war?’ ‘What is the relationship between human nature and war?’ ‘Can war ever be morally justifiable?’ The answers lead to more specific ethical and political questions.

The philosophy of war is complex. The subject matter lends itself to metaphysical and epistemological considerations, to the philosophy of mind and of human nature. The bones in the casket here belong to both victims and victimizers for reasons indifferent to their ideologies. They are decorated in papier mache by Kashmiri craftsmen as a tribute if declared a martyr, or for peace or to retain their rich heritage of craft and belonging.

Installation view at "Dissensus" at Latitude 28 Gallery, New Delhi, 2017. Image courtesy Latitude 28.

“Dissensus”, 7 – 16 July 2017, Latitude 28 Gallery, New Delhi. Image courtesy Latitude 28.

Waseem Ahmed, Untitled, 2016, 10 x 13 inches, Pigment colour on archival wasli paper. Image courtesy the artist.

Waseem Ahmed, ‘Untitled’, 2016, pigment colour on archival wasli paper, 10 x 13 in. Image courtesy the artist.

6. Waseem Ahmed

Like other artists in the exhibition, Waseem Ahmed (b. 1976, Hyderabad, Pakistan) is a distinguished miniaturist painter, trained at the National College of Arts Lahore in Pakistan. He is known for mixing visual references to ancient myth and popular culture tropes. His use and deconstruction of the Mughal tradition allows him to use traditional aesthetic means to exercise jarring cultural commentary and critique.

Speaking about his untitled work in the exhibition, the artist states:

My work is based on current social and political issues and the incidents in my surroundings where religion is the base of every conflict. I depict these harsh realities using images from the past to show how only names have changed and stories of war and conflicts remain the same.

My inspiration mostly comes from common people I interact with on a daily basis such as shopkeepers, milkmen, electricians, and the imam of the mosque near my house where I pray and their views regarding society and politics. I observe how these people change with changing (social, religious and political) times and create a common ground between their opinions and the ideas of intellectuals.

Rebecca Close


Related Topics: Afghan artistsIndian artists, Nepali artists, Pakistani artists, historical art, gallery shows

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“Imaginarium”: 9 artists explore new ways of seeing and experiencing the world at SAM

Held as part of its family-focused programme, the Singapore Art Museum supports the life-changing capacities of art.

Art Radar speaks with Co-curator Andrea Fam and examines some of the highlights of the exhibition “Imaginarium”.

Children checking out the 'Floating Mountain'. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Children checking out the ‘Floating Mountain’. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

From 6 May to 27 August 2017 the Singapore Art Museum holds the exhibition “Imaginarium: To the Ends of the Earth” as part of the seventh edition of their family-focused programme. The exhibition focuses on the evolving, ever changing environment around us, considering how humans are more connected than ever and yet take the earth’s resources for granted.

The show involves site-specific adaptations and specially commissioned artworks from nine artists from the region, extending across South, Southeast and East Asia. Several of the works are interactive, encouraging visitors to delve further into the themes of the exhibition.

Child at 'Lizard Tail' installation. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Child at ‘Lizard Tail’ installation. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Recognising the importance of education

Interactivity, as well as special activities such as short films and immersive storytelling sessions, are aimed at increasing engagement from young audiences. As Co-curator Andrea Fam observes about the importance of engaging with these young audiences,

Coming to museums and visiting exhibitions from a young age would signal a generation of future art-appreciators. But more than that, it could signal a society more in touch with the world at large.

Art Radar had a chat with Andrea Fam about the role of education in the art context.

Why is it important to have education programmes in the museum context and what role does art play in education?

Education programmes, within the framework of museums and museum exhibitions, present visitors with different entry points into understanding contemporary issues and appreciating culture through art.

The programmes and education team at Singapore Art Museum create content to supplement and facilitate the understanding of the concepts behind the exhibitions and/or contemporary artworks. One such example of content creation can be seen in this year’s Imaginarium Ranger’s Handbook. With activities tied to every artwork in the exhibition, this handbook acts as an extension to the exhibition and encourages visitors to continue to think about the works on display even after their museum visit.

Parent and child at the 'Lizard Tail' activity corner. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Parent and child at the ‘Lizard Tail’ activity corner. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Art plays a critical role in education by introducing to audiences a variety of themes through an array of mediums.

For Singapore Art Museum’s annual family-friendly “Imaginarium” exhibition, we curate contemporary artworks around ‘big ideas’, such as the ocean in 2016 with “Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea” and our relationships with ever-changing environments this year, with “Imaginarium: To the Ends of the Earth”. In these exhibitions, visitors find themselves immersed in tactile and interactive artworks that present alternative ways of thinking about the ocean around us or the land on which we tread.

Through these interactive exhibits, hands-on workshops and accompanying educational programmes, children take ownership of their learning process as they grow and explore their curiosities. Art plays an important role in opening people’s minds to different ideas and perspectives that could be relevant to their lives. This helps to lay the foundation for higher critical and creative thinking skills, which are integral to their individual and collective growth.

Hiromi Tango. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Hiromi Tango. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Could you explain a bit about the Children’s Season, how it came about and why it is an important initiative especially in Singapore?

Over the years, the National Heritage Board (NHB) has been working with different organisations and partners to put in place several initiatives to make the museums and heritage spaces more accessible, and inclusive, to all visitors. Coupled with the launch of the Children’s Biennale this year, there are increasingly more art programmes that are aimed at a young audience. “Imaginarium” is SAM’s annual family-focused exhibition, which overlaps with NHB’s Children Season. The exhibition invites explorers of all ages to take a closer look at our surroundings and the environments we reside in through immersive, tactile and interactive artworks. Often featuring site-specific adaptations and specially commissioned artworks, “Imginarium” invites visitors to explore the world through the eyes of contemporary artists.

Why is it important to get audiences engaged with museum exhibitions from an early age?

We believe that by engaging with the arts from a young age, we give minds (both young and mature) the opportunity to unearth different ways of seeing, feeling, doing and knowing.

Laotian artist Bounpaul Phothyzan’s Lie of the Land, currently on show in “Imaginarium”, is the perfect example of how art can be used as a vehicle to present more complex notions of geography, history, contestation and the human spirit. Lie of the Land features the shells of two decommissioned bombs that have been converted into planters. The work presented the artist with the opportunity to highlight how Laos is the most heavily-bombed country in the world simply due to its geographical location yet in the face of adversity, the human condition finds a way to not just heal but to grow.

Nine highlights from “Imaginarium”

The nine artists in the exhibition each view changing environments from a number of perspectives. Here Art Radar highlights the works on display at “Imaginarium”.

1. Bounpaul Phothyzan

Laotian artist Bounpaul Phothyzan (b. 1979) trained in painting, but his practice has since evolved to include land art, performance and installation art. Issues of environmental degradation run through his work. In an interview with ArtAsiaPacific, he explains:

People claim to be cutting down trees to sustain their livelihood, but it is not necessarily the case anymore. It has become an excuse for their commercial agendas… In the case of Laos, if one province is cutting and burning trees, it will also affect neighboring countries. Our actions are not just limited to ourselves, but will affect others.

Bounpaul Phothyzan, Lie of the Land, 2017. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Bounpaul Phothyzan, ‘Lie of the Land’, 2017. Image courtesy the artist and Singapore Art Museum.

In this exhibition, Phothyzan shows the work Lie of the Land (2017), in which metal bombshells have been repurposed as planters filled with flowers and shrubs. The piece questions Laos’ history as one of the most bombed countries and at the same time, recognises the resilience of humans and their environment.

2. Hiromi Tango

Hiromi Tango (b. 1976) is a Japanese-Australian sculptor, photographer, installation and performance artist. Recently her interests lie in investigating neuroscientific concepts through art, with the aim of creating a space for increased healing and well-being.

Hiromi Tango, 'Lizard Tail', 2016, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf.

Hiromi Tango, ‘Lizard Tail’, 2016, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf.

In the piece Lizard Tail (2016), Tango creates a colourful and interactive soft-sculpture environment. The work explores concepts of adaptation, taking as a starting point many lizards’ ability to shed their tail when in danger. This process of regrowth demonstrates a spirit of hope and healing in the face of challenges.

3. Calvin Pang

Singaporean artist Calvin Pang (b. 1986) has a 3D art practice, as well as documenting his practice through photographs, drawings and words. He explores the ordinary in everyday life, ranging from individual experiences to encounters with others.

Calvin Pang, 'Where Am I' (detail), 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

Calvin Pang, ‘Where Am I’ (detail), 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

The recent work Where Am I (2017) investigates the fast pace of the modern world and the overwhelming amount of information to which people are exposed. The whimsical piece displays colourful mushrooms, observing that magic can be found in unexpected places. Through close observation, Pang urges the viewer to slow down and become more aware of and curious about the world around us.

4. Nandita Mukand

Indian-born and Singapore-based Nandita Mukand (b. 1975) examines themes of connection and spirituality through an attention to nature and materiality within her practice. She often looks at the relationship between city dwellers and the natural world, questioning how urban life impacts the way people see the world.

Nandita Mukand, 'The Unborn', 2017. Image courtesy of Pragya Bhargava.

Nandita Mukand, ‘The Unborn’, 2017. Image courtesy of Pragya Bhargava.

The Origin: The Tree and Me (2017) is a site-specific installation inspired by trees along Singapore’s East Coast Park, where the trees carry stories of generations. The other work, The Unborn (2017), was inspired by plants at the other end of the spectrum, and is made up of 25,000 seeds and pods she gathered in Spain. The seeds tell the story of hope for a future and the potential for new life.

5. Eko Nugroho

Eko Nugroho is as well-known Indonesian artist with a background in street art and comics. His practice draws upon community connections and humour in order to comment on the political and social context in Indonesia. His creative works incorporate aspects of paintings, murals, installations, sculptures and embroidery.

Eko Nugroho, 'My Wonderful Dream' (detail), 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

Eko Nugroho, ‘My Wonderful Dream’ (detail), 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

My Wonderful Dream (2017) is a fantasy land without borders, in which the similarities between people are highlighted. The piece, which incorporates strange floating characters and diverse islands and continents, contrasts the complexity of humanity with the desire for peace and tolerance and asks if it is really possible to achieve a harmonious world.

6. Mary Bernadette Lee

Singaporean artist Mary Bernadette Lee (b. 1985) is an illustrator who works with children and underprivileged communities in Singapore. She investigates the relationship between the physiological and the psychological, centering on “the visceral qualities of emotional complexities and spontaneous individual autonomy in art-making”.

Mary Bernadette Lee, 'Wanderland' (installation), 2017. Image courtesy of the artist and Singapore Art Museum.

Mary Bernadette Lee, ‘Wanderland’ (installation), 2017. Image courtesy of the artist and Singapore Art Museum.

The artwork Wanderland (2017) 
is a composition of objects that create an interactive and immersive environment. It evokes a tropical rainforest or park environment, bringing forth rich imaginings of experiences that have had a lasting impact.

7. Nipan Oranniwesna

Thai artist Nipan Oranniwesna (b. 1962) develops mixed media works that are influenced by social memory and history. With a background in printmaking, his works have been exhibited at many international exhibitions including the Venice Biennale (2007), the Busan Biennale (2008) and the Singapore Biennale (2013).

Nipan Oranniwesna, 'Another Island', 2017. Image courtesy of the artist and Singapore Art Museum.

Nipan Oranniwesna, ‘Another Island’, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist and Singapore Art Museum.

Another Island (2017) 
is made up of 598 photographs of Singapore embedded in the floor as small bubbles. These small sites are almost too small to notice from a distance and as such, they invite the viewer to come in close to see the details of the urban landscapes. The change in perspective invites questions about what changes and what is recognisable in a city environment.

8. UuDam Tran Nguyen

Vietnamese artist UuDam Tran Nguyen (b. 1971) works across choreographed performance video, sculpture, drawing, drone painting and installation, incorporating his transnational experiences in his creative practice. Specifically, he draws on issues such as crowdsourcing as well as regional conflicts and their impacts.

Uudam Tran Nguyen, 'LICENSE 2 DRAW', 2014 - 2017. Image courtesy of Phan Huy Long.

Uudam Tran Nguyen, ‘LICENSE 2 DRAW’, 2014 – 2017. Image courtesy of Phan Huy Long.

LICENSE 2 DRAW (2014 – 2017) investigates the ways in which the internet rapidly connects people around the world. The robot drawing machine is operated via a downloadable app and can be activated from anywhere in the world. The work muses on how we connect, communicate, interact and negotiate, but also on what responsibilities come with this increased connection.

10. Unchalee Anantawat

Thai artist Unchalee Anantawat (b. 1982) is an illustrator and animator who produces mystical creatures in a child-like or naïve art aesthetic. Her practice crosses borders, and she explains that

For me, it doesn’t really matter whether my work represents ‘Thai-ness’ or any particular traditions, so long as it conveys my ideas. It may be a bit of a cliché, but I consider myself to be a citizen of the world, so I don’t see any great need to show my own culture in my work.

Unchalee Anantawat, 'Floating Mountain', 2013, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist and Singapore Art Museum.

Unchalee Anantawat, ‘Floating Mountain’, 2013, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist and Singapore Art Museum.

Floating Mountain (2013, 2017) 
is inspired by dream-like landscapes of floating mountains and an azure blue sea. The work crosses between dreams and reality, finding similarities between the two and questioning if there could indeed be other worlds yet to discover.

Claire Wilson


Related topics: South Asian, Southeast Asian, Singapore, installation, painting, sculpture

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Which Asian artists get into European museums? A close look at Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid

Art Radar has a close look at the case of Madrid’s Museo Reina Sofía and its collection between 2000-2015.

Spain’s population has very few Asian residents or citizens. This is reflected in the limited presence of Asian art in the country’s major contemporary art museum’s programming. But are the museum’s curatorial and acquisitions choices too narrow?

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. View of the façade of Edificio Sabatini. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. View of the façade of Edificio Sabatini. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Asian art is in the top of the league of non-western art penetrating the global contemporary art market, according to the research paper “The marginal presence of non western artworks in the contemporary art market”. (Van Hest, Femke, “La présence marginale d’oeuvres non occidentales sur le marché de l’art contemporain”, Revue Proteus, No. 8, March 2015, pp. 39-55.) The study by Femke Van Hest concludes that, for the last 30 years, the flow of international art is primarily one-directional: it moves from the periphery to the centre. Western artists and galleries do not do well attempting to move in the opposite direction. In prestigious western galleries, art from Asia is closely followed by art from Latin America, and both these regions are way ahead of art from Eastern Europe, the Middle East or Sub-Saharan Africa. Art Radar looks at the data on a European museum to see what it shows us about their selection of Asian artists.

The Reina Sofía Museum, Spain’s National Museum dedicated to Modern and Contemporary Art has organised well over 300 temporary exhibitions this century alone. The museum in the capital city of Madrid devotes about two thirds of its programming to international art or artists, of which the majority are Euroamerican. Asian artists are among the least shown, and represent around 3 percent of the total programming.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. View of the façade of Edificio Sabatini. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. View of the façade of Edificio Sabatini. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

The overwhelming majority of the Asian artists chosen by the museum originate from East Asia, followed at a distance by artists from the Indian subcontinent and other regions of Asia. The weight shifts clearly to East Asia: figures show that around 50 percent of Asian artists exhibited are of Japanese origin and another 20 percent are from other oriental countries (Korea, China and Taiwan), followed with some distance by India, then by the Middle East, Southeast and Central Asia. However, the pattern for solo shows and for group shows is quite different. Indian artists received more of the solo shows, generally soon after the turn of the century, whereas Japanese artists appear more frequently in group shows.

In the Permanent Collection

Seven out of the less than thirty Asian artists whose work appeared in exhibitions between the years 2000 and 2015 have work in the Museum’s permanent collection: Shirin Neshat, Anish Kapoor, Yasumasa Morimura, Nam June Paik, Isamu Noguchi, Walid Raad and Yoko Ono. Subsequently to this period, two works by Danh Vo were added to the museum’s collection in 2016.

Danh Võ, "Banish the Faceless / Reward your Grace", 2015-2016, installation view at Palacio de Cristal, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Danh Võ, “Banish the Faceless / Reward your Grace”, 2015-2016, installation view at Palacio de Cristal, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

13 Solo exhibitions

Around a third of the temporary shows organised by the Reina Sofía Museum are devoted to a single artist. Between the years 2000 and 2015, out of nearly 200 solo exhibitions  – big retrospectives or small productions – very few were devoted to artists with Asian roots: Gao Xingjiang (China), Isamu Noguchi (Japan/US), Bhupen Khakhar (India), Atul Dodiya (India), Pierre Le Tan (France/Indochina), Kimsooja (Korea), Kiwon Park (Korea), Chen Chieh-Jen (Taiwan), Alia Syed (UK/India), Walid Raad (Lebanon), Yayoi Kusama (Japan), Danh Vo (Vietnam/Denmark) and Nasreen Mohamedi (India).

It should be noted that the exhibitions by Kimsooja and Danh Vo did not take place in the main museum building, but in Palacio de Cristal, a satellite space in Madrid’s Retiro park. This airy and luminous structure is often preferred by artists working with installation art, though exhibitions in this venue are said to receive less exposure in the media than the more central Reina Sofía Museum.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. View of Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace). Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. View of Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace). Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

It is striking how many of the listed artists have strong links to the West. There are bi-national artists such as Isamu Noguchi, described by the museum as Japanese-American. And Yayoi Kusama is far from being the only artist who developed a good part of her career in the western world. They also tend to be living artists. Showing artists who are alive at the time of organising the exhibitions is a requirement for any contemporary art museum, but it does contrast with the more frequent – and popular – exhibitions of consecrated 20th century artists such as Picasso, Tàpies or Dalí, who get a lot more exposure in this particular museum, and thus have their importance continuously reinforced, as well as serving to situate Western art in a historical lineage. When the only Asian art exhibited is devoid of an artistic background known to the viewer, the public will have difficulty appreciating the full context of the artworks.

Mitsuo Miura, "Imagined Memories", 2013, installation view at Palacio de Cristal, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Mitsuo Miura, “Imagined Memories”, 2013, installation view at Palacio de Cristal, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Group shows

The Reina Sofía Museum exhibited circa 75 group shows from the turn of the century to 2015, and these contained the work of around 4000 artists. Some exhibitions are curated around a specific art movement or period, and several put a geographical region at the core. None of these types of exhibitions had a specific Asian focus, whereas Latin America was very well represented in thematic concepts.

Only 9 of the 75 group exhibitions include work by Asian artists. There are 17 artists, photographers and a literary translator (Shigemaru Shimoyama): Tadaaki Kuwayama (JP), Isamu Noguchi (JP-US), Rakuko Naito (JP), Kiyoto Ota (JP-MX), Anish Kapoor (IN-UK), Yasumasa Morimura (JP), Shirin Neshat (Iran), Keiji Kawashima (JP), Tsai Wen-Ying / Wen-Ying Tsai (China), Nam June Paik (Korea), Yoko Ono (JP), Yayoi Kusama (JP), Vyacheslav Akhunov (Kyrgyzstan), On Kawara (JP), Walid Raad (Lebanon), Tiroux Yamanaka (JP) and Masato Nakagawa (JP). At a push, we could also include Kioshi Takahashi (JP), whose work supplements a solo show devoted to Mathias Goeritz.

Over half are of these artists are Japanese origin. This pattern, as mentioned above, also happens in solo shows.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. View of the patio of Edificio Nouvel. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. View of the central patio of Edificio Nouvel. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

The preference for artists from East Asia

The more visible position that the Reina Sofía Museum has given to Japanese artists may stem from the longstanding Japanese influence in Western artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Spain at that time there were more private Oriental art collections than there are today. Unfortunately, a considerable number of private collections of Chinese and Japanese pieces were lost or sold over the 20th century, mostly due to the Spanish Civil War or ensuing financial difficulties.

In the present times, Japan has a privileged position in western regions according to a recent sociological study by Alain Quemin. He looks at the international art market to challenge the globality and diversity of art it trades. The findings in his paper “The unequal distribution across nations of success in contemporary art based on the most prized artists in the world” (Quemin, “L’inégale distribution du succès en art contemporain entre les nations à partir des palmarès des «plus grands» artistes dans le monde”, Revue Proteus, N. 8, March 2015, pp. 24-38.) show that artists from so-called peripheral regions outside the United States or Europe, achieve more success if they live in a western city. In particular, he finds that Japanese artists who have lived in the US do significantly better in international gallery trade. The success of Japan seems to correlate with the high number of artists originally from Japan who have been selected to show in Madrid’s well-known art centre, and they are artists that had already achieved some recognition in the United States.

Nasreen Mohamedi, "Waiting is a Part of Intense Living", 2015-2016, installation view at Edificio Sabatini, Museo Nacional Centro de Art Reina Sofía, Madrid. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Nasreen Mohamedi, “Waiting is a Part of Intense Living”, 2015-2016, installation view at Edificio Sabatini, Museo Nacional Centro de Art Reina Sofía, Madrid. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Not just the pull of the Western market

There is no shortage of critics who believe that the market price of an artwork is more important for an artist’s career than aesthetic or ideological affinity with western culture. Yet the market cannot be the main selection criteria for a public museum. Art galleries are much more able to take risks than museums, especially than large, public museums, which tend to work with artists that are mid-career or have received some internationally recognised award or attention. Given that one of the most important roles of museums is to broaden understanding, the museum has to carefully consider what is shown and how it is shown, in terms of display and of additional information.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. View of Collection 3. From Revolt to Postmodernity (1962-1982) display on floor 1 of Edificio Nouvel. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. View of Collection 3. From Revolt to Postmodernity (1962-1982) display on floor 1 of Edificio Nouvel. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Cultural affinity

It is easy to see why the Reina Sofía Museum’s collection of over 20,000 artworks includes a piece by the conceptual photographer Yasumasa Morimura. Because of Morimura’s frequent references to great names in Western art (Van Gogh, Velázquez, etc.), his queer masquerades are easily inserted into western contemporary art discourses.

In the case of the artists in the temporary exhibitions analysed, the only case where the tide runs in the opposite direction is that of Tiroux Yamanaka (the chosen pseudonym of Yamanaka Chiryu), a poet who, without leaving Japan, discovered Surrealism whilst working for NHK, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation. He contacted French artists and brought Surrealist art to Japan, organising exhibitions and launching publications. Again, there is an evident link here that does not displace the hegemonic position of Western art.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. View of Collection 1. The Irruption of the 20th Century: Utopias and Conflicts (1900-1945) display in Edificio Sabatini. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. View of Collection 1. The Irruption of the 20th Century: Utopias and Conflicts (1900-1945) display in Edificio Sabatini. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Of the few Chinese names, the choice of Tsai Wen-Ying (1928-2013) is no surprise. Tsai was a pioneer of cybernetic sculpture, and one of the first Chinese artists to receive early international recognition. Brazilian philosopher Vilem Flusser, in his analysis of Tsai’s work, sees the influence of both western and eastern traditions.

Perhaps it is only when the Spanish museum’s research looks in the direction of Central Asia that an artist with few ties to the western art world surfaces: Vyacheslav Akhunov. Curator Georges Didi-Huberman, commissioned by the Reina Sofía Museum in 2010, picked the Uzbekistan resident to participate in the large show “Atlas”. Akhunov was known during the Soviet era as the ‘official anti-official artist’, due to his work that commented on cultural superiority, the precise concept that the museum’s current director Manuel Borja-Villel claims to challenge as he moves away from traditional and canonical art historical models of exhibiting. Nonetheless, the Asian artists whose work has been selected by the museum are by and large already known in the west. In the museum’s group shows, because of their country of residence or due to the Western galleries that represent them, all Asian artists have some connection to the United States or Europe, or, in two instances, with Mexico.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. View of Collection 3. From Revolt to Postmodernity (1962-1982) display on floor 1 of Edificio Nouvel. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. View of Collection 3. From Revolt to Postmodernity (1962-1982) display on floor 1 of Edificio Nouvel. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Different from the West

The national or professional relationship with the Western world by the Asian artists in the museum is a bond that prevents multicultural frictions. Cultural idiosincrasies can cut both ways, working as a levelling point of contact that is shared across frontiers, or becoming a saleable difference that is exotic or unusual. Examining the website texts and leaflets published by the museum, we find that almost invariably some reference is made to cultural differences. These function as a selling point, an original characteristic that is attractive for marketing purposes.

For example, Pierre Le Tan’s solo show in 2004 was described as pioneering (the first solo show of his work in Europe), and highlights his importance in relation to international media (Le Tan’s illustrations have appeared frequently in the The New Yorker, for example). The museum text, rather strangely, also associates Le Tan’s work with Britain’s Arts & Crafts movement. Despite these western references, Pierre Le Tan’s Asian heritage is not left out, although it takes a secondary place in the leaflet. Le Tan’s perspective is described as contemporary and cosmopolitan, and filtered by a refined Asian culture. Similar cultural oppositions lace the museum leaflets for other Asian artists, such as Kiwon Park, who gains importance for having participated in the 2005 Venice Biennale, and whose “concept of space is naturally rooted in oriental thinking”.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. View of Palacio de Velázquez. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. View of Palacio de Velázquez. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

Cultural and ‘identity reductionism’ results from exhibiting art in a limited way that flattens out complexities, and makes room for concepts such as ‘identity art’. Of course working around the multifaceted aspects inherent to art and making it accessible to a wide audience is a problematic task. With so few museums and galleries in Spain devoted to Asian art, it is hard for the general public to have direct contact with the cultural production of this vast continent. Fortunately, some educational and cultural initiatives have appeared more recently in Spain, such as Casa Asia, an Asian cultural centre created in 2001 to offer exhibitions and activities in Madrid and Barcelona, or Casa India, which opened in the city of Valladolid in 2003.

Due to Spain’s demographics, Madrid’s Reina Sofía Museum does not see Asia as a region on its priority list. The venue is not so much placing a bamboo ceiling above Asian artists as selecting the most accessible artworks for the primary target publics. On the other hand, it is organising more exhibitions of art from Latin America than almost any other contemporary art museum in Europe. This does not remedy the reduced opportunities for people in Spain to get acquainted with Asian art first hand, but, on a positive note, it does encourage plural viewpoints. Giving access to art from distant parts of the world can only help to raise an interest in the multitude of world cultures.

Cristina Nualart


Related Topics: Asia expands, Asian art, museums, museum shows, Madrid

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