CHOSIL KILPainting 40, 2011, cotton, PVA solution and canvas stretcher, 100 × 80 cm. Courtesy the artist. 

Dial M for Madness

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

M is for March, money—and madness. The art world is in for a dizzying month of activity including the Sharjah Biennial, sandwiched in between the Armory Show and Asia Week in New York, TEFAF in Maastricht, followed by Art Basel and Art Central in Hong Kong, which close on the heels of Art Dubai and Art Fair Tokyo. Taking a moment to understand how the carnival circuit became so frenetic, this issue of ArtAsiaPacific looks at the personalities who nurture the market, as well as the local conditions that create and sustain dynamic art communities.

The Features section presents a poignant tribute to the late Robert H. Ellsworth, penned by curator Alexandra Munroe of the Guggenheim Museum. Ellsworth, who passed away in August 2014, was a legendary self-taught art dealer, philanthropist, collector and mentor credited with assembling the collections of Chinese and Asian art for John D. Rockefeller III and Sir Joseph Hotung. Munroe’s intimate remembrance spells out Ellsworth’s many contributions to the field, especially his prophetic appreciation for modern Chinese ink painting four decades prior to the current revival of the revered medium. The story of Ellsworth’s life is a fitting reminder that “Asian art” is not something new, and that the world had been engaged with the art of China long before the contemporary-art market boom of the 2000s.

From Hong Kong, M+ chief curator Doryun Chong reflects on the eschatological universe of Paris-based Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping. Chosen for next year’s Monumenta commission at the Grand Palais in Paris, Huang’s allegorical works, incorporating taxidermied animals, religious iconography and Duchampian ideas of the readymade, continue to fascinate viewers. With a long relationship to the artist, Chong had worked as the assistant curator of the historically important “House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective” at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, in 2005. He reminisces about the many adventures undertaken to realize the visions of “Master Huang.” Chong recalls the negotiations undertaken in various countries with the owners of exotic pet and insect stores, in order to realize a particularly contentious artwork, as well as his road trip with Huang to hunt down parts from decommissioned airplanes, on sale in California’s Mojave Desert. These trials made for a curatorial experience that, Chong says, “proved far more memorable than anything this curator has done since then.”

Storytellers looking at the past, present and future, like Huang, include young Palestinian artists Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, whose densely layered multimedia work has been favored by curators, particularly those on the biennial circuit, in recent years. As they were preparing the third part of their trilogy The Incidental Insurgents, debuting at the upcoming Sharjah Biennial, Dubai desk editor Kevin Jones met the pair in their New York studio to discuss their practice, which is centered around sampling and fusing sounds, images and multiple narratives to create an archive of the now.                  

London-based artist Chosil Kil is also described as a storyteller, and story-creator, by Gabriel Ritter, assistant curator of contemporary art at the Dallas Museum of Art. Seoul-born Kil—who uses personal artifacts such as gold jewelry from her parents and unlikely objects including helium balloons and cannonballs in her installations—weaves together tales that are part fictional, part real. For example, Kil traveled to South Korea’s Gyeryongsan mountain, where she collected the breath of local shamans in balloons and transferred the air to a hand-blown jar, which she sealed with a stopper. Another of Kil’s works features two spheres, one bronze and the other concrete, with the description reading: “The artist’s secret is buried inside one of the balls.” The final results are charmingly bewildering situations in which Kil invites audiences to inject their own interpretations and associations, fulfilling the conceptual potential of objects.

Wrapping up the Features is our special column, Inside Burger Collection, where on the eve of his inclusion in the group exhibition “More Konzeption Conception Now” at the Museum Morsbroich, Berlin-based artist Fiete Stolte conducts an interview with himself through a mirror.

In Essays, two writers consider the evolution of regionally prominent art communities. Stephanie Bailey reflects on artistic life in Hong Kong prior to the arrival of Art Basel and Ashley Rawlings of Blum & Poe elucidates a compelling argument for setting up shop in Tokyo—a city that, as he reminds us, has spawned many important art movements in the 20th century and served as home to a dynamic art market until the Japanese recession of the 1990s. 

In our Profiles section, we interview collectors whose support for the arts extends beyond simple buying. These philanthropists include David Walsh, founder of the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania; Jakarta’s Wiyu Wahono, who aims to help educate young collectors in Indonesia; Alan Lau, a noted advocate of the Hong Kong art scene; Chen Bo-Wen from Taipei, a portion of whose collection will be on view at the Hong Kong Arts Centre’s collector’s show in March; Füsun Eczacıbaşı, co-founder of the nonprofit Saha in Istanbul; and New York’s Thea Westreich Wagner and Ethan Wagner, who will soon donate significant holdings of their collection to the Whitney Museum of Art and the Centre Pompidou.

Around the rest of the magazine, for One on One, Hong Kong artist Ho Sin Tung explains her admiration for author Zhong Ling Ling, and contributing editor Hendro Wiyanto files a dispatch from Indonesia’s artistic center, Yogyakarta. In Where I Work, AAP visits Thai artist Yuree Kensaku in Bangkok as she puts finishing touches on her eight-meter-long canvas When the Elephants Fight, the Grass Gets Trampled, which will debut at Art Basel Hong Kong. For the Point, Dslcollection’s Sylvain Levy shares why, after 25 years of collecting Chinese art, he and his wife decided to place their holdings on public view 24/7, 365 days a year—online. Existing in cyberspace, Levy notes, “the world’s art is literally at one’s fingertips.” So if March isn’t mad enough for you, with its blitz of biennials, auctions and fairs, it’s good to know that more, more, more is just a few clicks away!