How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Art

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

While the northern hemisphere basks in summer weather, ArtAsiaPacific has decided to take a hint from this change of seasons and let our hair down. It has been one year since we made the move from New York to Hong Kong.

So we thought we’d enjoy not having to pack 400 boxes of books and research files this July, and instead sit back and contemplate the exhibition lineup for the rest of 2012. In our desire to lighten the tone, the July/August issue of AAP looks at artists who are exuberant in their methods yet take the time to be playful, even naughty.

Our Features begin with a look at Trippple Nippples, a six-piece noise-pop ensemble from Tokyo. While some readers of AAP 79 may wonder why we are dedicating pages to a pop band, other mainstream media outlets resort to discussing Trippple Nippples, which include three female vocalists—Yuka Nippple, Qrea Nippple and Nabe Nippple—as an art group. The New Yorker calls them “overcaffeinated electronic art rock,” while MTV spins them as “art you can sweat to.” For the last few years, AAP’s Taipei desk editor David Frazier has been following the band and their music, and in his article he reveals the artistic influences of their work, arguing that Trippple Nippples’ performances will inevitably circulate in the realm of visual culture.

Also working at the border of popular culture and conceptual art is Turkey’s Vahap Avşar. Editor-at-large HG Masters traveled from Istanbul to New York to speak with Avşar, who moved to the United States in 1995 and only recently returned to art-making after nearly 10 years as the founding director of the street-wear clothing company Brooklyn Industries. Masters traces Avşar’s artistic career, from painting sentimental imagery drawn from postcards to creating conceptual works that were consistently questioned by mentors, banned by authorities and beloved by two generations of young Turkish artists for their ability to imagine, in Masters’ words, “the otherwise inconceivable.”

Taking another cue from popular culture, guest contributor Elisabeth Stoney interviews Lebanese filmmaker Rania Stephan about her epic filmic montage The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni (2011). Stephan says the impetus behind the work—two decades in the making—was to assemble film clips of the actress Soad Hosni, widely referred to as the “Cinderella of Egyptian cinema,” in an exploration of her life, as well as the golden age of Arab cinema and the impact of modernity on West Asia. She ruminates, “The first intuition was that I could make a film with fictional elements; the second factor was the pleasure of watching the films of Soad Hosni that brought me back to Arabic cinema.”

With the 2012 Olympics set to launch in London in late July, AAP managing editor Olivier Krischer looks back to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when the art-trio Xijing Men (Tsuyoshi Ozawa from Japan, Chen Shaoxiong from China and Gimhongsok from Korea) staged their own “Xijing Olympics,” which Krischer describes as a “loosely scripted mockery of the pomp and spectacle,” with events such as a sleep marathon, a cigarette relay race, and beer-bottle-cap one-finger weightlifting. All of the trio’s collaborations about the fictitious “Western capital” of Xijing are rooted in the artists’ enduring friendship and a genuine desire to bring three cultures, and artistic practices, closer together.

In Essays, as intrepid holiday makers explore Documenta 13, the Biennale of Sydney and the inaugural Kyiv International Biennale of Contemporary Art, we run the first of a two-part treatise by art historian and critic Terry Smith, examining how the biennial format has nurtured and embraced experimental art-making. We also hear from Arahmaiani, a radical Indonesian artist who has initiated an environmental project with a Tibetan Buddhist temple in China, which she sees as a collective “open art system,” in the service of global sustainability. For Case Study, Chin-Chin Yap examines José Antonio Vega Macotela’s “Time Divisa” (2006–10), for which the artist interacted with 365 prison inmates over a period of four years, reminding us that art can be more than a trophy or financial asset.

Among our Profiles, Dubai desk editor Isabella E. Hughes sits down with Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi, founder of the two-year-old Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, to ask how nonprofit foundations can help encourage artistic and intellectual development. From Sydney, contributing editor Michael Young examines two of Australia’s most generous art patrons, Simon and Catriona Mordant, who have supported Australian artists for nearly 30 years and backed the country’s leading institutions for contemporary art. Contributor Susan Gibb, writing from Manila, offers a candid portrait of the Philippines’ bad-boy artist Manuel Ocampo, and how he is giving a boost to the country’s art scene through his latest initiative, the artist-run space Bureau of Artistic Rehab.

The editors have often wondered why the art world takes itself so seriously, so we asked San Francisco-based artist and experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats—known for promoting plant porn to facilitate the growth of lush gardens—to contemplate why there isn’t more humor in art. With insight and wit, Keats explains that “in art historical terms, whimsy is to humor what Surrealism is to Dada, a derivative style with no substance other than its own smug mirth,” while “irony is art’s shibboleth.” Sydney’s Janet Laurence takes a break from installing her exhibition at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation to answer our Questionnaire, recalling that her last laugh was a “Monty Python-esque meeting procedure.” For One on One, peripatetic artist Heman Chong explains his affection for Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ work, while in Berlin, AAP 79 visits the sparse studio of Song-Ming Ang, who is known for a practice that deconstructs music and sound, and is currently embarking on playful new projects that will transform a viola into a violin and a trombone into a trumpet.

Our long-form review takes senior editor Don J. Cohn to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for “Chinese Art in an Age of Revolution: Fu Baoshi (1904–1965),” a long overdue retrospective of a seminal modern painter. Among other reviews from Sydney, Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, Manila, Kolkata, Sharjah, Istanbul, Amsterdam and London, Anneke Jaspers heads to Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art for the survey show of Atsuko Tanaka, and Narelle Yabuka sizes up the solo exhibition of Lee Wen, famed for his Yellow Man performances, at the Singapore Museum of Art. And in search of an informative yet fun read under a shady tree, we consider Michael Findlay’s latest book, The Value of Art, which helps remind us why we love art. Findlay takes readers by the hand through artists’ studios, galleries, museums and auction houses, nimbly avoiding the sand traps, puddles and sunburns. By emphasizing the primacy of the experience of enjoying great works, he makes room in the art world for everyone under the sun.