Top 7 Shows to See in Asia-Pacific

From Heman Chong’s wry humour in Singapore to Lee Bul’s ‘soft sculpture’ performances in Seoul, these are the must-see shows in the region 

BY frieze in Reviews , Reviews Across Asia | 10 MAR 21

As lockdown restrictions tentatively ease in Europe and the US, a slew of shows have opened across the Asia-Pacific region, from art toys in Hong Kong to major solo exhibitions by Bruce Nauman, Cao Fei and Lee Bul. Here are the highlights.

Herman Chong Safe Entry
Heman Chong, Safe Entry (Version 2.0 - 2.7), installation view, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 200 × 130 × 3.8 cm each. Courtesy: © Heman Chong and STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery, Singapore

Heman Chong, STPI, Singapore

‘SafeEntry, a national digital check-in system that collects personal data for contact tracing, has become a metonym for Singapore’s efficient management of the COVID-19 pandemic,’ observes Wong Bing Hao in their review of Heman Chong’s solo exhibition at STPI. Safe Entry (Version 2.0 – 2.7) (2020), a suite of eight, near-identical paintings of QR codes on flesh-coloured backgrounds, opens the show. Upon scanning, viewers are directed to a point-of-view video of Chong walking through Singapore’s Changi Airport during the government’s stay-at-home order. The desolate travel hub is at odds with the city’s utopic self-image, feeding the artist’s ongoing inquiry into systems of power.


don't cry in the morning streams
Don't Cry In The Morning, 'Hugger Fuku Town', 2021, customized artwork by various artists, exhibition view, Streams, Hong Kong. Courtesy: the artists and Streams, Hong Kong

Don’t Cry in the Morning, Streams, Hong Kong

‘With its fortune-cookie head and baked-dough body, Fuku (2017) – an art toy designed by Don’t Cry in the Morning (DCITM) – is the Hong Kong diaspora’s cookie monster,’ observes Emily Verla Bovino, reviewing the artist duo’s exhibition ‘Hugger Fuku Town’ at Streams Hong Kong. ‘More an artist agency than a gallery, Streams occupies a 1980s industrial complex built when Hong Kong was the centre of toy manufacturing, before factories moved to the mainland.’ Operating in what its creative director, Bosco Yau, describes as ‘a culture not a trend’, the space sells one-off, limited edition toys that, in Bovino’s words, ‘playfully craft the fantasies and nightmares of the postcolonial condition’.

setting a good corner bruce nauman
Bruce Nauman, Setting a Good Corner (Allegory & Metaphor), 1999, video still. © Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London 2021. Courtesy: the artist, Sperone Westwater, New York and White Cube

Bruce Nauman, White Cube, Hong Kong, until 8 May

‘My work’, Bruce Nauman told Art in America in 1988, ‘comes out of being frustrated about the human condition.’ Reviewing the artist’s retrospective at MoMA, New York, in 2019, Che Gosset observes how Nauman ‘plays at the edges of the human, blurring and fraying its conceptual boundaries.’ The artist’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong presents video works in which Nauman uses his body as a tool to expose the charged space between idea and action. ‘Nauman is less occupied with ending what Giorgio Agamben calls in The Open: Man and Animal (2002) the ‘anthropological machine’,’ writes Gosset, ‘than he is in laying bare its inner workings and questioning its protocols.’

Cao Fei, RMB City
Cao Fei, RMB City: A Second Life City Planning, 2007, video still. Courtesy: the artist and Sprüth Magers, London/Berlin/Los Angeles

Cao Fei, UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China

‘Staging the Era’ at Beijing’s UCCA Center for Contemporary Art marks Cao Fei’s first institutional solo show in her home country. ‘Her multi-layered works – comprising photography, video, virtual reality and installation – address the rapidly changing social and technological landscape of China and its position as a 21st-century global superpower,’ writes Carina Bukuts in this frieze profile. Among the works featured is RMB City (2007–11), a fictional city Cao built in Second Life, an online platform used to create new worlds or mimic existing ones. ‘Named after China’s currency, the renminbi (English: the people’s currency), RMB City references the ideological framework of today’s Chinese society,’ observes Bukuts, ‘in which capitalism blends with communism.’

yoko ono sky tv
Yoko Ono, SKY TV, 1966-2020, CCTV video installation. Courtesy: OCAT Shangahi 

‘Refocusing on the Medium: The Rise of East Asia Video Art’, OCAT Shanghai, China, until 21 March

‘TV wizard. Cathode-ray sage. Nam June Paik is an artist tied in the public imagination to the 20th-century technologies of mass media,’ observes Thomas McMullan in his review of the artist’s Tate Modern retrospective in 2019. ‘He’s often held up as “the father of video art”, with all the sober paternalism that the phrase implies, but Paik’s work is anything but sedate.’ ‘Refocusing on the Medium: The Rise of East Asia Video Art’ at OCAT Shanghai maps the many directions of Paik and his contemporaries’ spheres of influence. Featuring works by 15 artists, working across Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China – including Yoko Ono, Katsuhiro Yamaguchi and Yuan Goang-Ming – the exhibition explores the transnational networks and exchanges that made video into a global contemporary art medium.

matthew lutz kinoy natsuko uchino
Matthew Lutz-Kinoy and Natsuko Uchino, 'Keramikos 3', 2018, glazed ceramic, 28 cm (diameter). Courtesy: the artists and Taka Ishii, Tokyo 

Matthew Lutz-Kinoy and Natsuko Uchino, Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo, Japan, until 19 March

‘Natsuko Uchino is radical, inspired, gorgeous and bright,’ writes the LA-based artist Matthew Lutz-Kinoy in this feature from 2016. ‘[Uchino] is a surfboard, and the south-central French ceramics community is tubing, ripping, pumping and pushing on her and her clay wave point break to the shore.’ Since 2010, Lutz-Kinoy and Uchino have been producing collaborative ceramic works inspired by the syncretism of motifs in the Mediterranean basin. For their first joint presentation at Taka Ishii Gallery, the duo present works that, as Lutz-Kinoy himself observed of Uchino’s solo practice, ‘extend beyond a typical object-based relation and touch on trends in anthropological practices,’ while also expressing a ‘desire to share knowledge through form’.

lee bul SeMA
Lee Bul, Artoilet II, 1990, performance, Space Theater, Seoul. Photo: Park Hey-kyong. Courtesy of the artist.

Lee Bul, Seoul Museum of Art, South Korea, until 16 May

In this feature from 2019, Yae-Jin Ha traces the beginnings of cyborg couture back to the work of Lee Bul, observing that the ‘post-gender, monstrous, cybernated body was the only visible entity onto which [the artist could] project and realize her utopian longings and fantasies.’ At Seoul Museum of Art, an exhibition concentrates on the formative phase of Lee’s career in the late 1980s and ’90s, in which she articulated her anxieties about the end of the century in the form of ‘soft sculpture’ performances. Describing the multi-limbed monster suit, Sorry for suffering – You think I’m a puppy on a picnic? (1990), in which Lee roamed the streets of Seoul and Tokyo for 12 days, Ha sees it as ‘human yet monstrous, familiar yet uncanny, affording the artist a liberty not ordinarily bestowed upon her female Asian body.’

Main image: Bruce Nauman, Bullet Illusion/Pencil Illusion, 2013, video still. Courtesy: the artist, Sperone Westwater, New York and White Cube


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