Will non-representational art begin to play a larger role in the Asian contemporary art world?

Several exhibitions of Asian abstract art have been popping up in recent years in countries across the Asian region. Many curators are re-examining the emergence and development of Asian abstraction and considering the role it could play in the future of the Asian art world.

Yan Binghui, 'Square and Round, In and Out', 1992, ink on xuan paper. Part of the "MINDMAPS" exhibition at Pearl Lam Gallery in Hong Kong.

Yan Binghui, 'Square and Round, In and Out', 1992, ink on xuan paper. Part of the "MINDMAPS" exhibition at Pearl Lam Gallery in Hong Kong.

A “rise of global interest”?

Taipei is not the only city in Asia to host a high-profile exhibition of greater Chinese abstract art this year. On 16 May 2012, Pearl Lam Galleries opened their new Hong Kong space with the exhibition “Chinese Contemporary Abstract, 1980s Until Present: MINDMAP“, featuring seven mainland Chinese artists.

The exhibition aimed to expose Western viewers to a different aspect of contemporary Chinese art, with a focus tending towards political or figurative artworks. According to the press release, the exhibition comes amidst “a recent rise of global interest in abstraction and new market interest in Chinese abstract artists”.

Does the show reveal a potential for contemporary abstraction to become more of a presence in the Asian art world?

Toko Shinoda, 'Aspirations', 1999, lithograph with hand-applied gold. Part of the Nikei Fine Arts exhibition "Kaomise".

Toko Shinoda, 'Aspirations', 1999, lithograph with hand-applied gold. Part of the Nikei Fine Arts exhibition "Kaomise".

The trend seems not to be limited to Chinese abstraction. To open their new Singapore art space, Japanese gallery Nikei Fine Art organised the exhibition “Kaomise”, which will run until 4 November 2012. The exhibition brings together fifteen artists from Japan and other parts of Asia: China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Included in the show is vanguard Japanese artist Toko Shinoda, the 99-year-old painter whose practice brings together the visual languages of calligraphy and modern abstract expressionism.

Asian abstraction’s roots 

Philosophy, tradition

Many of those involved in Asian abstract art are working to trace a native historical legacy. For China, gallerist Pearl Lam has been on the forefront of this movement. As she said in a “MINDMAP” press release,

Chinese contemporary art is all about re-inventing tradition. I’m hoping that this show will make the Western world look at Chinese abstract art in a new way. We were pouring ink more than 2,000 years ago, way before Jackson Pollock.

Zhu Jinshi, 'Who Will Speak of Chibi', 2009, oil on canvas.

Zhu Jinshi, 'Who Will Speak of Chibi', 2009, oil on canvas.

Lam brought on Chinese curator Gao Minglu to curate her May 2012 Hong Kong opening exhibition. Gao, who previously worked with Lam’s Contrasts Gallery in Shanghai, uses the term ‘Maximalism’ to describe a particular style of Chinese abstract painting in which the act of creation of a work is itself a component of its aesthetics. According to Gao, this mode of practice has roots in both Eastern philosophy, such as Taoism, and classical Chinese literati painting.

Asian Modernism: A hidden legacy

China’s history of Modern and contemporary abstract art was interrupted by the Communist Revolution and its subsequent denunciation of abstraction as a form of Western decadence. In other Asian countries, however, exhibitions are currently being held that re-examine the emergence and development of abstract art via the first generations of artists. At Korean Gallery Hyundai‘s Gangnam branch, a retrospective of the first generation Korean abstract artist Han Mook is currently on show.

Mook Han, 'Reunion', 1993, oil on canvas. Part of Han's upcoming retrospective at Gallery Hyundai in Gangnam, South Korea.

Mook Han, 'Reunion', 1993, oil on canvas. Part of Han's upcoming retrospective at Gallery Hyundai in Gangnam, South Korea.

Similarly, the National Art Center (NAC), Tokyo opened the exhibition “Gutai: The Spirit of an Era“, which ran from 4 July to 10 September 2012. The show consisted of works by the avant-garde art collective Gutai group, who were strongly influenced by Western abstract expressionism and action painting among other movements.

While at the time the group was largely ignored in Japan and dismissed in the West as derivative, the NAC exhibition aims to reevaluate the group’s historical and aesthetic importance. The Guggenheim Museum in New York is also organising an exhibition of the group’s work entitled “Gutai: Splendid Playground“. The show will debut in February 2013 and is the first exhibition of the collective’s work in the US.

Quiet rise of Asian abstraction?

Osage Gallery in Hong Kong took a different perspective on Asian abstract art in their 2010 exhibition “The Burden of Representation: Abstraction in Asia Today“. According to the introduction to the exhibition, the show looked at how abstract art in Asia exists “in a context dominated by figurative and realist modes of painting”. The curators examined how Asian artists are rethinking abstract art’s relationship to representation and how they explore its social and political potentials, with an eye towards the role abstraction may play in the Asian art world in the future.

Do you know of any recent seminal exhibitions of contemporary Asian abstract art? How do you see abstraction in Asia developing in the years to come? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

PR/KN

Related Topics: trends, museum shows, gallery shows

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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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