Sandhini Poddar @ SGFA Vision Culture Lecture

A major contemporary art museum and its recent move of introducing Asian artists to its Western audience, is among the topics covered by Guggenheim Museum associate curator Sandhini Poddar, at her recent visit to Shalini Ganendra's. The low turn-out can be attributed to rain and an art auction, as one ponders the sorry state of affairs if indeed local curators chose to attend the charity sale over this experience sharing. Tracing the development of Guggenheim exhibitions from 2008 to the present, a logical approach sees one blockbuster show leading to significant individual retrospectives, then onto region-specific surveys. This macro-to-microscopic progression implies a visionary curatorial strategy, but each iteration is still susceptible to certain pressing questions. The intention of Western museums to extend coverage of Asian art will always be suspect, especially for the Guggenheim as it builds its largest outpost in Abu Dhabi.

Installation view of Cai Guo-Qiang - Cry Dragon/Cry Wolf: The Ark of Genghis Khan (1996)

Cai Guo-Qiang's impressive "I Want to Believe" drew crowds in with nine white cars hanging from the ceiling, but the interested observer would notice the references to Chinese idioms and history in other works like 'Cry Dragon/Cry Wolf' and 'Borrowing Your Enemy's Arrows'. The large three-sided 'Memory' by Anish Kapoor was then installed in the iconic New York City gallery, a superficial attempt to promote cross-cultural understanding since Anish is based in London and Berlin. I am fortunate to have attended Mono-Ha founder Lee Ufan's thematic retrospective, which featured many rocks and trailing brush strokes. The fact that such bare sensibilities were developed halfway across the globe, earlier even than the Minimalism movement, must have shocked American art observers. This was followed by the relatively low-key exhibition of printmaker Zarina Hashmi's works on paper.

Zarina - Untitled (1970)

Sandhini mentioned how she started with colleagues whom barely knew what was art from Asia, where she eventually utilised her background to curate "Being Singular Plural", a multimedia group exhibition by contemporary Indian artists. This idea of bringing trans-nationalism to the United States continued early this year with "Gutai: Splendid Playground", which cannot have possibly succeeded without Lee Ufan's show as a precursor, and is now an art buzzword in New York. Sandhini ended the presentation with brief notes about her next curatorial effort (V.S. Gaitonde retrospective), and selection of works for the 450,000 square feet Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, which will be flanked by the national museum and the Louvre. Q&A time allowed for the intense discussion about "No Country: Contemporary Art from South and South East Asia" - the UBS-sponsored and heavily-criticised survey, curated by Singaporean June Yap.

[Top] SaburĊ Murakami - Passing Through (1956); [Bottom] Murakami progressively leaping through 21 paper screens before suffering a concussion 

As quoted by Ben Davis, "...“hybridity” and “nomadism” are their own kind of contemporary curatorial stereotypes, and the over-reliance on such tropes only raises the question it seeks to head off... the curatorial premise of “No Country” appears to be, “Huh?"" The failure in exhibited context is evident after reading a number of reviews, none which noticed the significance behind Vincent Leong's "Keeping Up with the Abdullahs". Powerful yet humorous, the act to highlight a political reality and racial segregation in a publicly-united country, is easily lost among the displays and its American audience. This problematic approach is acknowledged by Sandhini, whom reminds of the tensions that come with corporate sponsorships and geographic demarcations. Another engaging talk in the Vision Culture Lecture series, as we struggle to keep abreast of developments in the global art world, or if local curators even care about it.

Vincent Leong - Keeping Up With the Abdullahs 1 (2012)

"Just as countries that have broken free of the chains of imperialism strive as much as possible to recognize each other as equals, in the territory of art attention is being given to the types of boundaries and relations of expression where self encounters other (rather than constructing a painted empire on canvas through representations of the self). Expression achieves externality and imagination is liberated by structuring an interactive site where dialogue between inside and outside is possible. Using ambiguous expression that is simultaneously passive and active, I hope to cut into the controlled everyday reality of industrial society, breathing fresh air into it and stimulating an awareness of infinity that transcends the human, to awaken a world that is always open."
- In Search of Encounter: The Sources of Contemporary Art, Lee Ufan, 1970

Lee Ufan - From Line (1977)