With the explosion of museums, galleries and art institutions in Asia during the past decade, the region’s curators are stepping up to the challenge of putting on shows that are at once stimulating, accessible and reflect – or arguably, predict – the zeitgeist. Here are a new generation of Asia’s top curators making waves on the international art scene.
TEXT: CoBo Editorial Force
IMAGES: Courtesy of curators
Venus Lau is currently artistic director of K11 Art Foundation. Previously, as artistic director of OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Venus Lau excelled at bringing light to young artists from Asia. At OCT, she has put on shows such as Digging a Hole in China, Jiang Zhi: All and The Enormous Space: Lee Kit and Cui Jie. She was also a consulting curator at Bejing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, where she curated the Secret Timezones Trilogy, an exhibition featuring leading contemporary Asian artists including Haegue Yang and Ming Wong. A strong thinker as well as writer, she is known for her ability to situate ideas of international critique in a local context. In 2011, she won the Chinese Contemporary Art Award for Critics. Lau was also chair of the Society for Experimental Cultural Production, a non-profit organization promoting artistic and curatorial innovation.
Since his appointment as executive director of Para Site in 2011, Cosmin Costinas has curated ambitious shows. Apart from the current show A Beast, a God, and a Line, which premiered at the Dhaka Art Summit this February, Costinas also co-curated A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, Ghost, Rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong Story (with Inti Guerrero, 2013), Soil and Stones: Souls and Songs (with Inti Guerrero, 2017), Souls Creative Operational Solutions (with Prem Krishnamurthy, 2017), among others. By bringing together artists from seemingly disparate regions, Costinas’ shows provoke rethinking of what globalisation and nationalism means – especially in an increasingly divisive world. The idea of cross-pollination also manifests in Para Site’s International Residency Programme, where artists, curators and writers are invited to Hong Kong to engage with the local art scene, as well as explore links between the city and their home cities. The tireless curator also serves as guest curator at different mega-scale art events, such as the recent Dhaka Art Summit.
Diana Campbell Betancourt
Dhaka Art Summit’s thoughtfully-curated programme of exhibitions, talks and panels, as well as its dexterity to include wide-ranging political opinions, have confirmed Diana Campbell Betancourt, its chief curator, as one of the most exciting curators to watch today. Aside from the art summit, Betancourt chairs the board of the Mumbai Art Room, and has curated solos for a wide range of artists, including Haroon Miraza, Lynda Benglis and Shahzia Sikander. As artistic director of Samdani Art Foundation, she plays an instrumental role in developing its collection, which is set to go on exhibit at the Foundation’s forthcoming Srihatta- Samdani Sculpture Park and Art Centre in Sylhet. In her role as consultant for a range of international institutions, including New Museum, MCA Chicago, as well as the artistic director of Bellas Artes Projects in Bagac (the Philippines), she is working to bring South and Southeast Asian artists to the global stage.
As the newest space in Ho Chi Minh city, hopes were high for Factory Contemporary Art Centre. The responsibility fell into trusty hands of Zoe Butt, who was appointed the centre’s artistic director in late 2016. Previously executive director and curator at San Art, Butt has devised a stellar programme for FCAC so far, for example she curated Dislocate, a solo exhibition of Bui Cong Khanh, the Saigon artist known for his exploration of Vietnamese culture from both an insider and outsider perspective; Empty Forest, a solo of Tuấn Andrew Nguyễn; Spirit of Friendship (co-curated with Bill Nguyễn and Lê Thiên Bảo), a group show that shed lighton how camaraderie has shaped the country’s contemporary art scene. A visionary speaker at many conferences and seminars, Butt is loved by her audience for her profound thinking and inspiring sharing. Butt is a member of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s Asian Art Council, a member of Asia Society’s ‘Asia 21 Young Leaders’, as well as a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum. She was recently announced the co-curator of the 2019 Sharjah Biennale with Omar Kholeif and Claire Tancons.
A fixture of the Thai art scene and currently the artistic director of the Jim Thompson Art Center in Bangkok, Gridthiya Gaweewong’s interest include the ways by which Asian, specifically Thai artists confront the myriad of social transformations in the years proceeding the Cold War. Prior to Jim Thompson, she founded Project 304 in 1996, an arts organisation praised for its multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural approach at attacking the difficult issues of migration, alienation and globalisation head-on. The veteran has organised exhibitions including Underconstruction, Tokyo, and events including Bangkok Experimental Film Festival and Saigon Open City in Saigon, Vietnam. As further testament to her multi-disciplinary approach, she is also a director of the fifth Bangkok Experimental film festival.
A champion of the Indonesian art scene, Grace Samboh began her career as parts of artist-collective Ruangrupa in Jarkata. In 2009, she was commissioned by the Indonesian Visual Art Archive to curate the 21 Years Retrospective of Jogja Biennale at the Jogja Biennae IX – Jogja Jamming. Two years later, she co-founded Hyphen, a discussion forum that sought to piece together fragmented Indonesian art history and has since evolved to produce research and curatorial projects. Meanwhile, her research on Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru brings light to the group of artists who, out of disillusionment with the lack of socio-political consciousness in the art world, began experimenting with found objects, installations and conceptual art-making during the mid-70s, laying the foundation for contemporary Indonesian art. Samboh is also program manager for Equator Symposium 2014, a forum that gathers cultural intellectuals and practitioners across the equator to share their current approaches in relation to cultural policy.
Alia Swastika has made it her mission to bring Indonesian art to regional and global attention. In the last decade, she has worked with a vast group of artists, including Tintin Wulia, Jompet Kuswidananto and Agung Kurniawan. Aside from being the programme director of Yogyakarta’s Ark Galerie, she’s been involved in many local and international exhibitions, including the Jogja Biennale, where she has worked tirelessly to connect countries near the Equator, Jogja Biennale XI, which she co-curated with Suman Gopinatch. In 2012, she was one of the co-artistic directors for the Gwangju Biennale IX. On the theoretical side, she launched Study on Art Practices, an arts organisation that encourages research on Indonesian contemporary art. She also completed a research fellowship at National Gallery Singapore.
June Yap’s long-standing interest in new media art harks back to 2003, when she was appointed curator of Singapore Art Museum’s new media exhibitions. Since then, she’s curated Ho Tsz Nyen’s The Cloud of Unknowing for the Singapore Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale, and exhibitions for the National University of Singapore Museum and Tel Aviv’s Center for Contemporary Art. As Guggenheim UBS MAP curator (South and Southeast Asia), she put together the ambitious No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia at the Asia Society in Hong Kong. In 2016, she sat on the advisory committee of the 2016 Singapore Biennale. With her new role as curatorial director at the Singapore Art Museum, there is no doubt that Yap is set to make an even bigger mark on the Asian art scene.
As someone whose interest lies in inter-Asia dialogues, Joselina Cruz has made her mark all over the continent. As well as curating the 2nd Singapore Biennale, she was tapped as one of networking curators for the 13th Jakarta Biennale. The Filipino art scene though, remains close to Cruz’s heart. In 2017, she curated Lani Maestro and Manuel Ocampo’s The Spectre of Comparison for the 57th Venice Art Biennale. As director and curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in Manila, she had worked to introduce local art audiences to an enticing medley of artists and mediums; stand-out shows include Apichatpong Weerasethakul: The Serenity of Madness and Re-Enactment, a show that gathered eight performance artist from different countries.
Taking an inter-disciplinary curating approach, with focus on the intersection of art and architecture, as well as ideas of participation and locality, Meruro Washida’s interests are broad without ever losing sight of the spirt of the times. As curator for the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, the veteran has organised such shows as SANAA / Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa, We Humans are Free: From the Collection of S.M.A.K., Museum of Contemporary Art, Ghent, Atelier Bow-Wow, Iki-Iki Project in Kanazawa and Kanazawa Art Platform 2008. He curated Takahiro Iwasaki’s provocative Turned Upside Down, It’s a Forest for the Japanese Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Art Venice. He was also a guest curator for S.M.A.K. Stedelik Museum voor Actuele Kunst in Gent / Belgium in 2009.