Concept design by Marta Grossi.

Unfinished Business

Also available in:  Chinese

Even before we had laid down our red pencils and signed off on the final proofs of this year’s Almanac, it occurred to us that real closure was impossible. As print editors around the world know all too well, proofreading can often feel futile, not just because human error is inevitable, but also because the world we track is constantly changing. As our cover and the design concept for the 2018 Almanac reveals, the world is an unfinished symphony of shifting layers, a fantasia of patterns, shapes and colors. 

For more than a decade, ArtAsiaPacific has published an annual compendium of the year in art from across Asia and the Pacific to the Middle East. Offering a record of the art world in 53 countries at a specific moment in time, from hard statistics such as arts funding, the number of museums exhibiting contemporary art and a country’s GDP per capita, to more fluid, critical points of view on art and its role in society—all of this helps to create a more nuanced understanding of the evolving, and sometimes fragile, creative ecology of the present. The Almanac would not be possible without the generosity of all our supporters. We are tremendously grateful to our associate sponsor, the Sharjah Art Foundation. Additional support has been provided by Burger Collection, Mapletree, SAHA Association and the Frank F. Yang Art and Education Foundation. We also thank all patrons, art institutions and galleries who believe in the importance of this challenging endeavor.

The 13th edition encompasses the most significant cultural events of 2017 and beyond. The joint efforts of our editors, contributors and sources on the ground have made the Countries section of this edition possible, enhancing the visibility of the many vibrant, often underrepresented art scenes, as well as memorable projects and exhibitions.

In Reflections, we invited six influential figures to comment on the year in art. Yayoi Kusama, from Tokyo, revels in a dizzying 12 months of retrospectives of her work, from the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, to the opening of her own museum in Japan’s capital. Hong Kong’s Patrick Sun, founder of the Sunpride Foundation—which promotes LGBTQ rights through cultural endeavors—pens a moving analysis of the development of queer representation in institutions, including his own organization’s ground-breaking exhibition “Spectrosynthesis – Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei, held in the first Asian nation where same-sex couples are one step closer to being able to marry, thanks to a landmark high court ruling in May. Independent curator Natasha Ginwala meditates on her involvement in various projects such as Contour Biennale 8 and Documenta 14, and urges those in the art world to realize that “we are starved for poetry that can speak to our times neither with sensationalism nor blocked by (self-) censorship.” One of Australia’s most generous art patrons, Simon Mordant, weighs up the countless artworks he has seen in exhibitions over the last 12 months in Sydney, New York, Münster, Kassel and Venice. From the United Arab Emirates, Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi, the founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation in the UAE, commends the increased interest in art from West Asia—although the need to dismantle orientalist attitudes is ever-present—and offers his opinion of what is necessary to sustain the momentum. Lastly, Aaron Seeto, director of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara, removes his hard hat after the highly anticipated opening of Jakarta’s first private art institution in November, and shares his personal perspective on the significance of the museum for the region.

In Five Plus One, AAP’s editors selected five artists and collectives who have contributed to the major conversations and exhibitions of the last 12 months, along with one poised for a transformative year ahead. These include Karachi-born, London-based Rasheed Araeen, largely considered the father of British minimalism, as well as the founding editor of the influential journal Third Text; the 400-member Japanese new-media group teamLab; New Zealand’s video and film artist Lisa Reihana; Beijing conceptualist Song Dong; Indonesian endurance performance artist Melati Suryodarmo; and the Philippines’ emerging video artist Martha Atienza.

We also highlight significant museum and gallery exhibitions, peruse anthologies and monographs to pick our top 12 books of the year, and look ahead to the exhibitions we are eagerly anticipating in 2018. Controversies and censorship dominated the headlines in 2017, documented in our News sections, including the neutering of three artworks in New York Guggenheim’s Chinese survey exhibition, and the landslide movement against sexism and sexual harassment that has seen the downfall of male figures in the art world, primarily in the United States, to date. Workplace harassment of women is an open secret everywhere. It remains to be seen to what extent the #MeToo movement will spread to empower women to share their stories, and for governments and institutions, not just companies, to act. 

Artists have long dwelt on these issues, from Judy Chicago in the United States in the 1960s, to the late Lala Rukh in Pakistan in the 1980s, but in our topsy-turvy world, it’s hard to distinguish life imitating art from art imitating life. The time capsule we have compiled in these pages provides snapshots that, for an instant, freeze the flux, encouraging us to contemplate how both life and art are evolving, for better or worse.

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