(Left) EVERYWHEN, Published by Harvard Art Museums, Edited by Stephen Gilchrist. (Right) EMBODYING, Published by Sharjah Art Foundation, Poems by Christiana De Marchi, Artworks by Hassan Sharif.

Critical Readings

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic


Published six months before Hassan Sharif’s untimely death in September 2016, Embodyingcommissioned by the Sharjah Art Foundation, features 29 poems by Lebanese-Italian artist Cristiana de Marchi inspired by the pioneering conceptualist’s practice. Each poem is titled after an episode in Sharif’s “Experiments,” performances he staged in the 1980s with an audience of close friends and fellow artists who were asked to photograph the artist in action. These images accompany de Marchi’s words, and trace Sharif’s actions as he sought to develop an experimental art scene in the United Arab Emirates. In her own terse poems, de Marchi focuses on themes of transition between territories and the redefinition of identity, a clear fit that mirrors Sharif’s own practice at the time. Though de Marchi’s verses do not keep up with Sharif’s kinetics, Embodying stands as an accidental memorial and an accessible record of the Emirati artist’s early creative actions.

(Left) NO LIMITS: ZAO WOU-KI, Published by Asia Society, Edited by Melissa Walt, Ankeney Weitz, Michelle Yun. (Right) THE PROPELLER GROUP, Published by Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Edited by Naomi Beckwith.

No Limits: Zao Wou-ki

Zao Wou-ki easily mastered traditional Chinese brush calligraphy. But, having immigrated to Paris in 1948 to study, he thought producing ink paintings would peg him as a typical Chinese artist who created chinoiseries. So Zao abandoned ink entirely during his time in France and developed an abstract style influenced by his European counterparts. Squarely accepted as part of the postwar School of Paris, he said in 1964, “Everybody is bound by tradition—I, by two.” A few years later, Zao reached back for his roots and re-adopted ink as a medium. Like so many exiles, his creations were free expressions that straddled heritage and displacement. The monograph produced by the Asia Society, accompanying the first United States retrospective of Zao, features hefty academic contributions by the co-curators. One of the first transcontinental painters of the 20th century, Zao will always be seen as painting with a brush authentic to both his worlds. 

No Chaos No Party

No Chaos No Party: 28 Artists in Metro Manila is a 218-page hard-back book that contains interviews with contemporary artists who live and work in Metro Manila, the national capital region of the Philippines. Within these pages, artists including Maria Jeona Zoleta, Dex Fernandez, Manuel Ocampo, Louie Cordero and Pow Martinez muse on the artistic process, the local art community, and the importance of geographical context as related to their practice. Both text and images are utilized to sketch an incomplete oral history of these artists’ careers as well as several alternative art spaces related to them, operating across the region. Additionally, notes, sketches and photographs belonging to these artists’ personal archives are included and local firm Inksurge employs a playful approach to design. Ultimately, the book examines how, despite a plethora of issues plaguing the city—pollution, traffic, poverty and corruption—Metro Manila remains a fertile ground for artistic production. 

NO CHAOS NO PARTY, Published by Solutions/Eugene Ong, A Project by Valeria Cavestany, Edited by Eva McGovern-Basa.

Radicalism in the Wilderness

In 1951, art critic Takiguchi Shūzō asked, “How would the current works of Japanese art fare side by side with Western works?” In Radicalism in the Wilderness: International Contemporaneity and 1960s Art in Japan, Reiko Tomii, an art historian primarily concerned with post-1945 Japanese art, attempts to inscribe Japanese postwar art movements into the grander canon of global art history through studies of Matsuzawa Yutaka (1922–2006), Group Ultra Niigata (GUN) and The Play—an artist and two artist groups most prominently associated with the 1960s avant-garde in Japan. Tomii’s selection was based on her research into what she calls the “Wilderness,” which could be places outside of Tokyo or thinking that rejected institutional and mainstream narratives. The book’s six chapters thus dissect the artists’ individual practices within unexplored islands and landscapes of Japan, and consciously link these practices with their international contemporaries, bringing them from the local periphery into the Eurocentric model. 

(Left) RADICALISM IN THE WILDERNESS, Published by MIT, Edited by Reiko Tomii. (Right) HISTORIES, PRACTICES, INTERVENTIONS, Published by ICA Singapore, Edited by Jeffrey Say and Seng Yu Jin.