From left: Marah BrayeClaire Armstrong and Susan Acret, at an Australian Publisher’s Association Awards dinner, 1999. Courtesy Susan Acret.

Fifteen Years Later

Welcome to the 15th-anniversary issue of ArtAsiaPacific! As editor of the magazine from 1997 to 2001, with hindsight I see I was witness to a crucial time of transition for both the magazine and the Asian contemporary art field. Elaine W. Ng, the current editor and publisher, has given me the opportunity to co-edit this anniversary issue and in the following pages we look back over the history of the magazine and revisit some of the ideas that have preoccupied its pages.

These ideas are presented in three loosely tied groups: “New Centers and Peripheries”; “Asian Contemporary Art Landscape”; and “Art Criticism.” Unsurprisingly, the content of each section is often interchangeable. And as always, the boundaries, real or imagined, we impose on land masses is a pivotal subject. “New Centers and Peripheries” takes another look at an issue that was an overriding one during the 1990s. Yesterday’s wrestling with a dominant Western/European center, and a periphery that included everything outside of that center, has today been replaced by discussion about new world centers for contemporary art such as India, China and the Middle East. Interestingly, these new centers hold their own peripheries, blind spots and areas of exclusion—and these in turn have become places for exciting and inventive art. Today we see Tibet, Taiwan and Palestine fast moving into focus. Is it a coincidence that these three states are all contested territories?

Other peripheries remain, and questions are invoked about why and for how much longer. The Pacific is one such periphery. Definitions of “the Pacific,” and, tellingly, notions of “contemporary,” are as numerous as there are islands in the Pacific. Throughout ArtAsiaPacific’s tenure in Australia there was unease and debate about where Australia was positioned on the mind map. Were we an Asian nation, a Pacific one, or still European? And where did Indigenous and Asian-Australian artists fit in? This question defined much of the way the region’s art was written about and only with the magazine’s migration to New York in 2003 was coverage of Australian contemporary art made somewhat less complicated. This is to say that not only our physical position but also our psychological one naturally informs our perspective.

ArtAsiaPacific’s move to New York also coincided with the beginnings of a market boom and increased contemporary art action in areas where once there was little production or points of contact: the Middle East and Central Asia, for example. The Asian economic boom of the last 15 years—with a rather large hiccup in the middle—has played a substantive role in the rise of contemporary Asian art. The landscape is also transformed by globalism and its attendant arrows: the internet and other technologies; the ease of travel; the creation of transnational networks; by the biennales that bloom every September in Asia. The infrequent blockbuster show of the 1990s has given way to multiple exhibitions and a strong market; yesterday’s occasional opportunities and leisurely communication are today a whirlwind of residencies, grants, online exchanges and projects.

Inside this “perfect storm,” the Asia-Pacific has grown in the mind of the West. And yet, in these buoyant times—or perhaps because of them—art criticism is caught wide-eyed and wondering. Fifteen years on, writing about contemporary Asian and Pacific art is still fraught with many of the challenges that have been there all along, but art writing today must also deal with questions fundamental to the very activity itself: Does anyone read anymore? Does criticism matter? The answer of course is yes, but much of the literature remains to be gathered and disseminated, and continued discourse requires support from institutions within the region.

There is little, physically, of the old ArtAsiaPacific in the current magazine; it has grown and changed to encompass new and divergent art practices and emerging communities around the region. However, the spirit of the magazine remains and despite all this flicking through the past there is the natural impulse to focus our gaze on the horizon and ask, what’s next?