LI SHANSunset, c. 1970s, oil on paper, 27 × 19.5 cm. Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, Shanghai. 

Close Encounters

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

Our cover Feature for the November/December issue of ArtAsiaPacific begins with a look at artistic life in China in the 1970s, specifically through the small landscape paintings of Li Shan. One of the youngest members of the No Name Painting Society, or Wuming Huahui, Li was widely admired by her peers for her gentle, luminous paintings of Beijing. As AAP managing editor Denise Chu explains, “Landscape painting was Wuming’s means, tactic and haven to preserve an art divorced from sociopolitics and, perhaps more importantly, to achieve a measure of spiritual freedom from the oppressive state ideology . . . To make apolitical art in Cultural Revolution-era China was, in reality, categorically political.” Together this loose band of largely self-taught artists would gather for clandestine group outings and paint exquisite, pocket-sized landscapes. Li’s innocent paintings of park benches, vistas through archways, plant life and snow scapes have now become a visual record of a China long forgotten. 

Also taking inspiration from nature and confrontations with history, albeit with divergent end results, is Australian artist Nicholas Mangan. AAP guest contributor and Sydney-based curator Pedro de Almeida paid a visit to Mangan’s Melbourne studio and attended his exhibition in September at Artspace in Sydney to investigate his enigmatic works encompassing installation, sculpture, collage, photography and video. De Almeida reflects, “Mangan’s artistic practice has been principally characterized by his fascination with investigating the physical properties of earthly matter—especially substances revered for their God-like capacity to confer power and riches—in service of visual allegories that illuminate the fraught relationship between humanity and its expedient appropriation of the natural world.” 

For a more mystical experience in the physical world, AAP editor at large HG Masters headed to Zürich where he discussed visibility, the nature of perception, and belief in the paranormal world with New Zealander Dane Mitchell, known in his home country for his irreverent art-world antics—in 1999, he rummaged through the trash of Auckland’s Gow Langsford Gallery and displayed the memos, shredded paper and other discarded materials he found there, in order to spotlight a commercial gallery’s unseen activities. In recent years, Mitchell has entered the realm of shamans and magic. Masters recounts his own close encounter with Mitchell’s “spell works,” of which the artist insisted, “It’s not about belief; it’s real because it occurs.” 

Meanwhile, in our special column Inside the Burger Collection, guest contributor Thorsten Albertz sat down with artist and filmmaker Pierre Bismuth to discuss his forthcoming film Where Is Rocky II?—a “fake fiction” featuring detectives searching for American artist Ed Ruscha’s artificial rock, hidden in the American Mojave Desert in the 1970s, and Hollywood screenwriters conjuring up facts about the mysterious fabricated stone. And from Dhaka, art historian Melia Belli Bose introduces the work of three leading women artists—Tayeba Begum Lipi, Dilara Begum Jolly and Nazia Andaleeb Preema—who explore their identities in a postcolonial, patriarchal and increasingly globalized Bangladesh. 

To celebrate November’s most anticipated events, we profile some of the figures starring in the festivities. AAP reviews editor Hanae Ko met Tibetan artist Tsherin Sherpa in California’s Bay Area as he was putting the finishing touches on work that will be included at the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Brisbane. In Singapore, AAP associate editor Sylvia Tsai interviewed Eugene Tan, founding director of the new National Gallery Singapore, which will be unveiled in late November. Tsai took a sneak peek at the landmark project, which includes the restoration of the city’s former Supreme Court and City Hall. AAP contributing editor Chin-Chin Yap flew to Amsterdam in search of Aarnout Helb, founder of the unconventional Greenbox Museum of Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia and an eccentric collector who is bound to show up at Abu Dhabi Art. AAP contributing editor Michael Young discovered Sydney-based painter and animator Del Kathryn Barton’s love of unicorns and fantastical creatures just weeks before her debut solo exhibition in Singapore. 

In Essays, HG Masters considers the painful artistic legacy of the 1915 genocide of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman government in this year of centennial commemorations. From Shanghai, Arthur Solway of James Cohan Gallery reflects on the many foreign galleries that have established operations in China and their impact on a shrinking and increasingly mature playing field. 

Rounding out the issue, Simon Wright of Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art drafts a Dispatch report from Brisbane, characterizing the city’s in-between-ness—it’s neither a major center nor a small town—as a draw for cultural investment. In Fine Print, Hong Kong-based art lawyer Antony Dapiran reminds collectors of the importance of getting things down in black and white in an ever more cutthroat art market, whether in the form of a contract or an email. AAP contributor Simon Frank visited the studio of British-Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary in the pastoral outskirts of London, where they chatted about the physicality of abstraction and Renaissance art. Houshiary and many other artists in this issue reveal their fascination with nature, science and fiction—obsessions that function as forms of “escapism,” and perhaps therein lies their attraction.