Fifteen Years Young

Some sharp-eyed readers might get that uncanny déjà-vu feeling when they look at this issue’s cover. New readers might recognize text animation by Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries lurking in the foreground or Mona Hatoum’s globes floating around the layout. Others might see New York City’s former Twin Towers looming large behind a self-portrait of late photographer Tseng Kwong-Chi, which graced the cover of ArtAsiaPacific (AAP) in September 2004. Or perhaps some will recognize the work of Pacific artist Taarouru Apera from 1995. But only our vintage readers will notice that more than one or two covers look familiar here. In fact, this issue’s cover design comprises all 60 AAP covers since the magazine debuted in 1993. 

Because contemporary Asian art is a relatively novel concept, we feel that the 15th-anniversary issue of AAP is an important milestone, demonstrating that while the field may seem like a new phenomenon, the art and the world around it owns a history, which like all histories is still in the making and up for debate.

To celebrate 15 years of looking, thinking and writing about contemporary art from the Asia and the Pacific, we have invited Susan Acret, editor of the magazine from 1997 to 2001, to co-edit this issue with us. Together we have invited long-time contributors—museum directors, curators and critics who specialize in Asian contemporary art—to reflect on the cultural transformations that have taken place since the inaugural issue in 1993, when the publication was called Art and AsiaPacific and served as a supplement to the respected Sydney-based quarterly Art and Australia.

The early 1990s was a period of enlightenment for scholars and curators of non-Western contemporary art. Burgeoning local art scenes in Asian metropolises were spurred on by economic development and were increasingly influenced by late-modernist art-making practices and post-colonial theory. Many contributors to AAP’s 15th-anniversary issue note that AAP’s launch year, 1993, coincided with the inaugural Asia-Pacific Triennial (APT), hosted by the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) in Brisbane, Australia. Suhanya Raffel, now in charge of the Asian and Pacific Art department at the QAG, reflects on this groundbreaking exhibition.

In addition, art director Joon Mo Kang has given the magazine a new appearance, and we have decided to become more green by printing a slightly smaller size and on more environmentally friendly paper. We have also added regular columns by writers such as Chin-Chin Yap and Michael Young. For this issue, several past contributors, now leading figures in Asian contemporary art, including Asia Society’s president Vishakha N. Desai, Mori Art Museum director Fumio Nanjo and Thailand’s leading cultural policy maker and curator Apinan Poshyananda, trace the development of the Asian contemporary landscape. And independent curator Hou Hanru, who wrote for the inaugural issue of AAP and continues to contribute to the magazine, explores what the future holds for exhibition practices in a region with a taste for the spectacular.

Further musings come from a host of high-profile dealers, foundation directors, collectors and educators to whom AAP has posed provocative questions and whose responses are published unedited. As a tribute to the last issue of AAP published in Sydney in June 2003, entitled “Asian Art Now,” we invited curators from across the globe to nominate a pair of artists, one emerging and one influential, whose work is overlooked. Ruminations by Chaitanya Sambrani, Gregory Burke and Sacha Craddock focus on the shift of Asia from the periphery, and where the new centers might be. Rounding out the special anniversary content, scholars Joan Kee, Marian Pastor Roces and Hu Fang comment on the state of art criticism today.

Momentous changes have taken place in the past few years across the Asia-Pacific region. New galleries, museums and foundations have opened; there is a bustling calendar of biennials and art fairs; and local artists have burst onto the international stage. These changes have been swift, yet much remains to be done to further integrate Asia-Pacific art into the Eurocentric art world. Unlike India, China and Australia, lesser-developed countries such as Mongolia, Cambodia and Afghanistan still lack rudimentary arts infrastructure. The photo essays in this issue by Ram Rahman, Lois Conner and Xing Danwen, who focus their lenses on India and China’s budding art scenes, remind us of a nearly forgotten recent past when exhibitions, scholarship and an art market seemed unthinkable. Indeed, the outward journey is just beginning.