Pauline J. Yao

  • Eisa Jocson, Zoo, 2020. Performance view, Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong, 2020. Yang Hao and Sudhee Liao. Photo: Kwan Sheung Chi.

    Pauline J. Yao’s top ten highlights of 2020

    Pauline J. Yao is Lead Curator, Visual Art, at M+ in Hong Kong. Her recent exhibitions at M+ include “In Search of Southeast Asia Through the M+ Collections” (with Shirley Surya) and “Five Artists: Sites Encountered.” She is currently coediting a publication on the M+ Collections.


    On the heels of months of escalating protests and amid a global pandemic, the new national security law—drafted by the Chinese government and enacted in Hong Kong—delivered an unprecedented blow. Its swift passage—just hours before the July 1 anniversary of Hong Kong’s

  • Pauline J. Yao

    1 PACITA ABAD (MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART AND DESIGN, MANILA; CURATED BY JOSELINA CRUZ AND PIO ABAD) Bursting with color and texture, Abad’s unique trapunto paintings—hand-stitched quilts painted with acrylics and oils and adorned with buttons and ribbons—are in a category all their own. The same can be said for Abad herself, a Filipina artist whose extended stays in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Sudan, Thailand, and the United States during the 1970s and ’80s yielded a diverse and ever-evolving practice. Twenty-four of these intuitively composed and precisely crafted

  • Pauline J. Yao

    Books like Thai Art: Currencies of the Contemporary (MIT Press) don’t appear every day. In fact, they don’t even appear every decade. The last serious book-length study of contemporary Thai art came out in the 1990s, as Thailand was in the midst of an economic boom and blind to the calamities—both economic and political—to come. The real merits of David Teh’s achievement, however, lie not in his volume’s rarity but in its language and approach. Written with the eloquence and verve of a seasoned critic, Thai Art offers attitudesall too infrequently found in the growing field of writing

  • Zhang Peili, X?, 1987, oil on canvas, 39 × 31 1/4". From the series “X?,” 1986–87.


    ARTIST ZHANG PEILI has spent his thirty-year career willfully evading categorization. “I’m not a person who sticks to rules,” he noted in a 2011 interview. And as the diversity of his body of work suggests, he has never followed the unwritten rule that the successful artist must develop a recognizable style. There is, however, a label he cannot escape: “the father of video art in China.”

    Zhang earned this mantle with 30x30, 1988, a three-hour, unedited, fixed-frame close-up shot of a pair of gloved hands dropping a mirror on the ground, gluing the shards back together, picking it up, and dropping

  • First Asia Biennial/Fifth Guangzhou Triennial

    Launched in 2002 by the Guangdong Museum of Art, the Guangzhou Triennial is one of China’s longest- running and most reputable periodic international exhibitions. Under the leadership of Luo Yiping, it has witnessed some creative restructuring, most notably in 2011, when the standard format of a single exhibition was abandoned in favor of multiple shows spanning the course of a year. Now in its fifth edition, the triennial will open in conjunction with the inaugural Asia Biennial; they will henceforth sync

  • Charles Lim, SEA STATE 5: drift (stay still now to move), 2012, digital video, color, sound, 7 minutes 19 seconds.


    SOMETIME BETWEEN 2002 AND 2008, the small island known as Pulau Sejahat disappeared off the northeast coast of Singapore. The sea did not subsume it, but the one-hectare landmass was mysteriously wiped from all official nautical charts of Singapore’s territory at the directive of the nation’s Maritime and Port Authority. This was no mere oversight: The erasure actually reflected the results of a massive land-reclamation project, a strategic merging intended to increase the territory of the diminutive island city-state. Indeed, the area comprising Pulau Sejahatstill exists, but it is now surrounded

  • Li Yuan-Chia, Untitled (detail), ca. 1980, metal, magnets, gelatin silver prints, dimensions variable.

    Pauline J. Yao

    1 HONG KONG PROTESTS As is the case with any question of cultural identity, what it means to be Hong Kong Chinese today is constantly evolving. On September 28, as young people took to the streets demanding true democracy, a crucial new phase of self-definition began. As of this writing Hong Kong is five weeks into the largest, most civilized civil-disobedience movement it has ever seen, and there are no signs of its stopping any time soon. The fact that the leaderless uprising—by turns naive and courageous, buoyant and desperate—lacks a singular name is just one indication of its

  • “Lee Mingwei and His Relations”

    Known for creating participatory installations that explore issues of trust and intimacy through everyday gestures such as eating and sleeping, Taiwanese-born, New York–based artist Lee Mingwei is one of the undersung heroes of relational art. The scenarios he devises are simple but exacting and are designed to elicit charged emotional exchanges. Lee’s work reminds us of hospitality and sharing the old-fashioned way—through extended, one-on-one, face-to-face interactions—and the resulting bonds can be lasting, if not transformative. As the artist’s

  • View of “Geng Jianyi: Wu Zhi, 1985–2008,” 2013, Mingsheng Art Museum, Shanghai

    Pauline J. Yao

    1 THE TRIAL OF BO XILAI A once-in-a-decade power shift in one of the world’s most authoritarian and opaque political systems does not occur without consequence. As soon as Xi Jinping took the helm of the Chinese Communist Party, the scandal surrounding expelled party member Bo Xilai was set to implode—and it did, in the most spectacular fashion. Bo’s trial was not only marked by a leadership struggling to provide new levels of transparency, but shaken by the unprecedented “austerity measures” Xi has implemented to curb corruption. Yet one trial can only change so much; despite slackening

  • View of “Roundtable,” 2012, Gwangju Biennale Hall. Foreground: Michael Joo, Indivisible, 2012. Background, from left: Mark Bradford, 1872 South, 2012; Mark Bradford, 1910 West, 2012.

    the 2012 Gwangju Biennale

    THE 2012 GWANGJU BIENNALE, titled “Roundtable,” was the very image of contradiction: Diverse perspectives convened—collided?—around the idea of collaboration itself, turning the act of assembling shared viewpoints into one of radical dispersal. Although its catalogue did make the most of its name, convening a “Roundtable on ‘Roundtable,’” the exhibition’s dedication to the anodyne metaphor of exchange was ill suited to the wildly divergent opinions and positions of its organizers. Unfolding across the five gallery spaces of Gwangju Biennale Hall and as far as five off-site venues, “

  • Geng Jianyi, The reason to be classic/Pink, 2000, watercolor on blank book, 10 1/2 x 7 5/8 x 4 1/2".

    “Wu Zhi: Geng Jianyi, 1985–2008”

    Part of an active and influential group of artists linked to the former Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, fifty-year-old Geng Jianyi is responsible for one of the most consistent and profound oeuvres of the 1980s Chinese avant-garde. As his peers were experimenting with Pop, dada, and surrealist painting styles, Geng began showing concept-driven, text- and photo-based, and instructional works that posed stark questions about the human condition and about individual relationships to social institutions. His influence on his contemporaries and younger generations (as well as his distaste for the

  • Tintin Wulia, Nous ne notons pas les fleurs, 2011, performance view.

    9th Gwangju Biennale

    Armed with an ample curatorial team and a bevy of “intersecting urgencies,” the ninth edition of Asia’s longest-running biennial seems designed to counteract the neat, singular vision of its predecessor. To that end, it is offering up “Roundtable”—a platform shaped by open collectivity and a multiplicity of voices engaged in democratic, nonhierarchical exchange. Here, six female curators (five from East or South Asia, one from the Emirates) tender six curatorial themes ranging from “forms of collectivity”