Critics’ Picks

View of “Taiping Tianguo, A History of Possible Encounters,” 2012.

Hong Kong

“Taiping Tianguo, A History of Possible Encounters”

Para Site
22/F, 677 King's Road, Quarry Bay Wing Wah Industrial Building
May 12 - August 12

Rather than making overreaching claims for uncovering or even just endorsing an authoritative narrative, this exhibition is ambitious for its speculative tentativeness; it is “an attempt to think of actual and concrete, as well as tenuous or even possibly non-existing connections” between four artists who lived in New York in the 1980s and early ’90s: Ai Weiwei, Frog King Kwok, Tehching Hsieh, and Martin Wong. A less adventurous show might have honed in on the so-called diasporic links that unite exiled and expatriate artists of Chinese ancestry, but the gathering deftly avoids sloppy thematic generalizations about national or ethnic identity, choosing instead to remain attentive to the nuances of these personal friendships and the resultant involvement of these artists in each other’s practice.

The four central artists’ names and figures, along with the half-glimpsed associations and affiliations between them, seem to weave around and circulate freely through the exhibition space. Photo documents of Tehching Hsieh’s formative “One Year Performances” from 1978 to 1982 turn out to be from the collection of Kwok, and Hsieh himself pops up in Ai’s photos of the downtown New York scene. Meanwhile, a surprise “contribution” from artist Danh Vo’s personal collection (Martin Wong’s painting FDNY, 1998) multiplies the resonances between the various materials assembled here by recalling Vo’s own trademark practice of mining the latent associative powers of ordinary objects.

Wall texts prompt and signal “possible” links and connections rather than insisting on them, while individual works shed light on personal history in a disarming way––the slide shows of Wong’s performances with the gay drag troupe Angels of Light and his mother’s collection of his own works on the walls of her house are particular highlights. Taken as a whole, “Taiping Tianguo” resembles not so much a “group show” centered on a specific New York–based Chinese artistic diaspora as it does a loose confederation of ingeniously sourced artworks and documents that recount the personal exploits of a group of friends and comrades.