KUTLUĞ ATAMANJourney to the Moon, 2009, still from the black-and-white mock documentary segment of the video. Video produced by the Institute for the Readjustment of Clocks, Istanbul. Courtesy the artist.

Getting Back on Track

2009 began on a very different note than 2008, when art and culture rode a rising and then crashing wave of global economic prosperity, supercharged by the Beijing Olympics and major art festivals in capitals across the Asia-Pacific region. The messy international financial crisis that began in late 2008 and is likely to continue through at least all of this year, has put a stranglehold on public and private cultural budgets, museum programming and the expansion plans of institutions around the world. Reduced personal spending on art will have a domino effect on art books and magazines, including ArtAsiaPacific, as well as artists themselves.

Declining revenue isn’t the only issue looming large. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November have turned up the tensions between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan and the conflict between Israel and Hamas over the Gaza Strip has been reignited. Such hostilities only further encourage chauvinism, exclusionism and right-wing nationalism. The chill of fear and caution has settled over the art world as the global community of artists, curators and art professionals grapples with these financial and political calamities. ArtAsiaPacific 62 follows the impact of these developments, inspired by the hope generated by the inauguration of US president Barack Obama in January. 

We also devote this issue to a number of little-recognized but highly influential artists who have continued to work in challenging political and economic environments. Among them is Mike Parr, Australia’s elder statesman known for his physically demanding and often masochistic performances. In Close the Concentration Camps (2002), Parr stitched his ears, nose and lips together to protest and express his sympathy for the inhumane treatment of asylum-seeking “boat people” under former prime minster John Howard’s watch. In his interview with Parr, contributing editor Michael Young found him “non-apologetic about the political dimension of his work, though he concedes that it can be terroristic.”

The late Tetsumi Kudo, a Japanese postwar artist who was preoccupied with human destruction, worked in a range of dark and whimsical styles from the 1950s until his death in 1990, including radical assemblages of hand-crafted severed body parts trapped in day-glo bird cages. Here, in a discussion with Kudo’s peers, the modern butoh dancers Eiko & Koma, Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center curator Doryun Chong describes the political climate in which they worked during the occupation and reconstruction era of the 1950s and 1960s.

In this issue we welcome AAP ’s new features editor, Ashley Rawlings, who after studying 20th-century Japanese history at Cambridge University, has written extensively on contemporary art from Tokyo, most recently his acclaimed interpretive guidebook, Art Space Tokyo. For this issue, Rawlings examines the career of Lee Ufan, a Korea-born sculptor who studied philosophy at Tokyo’s Nihon University in the early 1960s before becoming involved with the avant-garde Mono-ha group, which rejected Western ideas of representation and conventional notions of art. Lee consistently articulated these values in his writings and artworks, most concretely in sculptures that pair large rocks with iron plates and paintings made with just a few precise brushstrokes.

We also introduce contributing editor Donald Dinwiddie from London, a senior editor at Lawrence King Publishing who has written extensively on Asian art and culture, including the second edition of Pearson/Prentice Hall’s History of Japanese Art. Dinwiddie contemplates Kutluğ Ataman, a Turkish artist who won the inaugural Abraaj Capital Art Prize in Dubai last October. Ataman, whose films and videos investigate collective memory, identity and utopia, has recently embarked on “Mesopotamian Dramaturgies,” an eight-part series that explores Turkish contemporary history as the country grapples with its rich history from the Ottoman Empire and its pending membership to the European Union. Looking at post-Olympic Beijing, AAP managing editor HG Masters covers Yin Xiuzhen, who has been making site-specific installations and sculptures for over 20 years, for example, stacking blocks of ice next to Chengdu’s Funan River and inviting local villagers to scrub away the frozen pollutants. Yin’s tactile yet poetic works explore the rapid modernization and social changes China has undergone since Deng Xiaoping promulgated his “open door” policy in 1978.

In Profiles, AAP looks at several initiatives that have the potential to become influential cultural voices in the region, including the United Arab Emirates’ burgeoning art scene—from the 9th edition of the Sharjah Biennial to the three-year-old Art Dubai—as well as the new Nam June Paik Center in Korea, with its mission of encouraging the kind of experimentation practiced by video artist Nam June Paik and the 1960s avant-garde artist group Fluxus.

In a more pensive mode, in Essays, we look at Bengali modernism in the early 20th century. For the Point, Hammad Nasar of the London nonprofit Green Cardamom gallery considers the ramifications of the Mumbai bombings on the cultural sector in the Subcontinent. In Projects, AAP sits down with Beijing-based painters Liu Xiaodong and Yu Hong, who discuss what it means to be an artist in China today. We also listen to one of Mumbai’s great modern painters, Jehangir Sabavala, talk about the colors that have inspired his work over the last 60 years, illustrating his love affair with a palette of hues and tones. In Manila, Marylene Sahakian takes us into photographer Ringo Bunoan’s studio for Where I Work. Rounding out the magazine is senior editor Don J. Cohn’s review of three recent books on contemporary Chinese art.

While the future may look economically bleak, there’s bound to be a silver lining in it somewhere. While I was reading dates for On Kawara’s project One Million Years at David Zwirner one gray day this past January, I could not help but wonder if gallerists, critics and artists will recall a not too distant moment—much less than the six centuries I went through in two hours—when the talk shifted from “What does it look like?” to “How much does it cost?” Let’s hope that in the coming months we will see a return to an appreciation of the true value of art.