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What's Next for Asian Contemporary Art?

Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu with Carolyn Cristoff-Bakargiev.

Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu with Carolyn Cristoff-Bakargiev.

NEW YORK, May 11, 2009 – As part of Asian Contemporary Art Week 2009, artist Lee Ming Wei and Documenta 13 artistic director Carolyn Cristoff-Bakargiev discussed the future of Asian contemporary art with Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu.

Chiu said that recent years have seen a "seismic shift" in the amount of attention given to Asian artists living at home and abroad. "Much of the debate in the early 1990s was about how can we get a seat at the table," Chiu said, "... and now, of course, it's the debate around what do we do with [it]."

Lee introduced two of his projects, Bodhi Tree Project and Guernica in the Sand. For the former, Lee transported a sapling from Buddha's 2,000 year-old holy Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka to the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. "It took us four years to convince the high priest and the government that this is a true act of sincerity and not just a hoax," said Lee. He planted the sapling on the Buddha's birthday last year.

Lee's Guernica in the Sand project is a performance piece about impermanence, in which the artist replicated Picasso's Guernica in a sand-painting over a 12-week period. As he worked on the piece, audience members were invited to walk onto the sand painting and interact with it. "It's very much a relationship about destruction and creation at the same moment," Lee explained

Cristoff-Bakargiev spoke about her work at last year's Sydney Biennale, leading Chiu to comment on how the Biennale was uniquely grounded in a sense of history and featured a number of Asian artists who fit very well into the overall concept. Cristoff-Bakargiev explained that the concept revolved around "change" and "revolution" and that in the Asia-Pacific region, "it has always been known that revolution is repetition and repetition is revolution ... so I thought this is the best context [in which] to do this investigation."

In terms of identifying the next hot trend in Asian contemporary art, Chiu noted that experimental art movements have existed in both Korea and Japan for some time now, but that they aren't well known in the US. "If we were to predict what's ahead ... we're seeing growing interest in terms of developing Asian contemporary art as a field in its own right," she said.

Reported by Daisy Wang