GHADA AMER, Pain, 2005, embroidery and gel medium on canvas, 66 × 45.7 cm. Copyright the artist. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York.

The Writing’s On The Wall

Shrugging off concerns about a global recession in 2008, the art market barrels ahead, mining the emerging art communities in major metropolises and regional capitals for undervalued talent. Although auction records, new institutions and grandiose personalities continue to explode in the headlines, non-profit initiatives and art academies are taking advantage of the rising cultural importance of contemporary art to bolster their own standing. While this spectacular growth is fascinating to observe, ArtAsiaPacific no. 58 steps back to examine the evolving relationship between art and language.

Our May/June issue centers around three in-depth portraits of individual artists who employ text in their works. News and profiles editor HG Masters reflects on the innovative concoctions of Yoko Ono, the conceptual artist and early member of the global avant-garde collective Fluxus, who based her early performances and sculptures on simple written instructions collected in her 1964 book, Grapefruit. Recently honored by the US-based College Art Association with the 2008 Distinguished Body of Work Award, Ono marries political idealism to a vanguard sensibility in her diverse projects, which include experimental films, poetry, performances, activism and music.

Following up on the themes in Ono’s oeuvre, Lauren Cornell, executive director of the new media organization Rhizome and adjunct curator at the New Museum in New York, evokes thoughtful mediations on the elusive Seoul-based duo Young Hae-Chang Heavy Industries, whose ecstatic Flash animations fuse modern colloquialisms with original soundtracks. AAP’s features editor, Andrew Maerkle, takes a close look at Hong Kong artist Tsang Kin-Wah’s neo-psychedelic pinwheel wallpaper patterns, which Maerkle says reveal “language’s role as a façade.”

Other features examine the tradition of text-based art from a broader cultural perspective. In Australia, George Alexander introduces the “Mom and Pop of text-art,” Rosalie Gascoigne and Colin McCahon, and then clicks fast-forward to young artists Adam Cullen and Maria Cruz. Eric Wear of Hong Kong surveys contemporary calligraphy from China, highlighting its historical and political implications, moving from Red Emperor Mao Zedong to Tsang Tsou-choi, the late graffiti artist and self-proclaimed King of Kowloon. Gregory Galligan explores Middle Eastern calligraphy in the expanded field, specifically through the work of Shirin Neshat, Ghada Amer, Emily Jacir, Shirazeh Houshiary and Walid Raad.

Continuing the issue’s art-meets-language theme in Profiles, Eliza Gluckman delves into Sharmini Pereira’s new artist-book publishing venture, Raking Leaves, which releases its first titles later this year. Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces’ director Alexie Glass introduces the politically charged text-and-image collages of Malaysian artist Roslisham Ismail, aka Ise, for Projects in the Making. And we talk to independent curator Lance Fung about his penchant for collaborative experimentalism to be displayed at June’s SITE Santa Fe Biennial in New Mexico. For Where I Work, we travel to Tehran to visit the spirited Farhad Moshiri in his studio. 

Returning to the art-world frontline, Mallika Advani interviews former Art Basel director Sam Keller about his evolving interest in Indian contemporary art and the burgeoning art market there. Ian Driscoll visits with gallerist Sundaram Tagore in New York and delves into his illustrious family’s cultural legacy, beginning with his great grand-uncle, the Nobel Laureate poet-painter Rabindranath Tagore. We also caught up with Frank Cohen in Manchester, England, and discussed his 30 years of collecting, most recently some fine works from China and India. Tibetan artist Tenzing Rigdol shares his intimate thoughts on Chinese painter Liu Xiaodong’s depictions of life in the troubled Himalayas. And Barbara Pollack ruminates on creativity and originality for The Point, gazing back to the theories of Columbia University professor Rosalind Krauss and leaping forward to encounters with the younger generation of wannabe artists at the Sichuan Institute of Fine Arts in Chongqing.

Despite all the hype, chatter and buzz, from questionable auction prices in New York and censorship in Dubai to sky burials in Tibet, ArtAsiaPacific still believes in reading between the lines.