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Makoto Aida, Harakiri School Girls (detail), 2006

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Contemporary Asian Art
October 18-31, 2006

As contemporary Asian art continues to enthrall the international art community, the art fairs and biennials of the region are stepping up to meet the growing interest. We cover the latest iterations of the Shanghai, Gwangju, and Taipei biennials, and interview Fumio Nanjo about his vision for the first biennial in Singapore. Starring in several fall events, Dinh Q. Lê is showing photographic collages and video work appropriating Hollywood's portrayals of the Vietnam War. Shigeru Ban contributes a pavilion to the Singapore exhibition, and a Phaidon monograph honors his experimental buildings. Tracking diasporic Asian artists, we review Fiona Tan's new video diptychs at London's Frith Street Gallery, and Terence Koh's latest exhibition of white chocolate mountains and mauled faces at Kunsthalle Zurich.

  Don't miss Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan, a celebration of the Japanese tradition of illustrated books. The New York Public Library features examples of ehon ranging from the eighth century to the present that rank among the glories of world art. On display Friday, October 20 to Sunday, February 4, 2007, at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Admission is FREE.

Libeskind's Denver Addition Opens
(Denver Post, October 5)
Architect Daniel Libeskind's addition to the Denver Art Museum threw open its doors recently, joining the original Gio Ponti North Building to make the Mile High City home to the largest museum between Kansas City and the West Coast. With taxpayer money footing the $62.5 million cost, the addition, officially named the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, is expected to draw more than one million visitors over the next year. While some have criticized the building's placement in the Denver skyline and others have taken Libeskind's interiors to task, hopes remain high that enthusiasm for the addition bodes well for the architect's forthcoming Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

Biennial Brings World to the O.C.
(Los Angeles Times, October 7)
With all of the recent interest in the booming LA art scene, the international scope of the latest California Biennial may come as a surprise. Of the 36 artists on view in the Orange County Museum of Art's current exhibition, only 12 are local, with 15 hailing from other states and nine from other countries. The curators claim that the show's eclectic offerings represent the state of contemporary art, where no geographic region or aesthetic movement dominates. As such, the survey includes work by the Norwegian/Yugoslavian video team Bull.Miletic, hand-drawn maps by the Philippines-born and New York-educated Lordy Rodriguez, and the pop-influenced paintings and sculptures of Taiwanese artist Pearl Hsuing.

Vuitton Plans Gehry Museum
(International Herald Tribune, October 2)
Bernard Arnault, France's wealthiest man and head of luxury goods company Louis Vuitton, recently announced plans for the construction of a Frank Gehry-designed translucent "cloud" of a contemporary art museum in Paris. With an estimated cost of $126 million, the 45,000 square-foot Foundation for Creation will be situated in the Bois de Boulogne park on the city's west side and is scheduled for completion by 2010. The museum's holdings will include works by Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Damien Hirst, and Jean Dubuffet. Gehry aficionados hope the starchitect will produce a building that will surpass his celebrated Guggenheim Bilbao.

Turning the Tate into a Playground
(Guardian, October 10)
German artist Carsten Höller has taken slides — the kind found on playgrounds — and turned them into art. Höller's installation of architectural plastic and stainless steel tubes, titled Test Site, has taken up residence in the Tate Modern, lending a visceral thrill to the usually composed confines of the museum's Turbine Hall. The tallest slide measures 184 feet high, replete with a rollercoaster-worthy 88-foot drop. Explaining the appeal of his new work in an interview, Höller said, "There is no reason why [slides] should be for children only." One adult, fashion queen Miuccia Prada, clearly tired of taking the company elevator, recently commissioned a slide from Höller that will transport her from her Milan office to the street below.

Zaha Hadid discusses her first UK building more »

A report from Paris' citywide art fest more »

Picking up museums' slack, 300 Chelsea galleries open for fall season more »

Assessing the Turner shortlisters more »

Dana Schutz returns to Cleveland for solo museum show more »

Düsseldorf gets high marks for inaugural quadriennial more »

Herzog & de Meuron take England's Royal Gold Medal more »

Crucifixion of Prince Andrew and Fergie in London sale more »

Art pulled from Whitechapel show for fear of upsetting Muslims more »

Artist calls for junk for Mass MoCA project more »

Ukrainian billionaire opens Kiev's first contemporary art center more »

Museums and festivals boost London's art market more »

I.M. Pei returns to his family's hometown as his new museum opens in China more »

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[ Autumn Asian Biennials ]


Yeondoo Jung / Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba / Miwa Yanagi / Osman Khan

With record-breaking auction sales and intense media attention, Chinese art has grown in the past year from "the next big thing" to an undeniable force. But what does this mean for Asian art in general? With five major biennials and a handful of art fairs opening in Asian cities this fall, it's time to take a look. Judging by three of them, the great China art hype is serving as a dynamic catalyst and magnet for provocative work throughout the region.

Although the Shanghai Biennale was once only a national event, this year's show features 93 artists from 23 countries, all reflecting the theme of Hyper Design with dramatic visuals and skewed perspectives on the ordinary. Chinese artists are still among the most exciting entrants, including Qiu Anxiong, who combines traditional ink painting with video animation, and Liu Jianhua, whose Yiwu Research Proposal illustrates China's surreal economic boom with a shipping container full of beeping plastic toys. Beyond the PRC, Taiwan's Tu Wei-cheng presents Finds from Bu Nam Civilization, which appears to be a straight, archaeological exhibit — except for the mobile phones in the stone pictographs. Pakistani new media artist Osman Khan's Sur La Table allows viewers to leave digital traces on a dinner table, while India's Tallur L.N. creates a human body with nylon innards inflated by a vacuum cleaner. South Korean Lee Kyung-ho displays an army of tiny, robotic bulldozers and projects live video feed of them at work, in another off-kilter view of something utterly mundane.

Although including international artists, the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea explicitly focuses on Asian art, particularly the creative tension arising between tradition and modernity. Korean-American sculptor Michael Joo surrounds a plaster Buddha with a halo of tiny video cameras, while local master Whang In-Kie reconstructs a classic Korean painting using 30,000 magnets. Also featured are Japanese artists Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, who deals with trauma and memory in hallucinogenic performances, and photographer Miwa Yanagi, who explores the inner lives of young women struggling with Japan's societal expectations.

Some of these concerns are also addressed in the Taipei Biennial, entitled Dirty Yoga for its interest in globalization, conflicting values, and liminal states. Thailand's Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, who also appears in Gwangju, reads prayers and performs rituals for the souls of women who died alone, while underground filmmaker Wu Chun-hui adapts Stan Brakhage for Taiwan's hidden queer heritage. Japan's Tanaka Koki records bizarre experiments, like turning tortilla chips into a pancake, and work by young Indonesian artist Eko Nugroho displays now-global graffiti and comic book sensibilities.

The rich diversity of artists and works appearing in these biennials may herald a new season for Asian art — in scope, attention, and support — with China's stratospheric ascent leading the way. (SC)

The Shanghai Biennale is on view until November 5 in Shanghai, China; the Gwangju Biennale continues through November 11 in Gwangju City, South Korea; and the Taipei Biennial will run from November 4 to February 25 in Taipei, Taiwan.

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Philip Brophy: Evaporated Music 2

Now through October 21

  Philip Brophy's video installation Evaporated Music 2: At the Mouth of Metal is a technical tour de force. Beginning with saccharine soft rock video clips, the artist removes the original music and substitutes a death metal soundtrack. Brophy's new, nonsensical "metal" lyrics perfectly match the lip sync of the original. The effect is creepily mesmerizing, suggesting that what we take for "style" is little more than an empty vessel. The subtitle reinforces this idea with a punning reference to John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness (1995), an homage to H. P. Lovecraft. Evaporated Music 2 continues the artist's long-standing fascination with disrupting musical genres. His three-screen installation Fluorescent, currently included in the Singapore Biennale, explores similar ground through glam rock. (AF)

Tara Donovan
St. Louis

Saint Louis Art Museum
Now through November 26

  Post-minimalist, post-consumer, and post-object, Tara Donovan's enormous installations of everyday items leap into the sublime. Donovan analyzes the physical properties of disposable, mass-produced objects such as toothpicks, fishing line, and paper plates to create accumulated structures resembling beehives, coral reefs, and other natural phenomena, often using gravity as her glue. At the Saint Louis Art Museum, she fills one room with intricately patterned honeycombs of plastic cups that form a dreamy, celestial terrain. The translucent cups fill the expanse of the gallery with stacked peaks and valleys, everything held together in a precarious, almost ecological balance. Another installation, Haze, transforms the architecture of a second gallery with thousands of plastic straws. (JK)

Fiona Tan: Short Voyages

Frith Street Gallery
Now through October 28

  Fiona Tan's tenderly flawed Short Voyages addresses childhood isolation and identity formation. Study for a Portrait presents two identical twins on separate screens, finally reuniting in the same diegetic space when they appear together at the video loop's end. Another media work, The Changeling, creates a dialogue between a still portrait of an anonymous Japanese schoolgirl and 200 classmates flashing one by one across a screen directly opposite, with actress Fiona Shaw's overtly thespian voice-over narrating the lonely girl's reflections. Three large-scale pictures of the remains of Brighton's West Pier taken from different distances dovetail nicely with another video exploring relations between past and present, A Lapse of Memory, currently included in the Brighton Photo Biennial. (AP)

The Brighton Photo Biennial continues through October 29.

Erwin Wurm: Home

Anne de Villepoix
Now through October 28

  Conceptual artist Erwin Wurm's latest series of sculptures questions social and physical behavior as well as the creative process. Home lends its title to the show and takes the form of a three-meter-long potato spud protruding precariously from the center of a pink wall. Two life-size figurative sculptures share the same title, The artist who swallowed the world, but express conflicting worldviews: in one, the artist's bulging belly is round, while in the other, the swallowed form is a flat disk. Elsewhere, material aspirations blend with fantasy in the flattened form of a slick Porsche, levitating in the gallery space like a UFO. Wurm tickles funny bones while poking at society's underbelly. (MS)

Terence Koh

Kunsthalle Zurich
Now through October 29

  In his former life as asianpunkboy, Terence Koh crafted explicit books and images of coquettish young boys. Sublimating his lust, the Chinese-Canadian now seduces with dramatic sculptures in black and white. This exhibition presents only white installations, including a powder-coated room housing a pair of birds, a two-faced cast of the artist's head, and two dripping towers of white chocolate inspired by the World Trade Center explosions and Niagara Falls. Reworking an earlier exhibition at Wiener Secession, Koh also fills a room with hundreds of stacked glass vitrines, each containing a broken object drowning in white paint. His restrained, monochromatic aesthetic projects formal purity while still venting obsessions with fragility, violence, and bodily decay. (BR)

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[ Dinh Q. Lê ]

Dinh Q. Lê

Weaving photographic tapestries and video narratives, Dinh Q. Lê probes the confluence of collective and individual memory as well as the transformation of his native Vietnam. Born in 1968 in the southern city of Ha Tien, Lê immigrated with his family to the US at the age of 11. He studied photography at the University of California at Santa Barbara and earned his MFA at the School of Visual Arts in 1992. In 1996, he moved back permanently to Vietnam, where he has remained in Ho Chi Minh City for the past decade.

Lê's woven photographic pieces, developed from his aunt's technique for making straw mats, often combine pictures from the Vietnam War with glamorous magazine imagery. Pieces from several pivotal series, including From Vietnam to Hollywood, Headless Buddha, and Persistence of Memory, are currently on display at the Gwangju Biennale. In his spring 2006 show at New York's P.P.O.W Gallery, Tapestries, he presented radically different weavings of candy-colored flower patterns.

The mirror-surfaced satellite sculpture From Doi Moi To The Sky (2005) made orbit at his Asia Society solo exhibition Vietnam: Destination for the New Millennium, underlining Lê's breadth of medium as well as his concerns about the future of globalization and technology in Vietnam. In September of this year, Lê began work on a two-channel video project for the Singapore TheatreWorks' collaborative "docu-performance" Diaspora, for which he filmed clam diggers wading through the water with satchels of belongings. His latest three-channel piece, Farmers and Helicopters, explores the loaded symbolism of the helicopter and debuts in December at the Asia-Pacific Triennial along with documentation of Damaged Gene (1998), his project about the long-term effects of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese population.

The artist's recent solo show The Imaginary Country at Shoshana Wayne Gallery in Santa Monica, California, explored the experience of diasporic Vietnamese confronting the myths and realities of their rapidly Westernizing homeland — a country that hopes to leave the war in the past. (AC)

The Gwangju Biennale continues through November 11 in Gwangju City, South Korea, and the Asia-Pacific Triennial takes place between December 2 and May 27 at the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia.

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[ Fumio Nanjo ]


Jane Alexander / Liu Jianhua / Xu Bing / Takashi Kuribayashi

Andrew Maerkle interviews Fumio Nanjo, artistic director of the inaugural Singapore Biennale, about the exhibition, the importance of local curators and audiences, and his new position as the director of the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo.
AK:  Having worked on the first Taipei Biennial in 1998 and the first Yokohama Triennale in 2001, can you speak to this year's experience of directing the first Singapore Biennale?

FN:  I think every biennial is different because this particular kind of event must be designed according to the specific time and place in which it is held. For me, the Singapore Biennale is a completely new venture. Of course, some of the logistics and considerations are similar to other events, but the contents are different. The concept for the Singapore Biennale developed out of reading the map of Singapore and the city itself, so it is unique to local specifics.

AK:  The Singapore Biennale, titled BELIEF, brings contemporary art to culturally loaded public sites such as a temple, church, and mosque. Was gaining entry to these spaces for the Biennale difficult?

FN:  Initially I thought it would be difficult to get permission, but ultimately we were given access to seven different religious sites. That in itself is amazing and something I truly appreciate. Once the spaces were confirmed, the choice of artists and works was not so difficult.

In one case — Xu Bing's Prayer Carpet for the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple — the installation of the work was delayed. A massive carpet covered in his signature script was just installed in the main hall of the temple where worshippers pray.

AK:  Which works and spaces are particularly successful in their interaction?

FN:  Some of the more successful spaces are the Sultan Mosque, which includes site-specific paintings by Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi; the Sri Krishnan Temple, with installations by Indian painter N.S. Harsha and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama; and the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, which features work by Hiroshi Sugimoto, Tsai Charwei, Xu Bing, and Federico Herrero. Almost all of the works in these places are specifically designed for the sites.

AK:  I was impressed by South African artist Jane Alexander's installation, Verity, Faith and Justice, at City Hall, featuring a macabre mock trial in one of the building's court rooms. Was the symbolism of the site an important factor in selecting artists and their work?

keep reading the interview »

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  Shigeru Ban
Matilda McQuaid
Phaidon Press

One of the most innovative architects working today, Shigeru Ban is best known for his use of paper as a building material. His design for the modernist Paper House on Lake Yamanaka near Mt. Fuji established paper tubes as an authorized structural material in Japan. He went on to use paper to build emergency shelters for displaced victims of natural disasters and for the construction of the celebrated Japan Pavilion at EXPO 2000 in Hannover, Germany. Ban's uses of wood, bamboo, and prefabrication are equally inventive. His first Furniture House, also on Lake Yamanaka, utilizes full-height, prefabricated pieces of furniture, such as bookshelves and closets, to define the space and support the roof, allowing the exterior walls to be glazed for optimum viewing of the surrounding nature. This well-researched and beautifully illustrated monograph captures these projects and other spectacular Ban buildings, including his dreamlike Curtain Wall House in Tokyo. (PL)

Shigeru Ban is participating in the Singapore Biennale, where he designed an information pavilion, through November 12.

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Cover Art
Makoto Aida
Harakiri School Girls, 2006
Painting on canvas
59 x 78 3/4 in./ 150 x 200 cm
Courtesy Singapore Biennale
Photo: © National Arts Council, Singapore
All Rights Reserved

Paul Laster

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