The biennial Hugo Boss Asia Art Award, now in its second edition, was conceived by Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum (RAM) in partnership with German luxury fashion house Hugo Boss. The latter’s philanthropic art activities also include the much-acclaimed Hugo Boss Prize, produced with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Inaugurated in 2013, the Award is envisaged as a platform for acknowledging and promoting notable contemporary art emerging from China, as well as Asia at large, and grants the winner a stipend of RMB 300,000 (approximately USD 47,300) to further their artistic pursuits.
On October 29, despite incessant rain and a sudden drop in temperature, RAM and Hugo Boss opened the award exhibition in Shanghai with free-flowing champagne and tapas. Earlier that morning, ArtAsiaPacific managed to pry away RAM director Larys Frogier from his teeming schedule to share his visions for Hugo Boss Asia Art and his thoughts on contemporary art being produced in Asia.
“I really wanted to connect with emerging artists, but it’s not that easy [here], so when Hugo Boss proposed and checked if a museum in China would be interested, I immediately said we have to go into this project,” Frogier mused, “[Hugo Boss] gave us full autonomy to conceive the project. I approached it as a kind of evolving process, because the art scene is always changing, not just in China but also in Asia [at large].”
The second edition expands from its focus on Greater China to encompass creative talents from the Southeast Asian region. The exhibition, curated by and held at RAM, showcases the diverse practices and contributions of the six nominated artists, whose artworks stem from their social and cultural surroundings, but embrace a globalized outlook on art. The artists—Maria Taniguchi (Phillipines), Vandy Rattana (Cambodia), Moe Satt (Myanmar), Huang Po-Chih (Taiwan), Guan Xiao (China) and Yang Xinguang (China)—have been selected by a jury panel of international experts that includes, among others, Alexandra Munroe of the Guggenheim Museum, Hong Kong’s M+ chief curator Doryun Chong, MAXXI Rome artistic director Hou Hanru and Ute Meta Bauer, founding director of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University Centre for Contemporary Art. Together, they will evaluate the exhibited works and decide on the winner, who will be announced on November 26.
“Personally I am very amazed by the selection of the artists. We can see that these emerging artists have specific interests either related to anthropological research or the process of memory, which could be different [from country to country],” said Frogier. He continued, “I’m more interested in trying to identity specific localities and then trying to see how the artists are, in their own context, building a very [global] vision about art [beginning from these localities].”
When asked about his thoughts for the future scope of the Hugo Boss Asia Art Award, Frogier commented that, while the second iteration has expanded to include Southeast Asia, he is unsure whether the Asia Art Award will include more regions or take an alternative route. “I don’t want Hugo Boss Asia Art to be just a geographical process, [perhaps] it could be also related to a topic.” Frogier hopes that by highlighting some of the best art coming out of Asia, young Asian artists will realize that they need not look far—to the West, for example—for inspiration, mentorship or motivation. For now, let’s take a look at the works presented by this year’s nominees.
Adopting a pseudonym is a tradition among Burmese artists that began as a way to protect their identity from the military junta. Although no longer a necessity, Si Thu Tan Naing decided to continue the tradition by adopting the name Moe Satt, meaning "raindrops,” a term that carries a personal significance for the artist who was born during Myanmar’s rain season. For Moe Satt, the human body is paramount to his performances, videos and installations. His single-channel video, Hands Around in Yangon (2012), depicts close-ups of myriad pairs of hands conducting assorted quotidian activities. Like an ethnographic documentary, the film captures a genuine essence of Moe Satt’s hometown, without any overt sociopolitical insinuations, and observes ordinary Burmese life as he sees it.
The photographs and films by self-taught photographer Vandy Rattana highlight the forgotten and acknowledged episodes from Cambodia’s recent turbulent history. At the peak of the Vietnam War, the United States military dropped an estimated 2.7 million tons of bombs along the eastern parts of Cambodia. Seeking out the bomb craters left behind by the atrocity, Rattana’s photographs from his "Bomb Ponds” series (2009) attest to human nature’s resilience and capability for recovery after trauma. Over the years, these bomb craters, which, according to the artist, were also used to dispose the bodies of casualties, have become filled with water and transformed into lush fields of grass. The disappearing craters have become a metaphor for the ability of nature and time to bring upon healing.
Manila-based Maria Taniguchi operates in various media—from painting to video and sculpture. Her works speak to the materiality of her selected medium and its place in our understanding of time and history. Leaning along several walls, Taniguchi’s monumental "brick paintings” from her ongoing "Untitled” series (2012– ) reduce painting to a mechanical process. Some canvases stretch for as far as five meters wide and three meters tall. Composed of miniscule, rectangular, monochromatic segments measuring 4 × 2 cm each—the paintings are without question labor-intensive and reflect the insular nature of Taniguchi’s practice. The paintings, Taniguchi claims, are the backbone to her other works, allowing her to process her thoughts and ideas.
Beijing-based Yang Xinguang produces minimalist sculptures that respond to his everyday surroundings. Made primarily of long wood pieces, Untitled (Cage) (2015) is precisely as its name suggests: a cage. Visitors can individually enclose themselves inside the cage, close the door and clutch at the thoughts or emotions that may come forth. A wall text nearby encourages participants to write these private sentiments on the wood inside the claustrophobic structure.
Interested in the notion of cognitive processes, Guan Xiao makes sculptures, videos and installations that combine elements and objects of classical history and primitive cultures with technologies both rudimentary and ultramodern to investigate how our minds acquire and register knowledge. The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture (2012) mimics the setup of a photo shoot. Mock objects of ethnographic significance, including an Easter Island Moai statue, are juxtaposed with tools of photography, such as tripods and lenses of various sizes, against three colorful backdrops of visually striking, hallucinogenic snakeskin patterns.
An artist, farmer and ardent writer, Huang Po-Chih reflects on Taiwan’s agricultural, economic and industrial frameworks through his installation and participation-based projects. The “Production Line” series (2012– ) recalls the collective memories of the many former factory workers in Taiwan’s apparel industry, including Huang’s mother. Creating a pseudo-assembly line inside the gallery space, Huang sheds light on the current symbiotic economic relationship between China’s Shenzhen, where cheap rent and wages have attracted a flourish of factories in the first stages of production, and Taipei, where many of the clothing are then completed for wholesale.