Saturday, September 17, 2011

ART HK Director shares insights on future of ASEAN modern and contemporary art markets

Over the past few years, ART HK: Hong Kong International Art Fair has emerged as one of the premier art fairs in the world. In 2011, the fair achieved significant growth in public attendance (up 38% to 63,000) and gallery representation (260 of the world’s leading galleries). As one expert remarked privately, “The event put the world on notice. In Asia, only Singapore could hope to challenge Hong Kong now.”

Magnus Renfrew, the director of ART HK, has been the tour de force behind the fair’s tremendous success in establishing Hong Kong as the center of the modern and contemporary art market in Asia. Recognized as one of the most influential persons in the art world, he and his staff are now busy ensuring that ART HK 2012 further expands their reach and influence in the global art market.

Looking toward the future, Renfrew sees the Southeast Asian art scene continuing to evolve: “There is a very vibrant artistic scene in Southeast Asia at the moment - particularly in Indonesia and the Philippines. There are more collectors and buyers emerging.”

When asked whether the region’s move to middle income status is the primary driver for this change, Renfrew responds that the region’s increased prosperity is an important factor: “Great wealth is being created in the region and the art market tends to follow the money. Alongside fine wines and luxury goods art is becoming a key way to express wealth and sophistication.”

However, Renfrew points out that the demand for Southeast Asian contemporary art is not purely from indigenous ASEAN member state buyers: “There is an increasing interest internationally for work from Asia in general and a fast-developing interest in the work of artists from Southeast Asia.”

With notable exceptions, Renfrew concedes that one of the challenges that will confront Southeast Asia though is that “there are very few major publicly funded institutions currently in the region either of domestic or international art.” However, he “expects that changing in the next few years.”

Nyoman Masriadi comments on SE Asian contemporary art

Earlier this year, Paul Kasmin Gallery presented the first solo exhibition of Nyoman Masriadi in the United States. Still in his mid-30s, Masriadi has emerged as one of the best known Southeast Asia contemporary artists of his generation. Influenced by television, new media, and video game culture, Masriadi has broken the mold for Indonesian contemporary artists who too often produce works that fail to connect with a global audience.

After the exhibition, I had the opportunity to ask Masriadi about how he would define Southeast Asian contemporary art. Specifically, I wanted to know if he saw an ASEAN regional identity emerging independent of national and regional (ex. Asian) identities. According to Pak Masriadi, this is not the case: “I don't see much of a regional identity within the contemporary arts movement in Southeast Asia. Each artist is seeking to create his own language and his own work.”

Friday, September 16, 2011

House of Five Leaves, Vol. 4 (Manga) Arrives September 20th

In preparation for my Intervention interview tomorrow, I am re-reading House of Five Leaves - one of my favorite Japanese manga. I was introduced to the English version of the series last year during a trip to Japan. Upon my return, I learned that Viz Media had licensed it and was distributing the series in the U.S. I immediately ran out, purchased Volume 1 and 2, and read both in one sitting.

Re-reading the series reminds me just how big of a disconnect there is between Volume 1 and 2. Written and illustrated by Natsume Ono, the series tells the story of a ronin who flirts with joining a kidnapping syndicate after failing as a samurai. A largely character story driven series, Volume 1 masterfully blends Ono’s tact for not over-writing character lines; thereby forcing readers to immerse themselves in the main character’s childlike incomprehension at his new reality.

Unfortunately, in Volume 2, the incoherence of the main character, Masa, slowly shifts onto the reader as the plot line blurs under disconnected storytelling. As other critics have commented, the main issue with Volume 2 is that Ono places far too much onus on the reader to extrapolate a complex story with little background and context.

The first time that I read those volumes, I was bitterly disappointed with the series for a few months; questioning whether it was the manga version of Matrix Reloaded. However, I was pleasantly surprised when Volume 3 returned the series to its original magnificence. Not only did it remind the reader of Ono’s immense talent and skill at writing character driven narrative but also made it easy to forget the shortcomings of Volume 2.

Now that the fourth installment of House of Five Leaves has arrived (on Amazon), I for one am eagerly awaiting some downtime to sit back with an ochoko of sake and walk the streets of Edo with Ono once again ...

Upcoming interview with Narbonic creator and Viz Media editor KUZXNH52VSRR

Tomorrow, I will be at Intervention in Rockville, MD to interview Shaenon Garrity. She is best known for Narbonic, a hugely successful web comic that she both wrote and illustrated. Shaenon is now a manga editor at Viz Media, one of the leaders in the publishing and distribution of Japanese manga for English speaking audiences. We will be discussing the influence of Japanese anime and manga on American pop culture for an article that I am writing for The Diplomat.