Part one of Art Radar‘s 2012 trends series focused on changes in where and how art is sold, while part two highlighted the shifting role of gallerists. In this third instalment, we look at trends that, while tangential to the contemporary art world, will have vital influence.

Chilai Howard Cheng, 'Doors', 2008, video; part of the "This is Hong Kong" exhibition.


Other posts in this four-part series

Part 1: read part one here.

Part 2: read part two here.

Part 3: read part three here.

Part 4: read part four here.


Art and urbanity

Particularly since the industrial revolution, the world’s urban centres have provided a backdrop for culture and the arts, supplying inspiration and perhaps more importantly, patronage to artists. So it is no surprise that large cities are where Asia’s most important art districts are born, be it Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, Singapore’s impending Gillman Barracks or the cluster of art studios in the Hong Kong suburb of Fo Tan.

Rapid urbanisation in Asia

Urban growth shows no sign of slowing. The year 2011 was a milestone for population statistics: the world’s inhabitants reached seven billion and, for the first time in history, urban residents became the majority. China is perhaps the best example of this phenomenon, with over half of its citizens now living in cities. And what is especially remarkable is the rate at which this has happened: as recently as 1982, 80 percent of people in China lived in the countryside. And let us not forget the unprecedentedly large megacities popping up all over Asia, whose grandiose expanses will increasingly define the lives of those who dwell in the region.

Urban themes apparent in Asian art

Local artists are already responding to these new living situations, with urban themes becoming more prevalent in Asian art. In 2008, the London exhibition “Down Town Production” brought together eight young Chinese artists whose styles reflected the metropolitan shifts in mainland society. “This is Hong Kong”, a group show of fifteen video artists, illuminated the unique cultural position of the city and how this identity defines the lives of its residents. The personal relationship between artist and environment can produce artwork that is all the more immediate and powerful. In 2010, Religare Arts Initiative invited a mix of local and international artists to reflect on New Delhi’s construction frenzy in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games. The result was an acute and nuanced criticism of contemporary urbanisation in Asia.

Part of a mural from the 2011 Jakarta leg of the Kosmopolite Art Tour. Image courtesy of Kosmopolite Art Tour.

Urban environments become the canvas

Many artists now use the physical cityscape as their canvas. The diverse array of styles and techniques collectively known as street art is now widely considered a legitimate, though still controversial and occasionally illegal, art form. In 2010, we interviewed Jasper Wong, co-owner of the pioneering Above Second art space, to find out more about Hong Kong’s small but promising street art scene. The travelling graffitists of the Kosmopolite Art Tour made Indonesia’s Jakarta their first Asian stop, where they collaborated with local bombers and discussed potentially heading to other cities in the region. China has also seen a rise in the number of graffiti artists practicing in the country. Chongqing, Sichuan, is currently host to what is possibly the longest “graffiti wall” in the world, while French street artist JR used the style as a platform to highlight a social history embodied by Shanghai’s elderly residents.

More schools, media outlets for Asia’s art scene

Art schools improve cultural landscape

Since the 2000s, a myriad of new art schools have cropped up around Asia. For sheer number, China is the champion, though the victory is tempered somewhat by the fact that much of the country’s current infrastructure, art or otherwise, can be considered new. Colleges are, of course, popping up in other countries. To name a few, the Iranian Academy of the Arts, Iran’s first and only art academy, was opened in 2000, while the Hong Kong Baptist University launched its visual arts bachelor’s degree in 2005.

Perhaps a more important development is that many millennial art programs are being established with a contemporary, international perspective at their core. At the India Art Summit in 2011, co-sponsor Rajshree Pathy sparked interest in her new school, the Coimbatore College of Contemporary Art (COCCA). Tentatively slated to open in 2012, COCCA may become an entrenched and fertile establishment in India’s notoriously barren institutional art landscape.

Western institutions take root in Asia

In 2011, the historical China Academy of Art rebranded its new media department as the School of Intermedia Art, hoping to drive the future of contemporary art through dynamic and innovative pedagogy. Art institutions from outside Asia are also moving into the region. In 2011, the Savannah College of Art and Design opened a campus in Hong Kong, joining Australia’s RMIT University, which has partnered with the Hong Kong Art School since 1998.

The North Kowloon Magistracy, now home to the Savannah College of Art and Design's Hong Kong campus, before and after renovation.

Competition increases for Asian art media

Art magazines have mushroomed even more rapidly over the past decade. Some notable newcomers to Asian art journalism include Australia’s Artist Profile (2007), Contemporary Art Phillipines (2008) , Hong Kong’s RAW Magazine (2011) and, of course, our indisputable favourite, Art Radar, which made its debut in 2008.

Why there should be such a massive uptick in magazines in such a short period of time is unclear. Many of the periodicals are passion projects, founded by individuals or organisations that are dedicated to a contemporary art scene that they feel lacks a definitive voice, be it academic or journalistic. In 2010, we interviewed Katherine Don, co-founder of the blog RedBox Review, who stated that she was seeking a platform through which to disseminate knowledge gleaned from her time as an art consultant in China. Art Radar’s Founder and Executive Editor, Kate Cary Evans, was similarly motivated by an impulse to gather together resources on contemporary Asian art and a desire to make this information accessible to all those interested in the field.

Katherine Don, co-founder of Redbox Studio and 'RedBox Review'.

Lack of substantive art criticism a driver?

Other publications may have been founded to bolster the anemic world of Asian art criticism. Substantive and informed critique is something which has undeniably lagged behind the breakneck development that the Asian art market has undergone in recent years, causing many of the region’s art professionals to conclude that an established, stable contemporary art world may be a long time coming. This phenomenon is most evident in China, where greed and a breakdown of unspoken protocol have left critical integrity in shambles. In an effort to counter this situation, some prominent collectors have established prizes for Chinese contemporary art criticism, such as Hallam Chow’s Central Academy of Fine Art’s Young Critic’s Award and Uli Sigg’s Chinese Contemporary Art Awards.

Masthead for 'Jing Daily'.

Luxury lifestyle publications embrace contemporary art

Included in this recent wave of art media are magazines and newspapers, online and in print, that focus on the coverage of luxury lifestyles. These publications target Asia’s nouveau riche and tend to include the contemporary art as a beat that sits alongside those focused on high-end fashion, design and culture. Notable examples include Dubai’s Quint Magazine, China’s AERIS magazine and Jing Daily, and Singapore-based Surface Asia, a sibling of New York’s Surface. These periodicals are an organic response to the growing wealth of many Asian countries, which in all likelihood also drives many of the periodicals above to some degree.


Other posts in this four-part series

Part 1: read part one here.

Part 2: read part two here.

Part 3: read part three here.

Part 4: read part four here.


How do you think these trends will play out in the coming decade? What role will urbanisation play in the creation and dissemination of art in Asia? How do you see the art education and media landscapes developing? Leave us a comment with your thoughts.


Related Topics: art schools, graffiti, urban art, Asia expands

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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