West Coast: Kevin Pham
Though it may seem like a cliché, as a young art historian and general human being interested in contemporary Asian art, no matter where I am or where I go, all roads lead back to the Asian Cultural Council. Throughout its history, ACC has supported numerous luminaries of contemporary Asian art— spanning from visual artists like Yayoi Kusama (1964, 1996) and Nam June Paik (ACC 1965), to acclaimed dancers and musicians —encompassing a broad and holistic understanding of what “Art” means and what “Asia” means. In August 2021, I visited San Francisco and was able to see many ACC alumni artworks on public display, showing the expansive influence that ACC has had on contemporary Asian artists on both sides of the Pacific.
Nam June Paik, Sistine Chapel, 1993/2021 (installation view, SFMOMA); courtesy the Estate of Nam June Paik; © Estate of Nam June Paik; photo: Andria Lo
I first learned about the works of Nam June Paik (ACC 1965) in a college undergraduate course on post-war American Pop Art. Paik was the first Asian contemporary artist that I had discovered as an Art History major at UC Irvine, allowing me to expand my preconceived notions of art history. My fascination and appreciation for his artistry would continue throughout my time abroad in South Korea— the country of his birth —up until now, when I was able to visit his retrospective exhibition at SFMOMA in August 2021. I have always been drawn to Nam June Paik’s characteristic approach to video as an artistic medium that, challenged the boundaries of technology, fine art, & popular culture. The exhibition at SFMOMA chronicled his career and life-long collaborations from the very beginnings of his experimentations with video and music. In fact, a document on display details how a grant that Nam June Paik received from ACC (known then as the JDR 3rd Fund) allowed him to purchase his first electronic video recorder. From this, he was able to begin his life-long passion for video art experimentation. And the rest, as they say, is history!
Teamlab: Continuity (2021), Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA. Photo Credit: Kevin Pham
Similarly, I knew of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco as one of the greatest collections of Asian Art this side of the Pacific. However, when thinking about the museum, I imagine Goryeo celadon ceramics and Qing dynasty scroll paintings, not necessarily contemporary Asian art, at least not until my latest visit. Through the work of Abby Chen (ACC 2016, 2019) and broader museum initiatives, the museum today has a robust programming and displays of contemporary Asian art, including many works by ACC alumni. In 2021, the Asian Art Museum has made great efforts to bridge the gap between its historical collections and contemporary works, presenting a continuous dialogue between artists, art, and audiences across the ages. The museum, itself, has been a recipient of numerous ACC grants throughout the past sixty years, so it was exciting to see ACC alumni represented both behind the scenes and in the galleries themselves.
East Coast: Chynna Lake
Since high school, art spaces have become a refuge of mine. Music venues, parks, and galleries in particular. When I was short on cash as an unemployed student, I often visited galleries to spark my creativity and avoid admission fees. If I wasn’t studying or scrolling through Tumblr, I was most likely hopping between galleries in Chelsea. According to Time Out Magazine, there are as many as 1,500 art galleries across New York City. With so many spaces and changing exhibitions, gallery hopping became a hobby of mine.
Due to the pandemic, I temporarily substituted my gallery visits with virtual ones. But with new mandates and enhanced safety measures, this year, I found myself finally revisiting the spaces I’ve cherished for so long. For the East Coast segment of our Coast to Coast takeover, I set out through downtown Manhattan, along the Hudson River, and around the Bronx in search for some alumni art.
PPOW Gallery: Dinh Q. Lê’s Monuments & Memorials
Dinh Q. Lê: Monuments & Memorials #11, 2021, PPOW, NewYork, NY. Photo Credit: Chynna Lake
My first stop was PPOW Gallery in Lower Manhattan to see works by 12 different artists, including Dinh Q. Lê (ACC 2008, 2010). PPOW’s group exhibition, RECOVERY, included a diverse range of styles and materials (eggshells, shoes, plywood, wax, and more), but collectively shared narratives of resistance and remembrance. Lê’s recent photographic artwork, Monuments & Memorials #11, shared images of the Tuol Sleng high school, which later became a torture center under the Khmer Rouge, and a wall carving from the 10th-century Cambodian temple, Banteay Srei. Using his signature photo weaving technique, his intertwined strips revealed “the failings of individual memory and collective perceptions.” After finally seeing Lê’s work on a white wall, I couldn’t help but think about Kyle Meyer’s poignant photographic series, Interwoven (2018). With a similar photo weaving style, Meyer’s series also recites the failings and loss of memory, as his series focuses on individuals from Eswatini, who are often silenced and forgotten because of their queerness.
NYBG: Yayoi Kusama's Cosmic Nature
Yayoi Kusama: Flower Obsession (2021), NYBG, Bronx, NY. Photo Credit: Chynna Lake
During my high school days, Yayoi Kusama (ACC 1964, 1996) was among one of the first artists who truly blew me away. After class, my friends and I visited her exhibition, “Give Me Love” (2015) at David Zwirner, where we (and many other visitors) covered a white room with colorful polka-dot stickers and posed next to large pumpkin sculptures. I soon became a fan and visited her work whenever it was in town. When I heard about her extensive exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden, I envisioned a wonderland, and when I arrived at the garden, that’s what I saw. Spanning 250-acres, the garden is naturally rich with biodiversity and history. Now, it was also flourishing with works by one of my favorite artists.
Riverside Park: Jean Shin's Invasives
Jean Shin: Invasives, 2021, Riverside Park, New York, NY. Photo Credit: Chynna Lake
My final stop was Riverside Park to explore “Re:Growth”, a summer-long public art exhibition featuring over twenty international and local artists. Stretching from 72nd to 158th street, there was plenty of art scattered along the Hudson River to enjoy. Jean Shin (ACC 2001) was one of artists exhibiting during this “celebration of art,” as her piece Invasives, could be found near 75th street. Made with hundreds of Mountain Dew bottles, Shin’s work demonstrates the rapid growth of single-use plastics, and how they’re overwhelmingly harming our bodies and ecosystems. Using only the bottom of the green soda bottles, the flower-like appearance was eerily beautiful.
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