On August 24, Singaporean curator and arts administrator Tan Boon Hui was appointed director of New York’s Asia Society Museum and vice president of the institution’s global arts and cultural programs. Tan is replacing Melissa Chiu, who stepped down last year to take up post as director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC.
In his new position, which he assumes in December, Tan will be responsible for Asia Society Museum’s collections, which includes its contemporary art collection of video and new-media art and its esteemed Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. The 46-year-old Tan will also oversee the institution’s Asia Arts and Museum Network, a five-year initiative launched in 2012 to foster collaborations between art institutions and professionals in Asia and the United States.
Speaking to ArtAsiaPacific via email about his directorial vision for Asia Society Museum, Tan says: “This is a wonderful moment for Asian artists as they take their rightful place in the global arts scene. The Asia Society Museum is positioned to really play an important role in championing Asian artists to the world. Firstly, New York as a cultural city is legendary for its receptiveness to new art and ideas. Secondly, the context of the Museum alongside its performing arts and film programming arms, as well as the policy and education pillars of the Asia Society means we can look at the relationships and exchange of ideas between different realms of cultural expression.” He adds, “Asia Society was the first US institution to introduce contemporary Chinese art in a major way. I feel that the ‘first-mover’ and cutting edge nature of the Asia Society programming could not only be continued but also strengthened.”
From 2009–13, Tan was director of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM). His last project at SAM was the 2013 Singapore Biennale entitled “If the World Changed,” which garnered attention for its innovative curatorial model—the festival was realized through the collaborative efforts of 27 curators from Southeast Asia.
Currently, Tan is the assistant chief executive for museums and programs at Singapore’s National Heritage Board (NHB). His most recent project with NHB was as the artistic director for Singapour en France – le Festival, a three-month-long event highlighting the arts and culture of Singapore, which took place in various cities throughout France.
Since Asia Society Museum held its inaugural contemporary Asian Art exhibition in 1984, the institution has organized landmark exhibitions such as “Traditions/Tensions: Contemporary Art in Asia” (1996), curated by Apinan Poshyananda, while their roster of solo shows of contemporary Southeast Asian artists include: Cambodian photographer and video artist Vandy Rattana in 2013, Vietnamese-American photographer Dinh Q. Lê in 2005, and the late Thai sculptor Montien Boonma (1953–2000) in 2003. Given Tan’s strength and knowledge of works from Southeast Asia, he is optimistic about showing more artists from the region at Asia Society: “It is still early, yet I hope to be able to discuss ideas more collaboratively with the arts and culture team in Asia Society. I would suggest that one possibility would be to look at ways to reflect the artistic diversity across the vast Asian region, and how we could be sensitive to local nuances, histories and their realization in art practices.”
Sylvia Tsai is associate editor at ArtAsiaPacific.