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Western eyes pivot to South East Asia

Sep 25. 2014
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In Bangkok, the Guggenheim's Asian art council surveys the regional scene

THE CULTURE MINISTRY and the US-based Guggenheim Museum are hosting a symposium on Southeast Asian art at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre this week, with dozens of museum directors, curators, art critics and scholars pooling ideas through Sunday.

Alexandra Munroe, the Guggenheim’s Samsung senior curator of Asian art, and Culture Ministry Permanent Secretary Apinan Poshyananda have together convened the first Asian Art Council meeting to be held in Southeast Asia.

Tonight at 6.30, Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation and Museum, will talk about “Asian Art and a Guggenheim Constellation”.

He will address the museum’s long history of engagement with Asia, highlighting its collection and current exhibitions, such as the UBS Map Global Art Initiative charting contemporary art “practice” in three major geographic regions and “No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia”, recently seen in Singapore.

“By creating an international community of thinkers and practitioners, the Asian Art Council promotes a curatorial mandate based on international exchange, critical conversation and cultural awareness,” says Munroe.

The Bangkok programme includes four round-table discussions focusing primarily on China and more specifically the Robert HN Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative at the Guggenheim. This is an effort to foster global appreciation of contemporary Chinese art through a series of commission-based exhibitions of “important” but lesser-known artists.

At the same time, participants will be examining ways to “diversify” global interest in Asian art by deflecting some of the attention away from China so that Southeast Asia rises in prominence.

These discussions are closed to the public, but transcripts will be published online through a portal to be announced.

Council members will meanwhile visit the Art and Culture Centre and Museum of Contemporary Art in Bangkok as well as the Bangkok Sculpture Centre and Jim Thompson House Museum and meet artists at various studios and galleries.

“With great delight and much anticipation, the Thai art scene awaits the arrival of the Guggenheim’s Asian Art Council in Bangkok,” Professor Dr Apinan said before the event opened this week. “This historic visit marks the reciprocal exchange between Thai art experts, artists, curators and scholars and the distinguished international members of the Guggenheim’s Asian Art Council. The four-day programme and the public lecture by Richard Armstrong promise to be inspirational, educational and thought-provoking.”

 The Asian Art Initiative, begun in 2006, is designed to “strengthen the museum’s curatorial and educational programming by exploring and presenting global perspectives on modern and contemporary art”.

Research-based exhibitions, educational courses and acquisitions for the permanent collection are all part of the plan. The Guggenheim Foundation has long looked overseas for new ideas and today has a network of museums and art-and-education programmes around the world.

The Asian Art Council, founded in 2007, is intended to be a forum for critique, debate and innovation around key issues in modern and contemporary Asian art and in transnational art studies. The council meets twice a year to advise the Asian Art Initiative regarding acquisitions, exhibitions and research strategies.

Many of this year’s participants are curators or directors of their countries’ leading contemporary-art museums. Others have prominent roles at acclaimed alternative-art centres and fine-arts academies. Council members also include distinguished critics and artists from Asia and Asian art historians teaching at US universities.

Members hail from Canada, China (and Hong Kong), India, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the US.

They include Hou Hanru of Maxxi in Rome, Gridthiya Gaweewong of the Jim Thompson House Museum, Mami Kataoka from Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum, Ute Meta Bauer of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University Centre for Contemporary Art, history professor Iftikhar Dadi of Cornell University, Okwui Enwezor from the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Qiu Zhijie of the China Art Academy in Hangzhou, and Enin Supriyanto, a curator in Jakarta.

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