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INHWAN OH, Things of Friendship – DD/IO, 2000, mixed-media installation, dimensions variable, c-prints on wall: 115.6 × 77cm each. Installation view of prints and objects at Parlour Project, New York, 2001. Courtesy the artist.

The Pillars of Art

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

As we watch the first decade of the 21st century draw to a close, ArtAsiaPacific’s November/December issue reflects on rapid shifts in the cultural landscape since the magazine’s debut in 1993. That was a pivotal year in the art world, especially for two unrelated art-world figures: Beijing curator Li Xianting and New York artist Ashley Bickerton. With these seemingly incongruous individuals in mind—both revered for their renegade eccentricity—this issue looks at the work of artists, architects, filmmakers and curators who use nuanced means, alternative strategies and rigorous scholarship to shape the world through art. AAP 71 upholds the individual and listens to the words often left unsaid.

In Features, we begin by examining the life and work of the venerable Li Xianting, born in 1949, arguably the first champion of contemporary Chinese art on the mainland, or indeed anywhere, and a man who is reverentially referred to as Lao Li, or “Old Master Li,” in the Chinese art world. AAP contributing editor Andrew Cohen’s illuminating article looks at the many artists Li mentored—including Ai Weiwei, Fang Lijun and, more recently, artists from Lhasa and the Tibetan diaspora—and the art movements he identified and named as an art critic from the late 1970s to the 1990s, including Cynical Realism, Political Pop and Gaudy Art. We also learn how Li reinvented himself as a curator after the 1989 Tiananmen incident, co-organizing the 1993 landmark exhibition “China’s New Art, Post-1989,” which traveled from the Hong Kong Arts Centre to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, and why more recently he has shied away from the limelight of the booming art scene that he helped cultivate.

Likewise, managing editor William Pym reintroduces the work of Barbados-born Ashley Bickerton, who experienced fame, as a cornerstone of the Neo-Geo art movement of the 1980s in New York, then a fall from favor after the financial crisis of 1987. Bickerton candidly told AAP that “we all got spanked, pretty much, after the Eighties, and some of us never came back.” Instead of retreating to a studio in upstate New York like many of his urban peers, in 1993 he packed his bags for the Indonesian island of Bali, where he continues to reside and engage with the mainstream art world from a distance. Li’s and Bickerton’s personal histories attest to the pitfalls and challenges the art world faces each day, and their constant presence through the conception of AAP 71 prompted long discussions among the editors about why they both merit a place on the cover. Thus, in recognition of two art figures making singular contributions in Asia, for the first time we are producing two different covers for the same issue.

This issue also looks at artists who take a surreal or conceptual view of their everyday surroundings. Features editor Ashley Rawlings delves into the delicately dark world of 35-year-old Japanese animator Tabaimo, who will represent her country in the 2011 Venice Biennale with her investigations into the underlying unease of Japanese life today, while Tammy Ko Robinson teases out the subtle signs and near-invisible messages in the community-based performance and cerebral works of Seoul’s Inhwan Oh. And assistant editor Hanae Ko takes on the collision of culturally universal themes such as love, war, prejudice and tolerance by mining the historical and religious subjects in the work of Pakistan’s Hamra Abbas, recently announced as a winner of the prestigious 2011 Abraaj Capital Art Prize.

In Essays, Joseph N. Newland continues our series on the book as art object by poring over a rare 1971 monograph by Japanese architect Kazuo Shinohara, while Joshua Simon contemplates an emerging documentary style in Israel and Palestine. For the Point, New York- and Shanghai-based gallerists James and Jane Cohan explain the brave, new, entrepreneurial world of online art fairs.

We are expanding our efforts in creative illustration as news arrives that Paul Sahre’s finely rendered portraits for the VIP section of AAP’s 2010 Almanac have been selected for the 29th edition of American Illustration, one of the design industry’s most coveted annual awards. With AAP 71 we broaden the visual scope of Profiles by commissioning an artist to devise their own interpretation of the artworks and themes in the section. For the first commission, Pete Deevakul responds to Thorsten Albertz’s close portrait of Sara Rahbar, an Iranian-born artist who fled her homeland during the 1979 Islamic Revolution and has dedicated her recent practice to rediscovering her roots, and contributing editor Shanay Jhaveri’s interview with the 2010 Turner Prize-nominated Otolith Group, who discuss how both extraterrestrials and pioneering experimental filmmaker Chris Marker influence their practice. On the eve of a significant exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, AAP senior editor Don J. Cohn examines the legacy of polymath artist Xu Bing and his relationship to Chinese calligraphy.

Among our regular commissioned collaborations with artists and curators, we received a precise yet fantastical drawing from the Yogyakarta-based husband-and-wife duo Indieguerrillas, and reflections on aesthetics and the art market from legendary New Zealand Pop artist Billy Apple in Questionnaire. For Where I Work, we travel to the Brisbane studio of Indonesian mixed-media artist Dadang Christanto and mull over his recent work, which continues to explore ideas of collective memory in an age of uncertainty.

In Reviews, Erlend Hammer gives an account of an adventurous group show of slow-burning Indian video art, “Being Singular Plural,” at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, and AAP editor at large HG Masters examines the revival of the unsung first-generation Turkish conceptualist Cengiz Çekil at Rampa gallery in Istanbul. In light of our focus on the life and work of Li Xianting and Ashley Bickerton, these two shows are further reminders that constant engagement with the fast-paced art world is not a prerequisite for producing groundbreaking art.

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