PRINT December 2014

Pauline J. Yao

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

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 heterogeneous nature. Few things are certain at this stage except this: The rift the protests have exposed across age groups, income levels, and political affiliations will have a resounding impact on future generations.

2 LI YUAN-CHIA (TAIPEI FINE ARTS MUSEUM; CURATED BY MEI-CHING FANG WITH GUY BRETT AND NICK SAWYER) At the forefront of modernist abstraction in Taiwan in the mid-1950s and later active in Bologna, Italy; Milan; and London, Li (1929–1991) has remained largely unknown in Asia. With this comprehensive, research-driven retrospective, Li’s wide-ranging experiments in Chinese ink, oil painting, installation, and photography were finally brought together under one roof, allowing the achievements of this wildly versatile and committed artist to get their due.

Co-organized with the Li Yuan-chia Foundation, London.

3 CAI GUO-QIANG, ELEGY: EXPLOSION EVENT FOR THE OPENING OF “CAI GUO-QIANG: THE NINTH WAVE” (HUANGPU RIVER, SHANGHAI, AUGUST 8, 2014) Trading his precision high-tech follies for something weightier, Cai produced Elegy, an eight-minute blowout of monstrous hundred-yard walls of charcoal-colored smoke, accentuated with vertical bursts of malachite green, canary yellow, and pastel pink cascading through the air. This is an artist with undisputed mastery of his medium. When it comes to heart-pumping, explosive theatrics towering into the sky, nobody can touch him.

Co-organized by Power Station of Art, Shanghai and the Shanghai International Culture Association.

4 ARATA ISOZAKI (WATARI-UM, THE WATARI MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, TOKYO; CURATED BY SHIGERU MATSUI) The compact Watari-Um was the perfect setting in which to reflect on the process of one of today’s most important living architects. The show’s centerpiece, a full-scale replica of the tree house Isozaki built for himself in Karuizawa, Japan, in 1982, is an homage to a space in which he allowed himself to indulge in “thoughts beyond architecture.” It turns out Isozaki spent a great deal of time thinking about art. Documentation of collaborative projects with Jiro Takamatsu, Isamu Noguchi, and Anish Kapoor chart an interdisciplinary practice that was and is ahead of its time.

5 “HANART 100” (VARIOUS VENUES, HONG KONG; CURATED BY JOHNSON CHANG AND GAO SHIMING) This exhibition and symposium showcased the collection of art dealer Johnson Chang (of Hanart TZ Gallery) but also constituted a reflexive examination of the Chinese art world. While the densely packed displays were characterized by perplexing juxtapositions, the curatorial framework, which posited “three art worlds” (traditional, socialist, and neoliberal), was timely and apt.

Lee Mingwei, The Letter Writing Project, 1998/2014, wooden booths, writing paper, envelopes. Installation view, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2014. Photo: Yoshitsugu Fuminari.

6 LEE MINGWEI (MORI ART MUSEUM, TOKYO, CURATED BY MAMI KATAOKA) The small army of exhibition attendants and volunteers marshaled behind the scenes (not to mention members of the public who were recruited) to realize the vast array of Lee’s participatory projects—including letter writing, clothes mending, and meal sharing—was nothing short of astounding. Add to this a strong selection of historical and contemporary works by artists and thinkers—including D. T. Suzuki, Hakuin, John Cage, and Ozawa Tsuyoshi—and the result is a pitch-perfect, if logistically challenging, foray into Lee’s expanded vocabulary of social relations and connections.

7 ZHANG PEILI (BOERS-LI GALLERY, BEIJING) The highlight of Zhang’s solo show was Collision of Harmonies, 2014, a sound installation on the gallery’s second floor consisting of two enormous old-school megaphones mounted on a motorized ceiling track that was suspended over scattered piles of fluorescent lights. As the megaphones move incrementally closer to each other, the recorded voices—one male, one female—shift from intelligible vocal warm-ups to a crescendo of reverberating feedback as they meet and then back to language as they reverse direction. A pointed commentary on the breakdown of communication and the disturbances that come from technology, the installation exemplifies Zhang’s skills at disseminating meaning through spare production values.

8 JOÃO VASCO PAIVA (FUNDAÇÃO ORIENTE, MACAO) Against the backdrop of a sixteenth-century colonial villa, the Portuguese-born, Hong Kong–based Paiva expertly navigated among the disparate coordinates of formalist abstraction and actual flotsam and jetsam. With colored-resin casts of buoys and coral glowing like rare gems atop pedestals, and found bits of sailcloth doubling as geometric canvases, this show was a refreshing take on the coded language of nautical space.

9 KAZIMIR MALEVICH (TATE MODERN, LONDON; CURATED BY ACHIM BORCHARDT-HUME) This show let me share space with Malevich’s iconic Black Square, 1915, an experience nothing short of extraordinary. And the artist’s shift from his radically reductive nonobjective canvases to socialist-realist-style figuration still manages to shock.

Co-organized with the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn.

10 “SPARKLE! CAN WE LIVE (TOGETHER)” (OI!, HONG KONG; CURATED BY LEE CHUN FUNG) That this show about artist-run initiatives, grassroots organizations, and autonomous art spaces took place inside a government-funded cultural venue felt mildly ironic (or like an act of boosterism). Were it not for the curator’s conscious effort to acknowledge the coexistence and vast gulf between these positions, the project would have fallen flat. Instead, it was a crucial step in the right direction and a prescient harbinger of events to come (see no. 1).

A frequent contributor to Artforum, Pauline J. Yao is curator, visual arts, at M+, the new museum for twentieth- and twenty-first-century visual culture being built in Hong Kong.