EMILY FLOYD, A Human Scale (Maquette), 2014, wood, synthetic polymer paint, 26.5 × 60 × 70 cm. Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Sydney/Melbourne.

A Productive Decade

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

Welcome to the Almanac, ArtAsiaPacific’s compendium of the most significant art events of 2015 and a look ahead at what’s next, in 2016. In addition to spotlighting the 53 countries that constitute our active footprint, the Almanac extends to the rest of the world—wherever the artists of Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East work and wherever their work is shown, traded and critiqued. As the activity and influence of these artists has grown, so too has the Almanac’s remit.

This year’s Almanac marks our 11th edition of this particular endeavor, ushering us into the second decade of this enormous project. What began as an effort to systematically track all artistic activity in the region and to map the dynamic networks being forged between neighbors, both near and far, has also become a powerful tool for identifying change over time. In following the people, institutions, organizations and businesses that shape the art world, as well as statistics on arts funding, education and even GDP, the Almanac has become a critical record of art ecosystems during a transformative time. Looking back on the decade since we embarked on the very first Almanac, in 2005, there is no denying how the artistic landscape in many countries has changed, for better or worse.

Sri Lanka, for example, is entering a new chapter in its history, with greater tolerance for personal expression and a loosening of censorship, which bodes well for the artistic communities there. Although Syria continues to be battered by a civil war, remarkably, a few institutions and artists survive, keeping their doors open or maintaining an art practice that circulates entirely on the internet, or so far underground that only tiny traces of it are visible from outside the country. As is often the case with the region’s largest countries, China presents a mixed picture, with increased clampdowns on both social activism and internet access taking a more subtle toll on the arts than the campaign against corruption, which has put a damper on certain aspects of the art market.

The complex undertaking of compiling the Almanac is only made possible by the joint efforts of our editors and contributors, who themselves are spread around the world and whose access and knowledge about these countries stems from personal experience and interviews with influential figures and active participants. Hunting and gathering facts, figures and opinions that accurately reflect the art world across the globe from Turkey to Tasmania, Pyongyang to Pondicherry, requires a special kind of patience, persistence and perspicacity that can only be honed by vigorous trekking through galleries, poring through print sources and the pursuit of high-wire searches online. 

This edition’s cover, devised by AAP’s art director Marta Grossi and photographed by our designer Jen Kwok, is a reflection of this process: while the world is small, there are many of them—with countless art scenes experienced from diverse perspectives. The Almanac is our attempt to bring them together in one place.

A number of art world insiders turn their spheres inside out, sharing their particular angles on their local domain. Joselina Cruz, director and curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Manila, parses the nuanced way today’s exhibitions of artists from Southeast Asia reveal the growing maturity of the field. From Lahore, artist Rashid Rana delineates the developments taking place in South Asia, particularly recent initiatives to create homegrown cultural festivals and the remarkable joint India and Pakistan show at the Venice Biennale where he exhibited with Shilpa Gupta. In a year that saw the signing of a historic nuclear accord between the government of Iran and global powers, Nazila Noebashari, collector, curator and gallerist from Tehran, reports on how the opening of Iran to the world affects the art scene there, with more galleries, shows and international collaboration between artists and institutions, thanks to less censorship and a gradual lifting of trade sanctions. Cosmin Costinas, executive director and curator of Hong Kong’s vanguard nonprofit Para Site, reflects on a pivotal year for the institution as it relocated into premises that befit its stature and permit a new kind of exhibition-making. In a more self-reflective moment, Japanese Mono-ha artist Kishio Suga writes: “I’m inspired by all kinds of things—trees, stones, rocks . . . When I look at them I think about the interconnected spaces between them, their conditions and the nature of their existence,” which could easily serve as a motto for the Almanac, past, present and future. He goes on, “Achieving resonance with other people’s outlook and ideas is profoundly difficult. Yet if one does not, one’s own worldview cannot expand.”

Echoing Suga and his beliefs, the editors of ArtAsiaPacific believe that the Almanac will serve artists, curators, gallerists, critics, scholars, patrons and collectors, not just today but long into the future, in discovering and rediscovering art in this part of the world.