Review of the GAM Platform Hong Kong
2009-05-21 - 2009-05-22
GAM Platform III
A New Geography of Art in the Making
ZKM and Goethe-Institut in collaboration with Chinese University of Hong Kong
May 21 & 22, 2009 (Thu & Fri)
Goethe-Institut Hong Kong
The Third platform of the Project GAM, following the previous platforms in São Paulo and New Delhi in 2008, again took place at a Goethe-Institut. It was titled “A New Geography of Art in the Making” and organized in cooperation with Michael Müller-Verweyen, Director of the Goethe-Institut Hong Kong, and Oscar Ho Hing-kay, currently professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and curator of groundbreaking exhibitions in the city. An introductory session on May 21 was devoted to papers of the organizers. Hans Belting and Andrea Buddensieg presented the activities and scope of the project GAM for discussion and criticism, followed by Oscar Ho’s penetrating analysis of the controversies around the planning of the cultural district project in West Kowloon, Hong Kong, where art museums are planned as part of a giant center of cultural entertainment, both for the local community and international tourism, a project which failed several times but as present enters a new and promising phase. As in the previous platforms, this one too allowed us to discuss the local situation and the local impact of contemporary art’s worldwide expansion.
The three sections brought together speakers from Mainland China and several South-East Asian countries. The first section was moderated by Jane DeBevoise, Hong Kong, Chair of the Board of Directors of Asia Art Archive and former Deputy Director of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. It was titled: China – Museums and Audiences of Contemporary Art. This time the issue was, above all, the museum situation in Mainland China where art museums are mostly still a new phenomenon. The moderator gave a lucid analysis of the uneven situation of public and private art museums, which are mostly available for rent, including a lot of hybrid institutions that require attention of their own. The first speaker, Fei Dawei, now resident in Paris and a legendary figure in the Chinese avant-garde movement, expatiated on the current problems of contemporary art, still a novel phenomenon in Chinese institutions. The budgets, as a rule, only cover the building costs and not the collection. Curators with professional training are still a minority. Public art, for the time being, still means market art. John Clark intervened with skeptical remarks on the expectation that China would soon develop an international art scene at home.
Since English translations of the Chinese papers were not always available, Ju Lie, founder of the so-called Long March Project with headquarters in Beijing, and a familiar figure for many international exhibitions, volunteered with spontaneous translations. In his own paper, he expanded on the question of audiences since the audience was and still is the central issue for the Long March Space and its offshoots, such as the Ho Chi Min path in Vietnam, which is still in its planning phase. The next speaker was Huang Zhuan, professor at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. He is also a curator of the project “State Legacy,” a program dedicated to the visualization of political history and carried out in cooperation with Manchester University, UK: Huang Zhuan chose a concrete example by speaking about OCAT, a project at the Xiangning Art Museum in China. He elaborated on several experiments with the local audience such as installations in the Shenzhen Metro, which caused unexpected problems. The last speaker was Gao Shiming, director of the Visual Culture Research Center at the China Art Academy in Hangzhou. In his paper, he analyzed the deconstruction and reconstruction of the local in Chinese art under the title “The Forthcoming History,” which causes for deep concern among Chinese intellectuals for the fate of art success at home. Shiming rejected the estimation of Chinese art as a mere local version of contemporary international art. Instead he described Chinese art as an unfinished project and “a possible world” that needs to avoid any nationalism or fundamentalism. James Elkins, Professor at the Art Institute of Chicago, had been scheduled to speak in the same section on the question whether art history is global, but joined the group only the next day due to a late arrival. In his book “Is Art History Global?” he epitomized a new discussion on the question whether art history offers methods that can be shared on a global scale, In his paper, however, he concentrated on the different situation of art historical institutions in the countries of the globe.
Section II on May 22, moderated by Oscar Ho, was devoted to South-East Asia as a new territory of contemporary art and brought together representatives from several countries in the region. The main issue was to discuss the existence or non-existence of a regional art phenomenon that includes Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. The institutionalization of a local art scene in such countries needs attention of its own, separated from the development of Mainland China. Patrick D. Flores, Professor at the University of the Philippines in Diliman and curator at the National Art Gallery in Manila, presented a paper with field notes on an art world that he characterized by interest and impasse. The territory is still partly considered as ethnically determined in the sense that art is meant to mediate the political process of representation and the engagement with the native. Ethnography, as he explained, had once played a key role in constructing the art concept in South-East Asia. But the search for common history and aesthetics in the sense that an artwork could only be produced on the spot enters a new phase nowadays. The main argument was that installation is the most popular art form that functions for a local community. Raiji Kuroda, Chief Curator at the Fukuoka Art Museum since 2003, discussed the role of Asian art exhibitions in a local Japanese city. From the very beginning, his museum, founded in 1980, organized Asian art shows that brought together artists from many countries in the region. The events were followed by the foundation of the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum in 1999 and the rise of Triennials connected with the museum.
The next speaker was Dinh Q. Lê, an artist from Vietnam who recently returned there from the US. His paper was titled: “The Search for Global Art and the Wreckage that it Left Behind.” He referred to the fact that his peers in the US called his decision to return to his native country “a career suicide.” But his project indeed soon centered on an active part in building up a working scene in Vietnam where, up until recently, there has been a lack of critics and institutions such as museums. The speaker also offered ironic remarks on the dangers that the economic seductions of the emerging art market present for the national artists. The last speaker on the morning was Jim Supangkat, a legendary figure in the early art scene of Indonesia who made the decision in 1992 to continue working as a curator from then on, in order to develop the national art scene. His paper was titled “Art ‘with an accent’”. In his view a western, and therefore colonial concept of art, which has existed since the 19th century, could be viewed as analogous with the development of the use of the English language. Considering this analogy, the understanding of art in the development of Asia should be viewed as “Art with an accent,” a formulation which points to the fact and necessity of diversity in the context of a global world of art.
Section III, following in the afternoon of the same day, was titled Hong Kong and Beyond: Metropolitan Art Centers in Comparison and was moderated by David Clarke, Professor at the University of Hong Kong and author of several books on the art scene in Hong Kong. Hong Kong, as a place of global activity and connections, incites for a comparative study with other metropolitan centers. The metropolitan perspectives, as the program has it, allows for globalization of art to be spoken of in more concrete terms. The first speaker was the Hong Kong art dealer Johnson Tsong-zung Chang, co-founder of Asia Art Archive, guest professor of China Art Academy and curator of many important Chinese exhibitions since the 1980s. His paper dealt with the curatorial practice and criticism of Chinese contemporary art in the last two decades. The accelerated history of art in the period saw radical changes that reflect the impact of globalization. Institutions have not caught up with the altered ecology of the art world. Artists in China open frontiers of knowledge systems, but still struggle for a clear position in their own culture, with its indigenous traditions, today. John Clark, Professor at the University of Sydney, gave a vivid report of his long-term research project to study the new biennials in Asia with the critical perspective of their failures and chances. He denounced the lack of independent curators who are free to navigate the art scene and resist the mass consumerism especially in the field of Chinese art. Nathalie Boseul Shin, one of the curators of Media City Seoul 2004 and currently curator at the Total Museum of Contemporary Art in Korea, gave a rich description of the recent changes in the Korean museum scene. Digital Playground, an annual media art exhibition by Total Museum served as an example. In the long term the government, as she explained, tries to privatize art institutions including MOCA Korea. Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo, currently editor of the Guardian on Sunday in Lagos, Nigeria, described his part in changing the National Museum in the megacity Lagos about a year ago, when the ethnographic collection was transformed into a new presentation which appeals to a contemporary audience. With the help of the Ford Foundation and after the return of the country to democracy in 1999, the museum experiences a thorough reconstruction. The last speaker was Charles Merewether, curator of the 2006 Biennale of Sydney and one-time deputy director of the Cultural District in Abu Dhabi. He spoke about his experiences in a place where a museum culture is still deficient. The notion of the metropolitan as a site of global exchange has informed this development. Culture, there and in other places, has increasingly assumed a geopolitical dimension that characterizes the ideological formation of globalization and the assertion that art is business. In this context, the speaker also mentioned the open rivalry between the Guggenheim and the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The platform was concluded by a public session that opened these issues to a local audience. Introduced by Michael Müller-Verweyen and moderated by Hans Belting, the speakers of the conference took part in a vivid discussion of the trajectories of the conference, when answering questions from the audience.
For us, the third GAM platform was, retrospectively, a most satisfactory and promising initiative, which calls for reiteration in the future. We are grateful to the Goethe-Institut, especially to its Hong Kong director Michael Müller-Verweyen, and to Oscar Ho for making this event possible. We are also grateful to all participants, speakers and moderators, who offered their experience to this event. Compared to many other conferences, the platforms have a particular significance for GAM and its German context. For us, as also for the users of our website, it offers an encounter with new partners overseas. It allows us to better respond to their own perspective of what happens in a world that we all share in unprecedented ways. When such an encounter addresses a common, namely a global theme, in another cultural space the common theme provides unexpected aspects. The global terminology often somewhat obscures the fact that we don’t know enough about each other, how we understand the discourse and which implications it has locally. The building up of a network seems mandatory in such occasions but it is a challenge, which needs a new effort to be carried to in a manageable format.