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A window into Asia through contemporary art
France: Jean de Loisy, president of Palais de Tokyo
Singapore: Khairuddin Hori, deputy director of Artistic Programming, Palais de Tokyo
SINCE its opening in 2002, Palais de Tokyo has considered itself an "anti-museum" dedicated to cutting edge contemporary art, featuring even more genre-breaking stuff that can't be found at Centre Pompidou. The space has grown over the past decade and at 22,000 sq m of floor space alone (not counting walls and ceilings), it is now the largest space in Europe dedicated to contemporary art not just from their home turf but around the world; and lately, Asia.
According to Jean de Loisy, President of Palais de Tokyo, Asian contemporary art came to its notice some five years ago. Mr de Loisy attended the Singapore Biennale in 2011, where he met Khairuddin Hori, who was then a senior curator at the National Heritage Board. "What was clear to me was that the Singapore Biennale was the hub of knowledge of South-east Asia. The quality was very good," says Mr de Loisy.
Palais de Tokyo's Asian focus first started with a gaze at the new, in an exhibition entitled Nouvelle Vagues (New Waves) in 2013, followed by a Chinese-French partnership starting 2014. Now, it has curated the South-east Asian showcase, Secret Archipelago, and there are plans for other Asian-centric projects up till 2017.
To show how serious it is about Asia, Mr de Loisy hired Khairuddin Hori as the deputy director for the centre, overseeing exhibitions, marketing, media and so on.
Mr de Loisy's fascination with contemporary art in Asia today is derived from how "many of them create art even though there's little government support," he says. "In the West, the artists have schools, museums, art fairs and so on to give them a platform for their work and feedback as well. It's not the same in Asia where there are fewer institutions of art in general, and there isn't a "professional" audience for it. But creating art is deeply rooted in human behaviour, and I find that it's a very natural, sincere process in Asia," he explains.
With less emphasis on the "commercial strategy", the creation of art is freer, he notes. "And this is something to be treasured in South-east Asia."
By handpicking Mr Khairuddin to be in charge of programming at Palais de Tokyo, Mr de Loisy says that he's most pleased to see his non-institutional approach to curating. "So I find it very original and free from conventions as Khai isn't formally trained as a curator," he notes. Mr Khairuddin is the first Singaporean to work at Palais de Tokyo, but the art space has also had curators from Japan and Hong Kong. He is however, practically the second in command now, overseeing a team of six curators.
In November, the Singapore audience will get to see him in action from a more French perspective, as he co-curates a show at the Singapore Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), along with its director Bala Starr. In the meantime, his curating style can be seen in Secret Archipelago - or Archipel Secret - a themed exhibition.
Mr Khairuddin's brief to the artists was in fact, very brief. While most curators ask artists to submit proposals and select works that fit the theme, his strategy was to entrust that the artists would be able to deliver because of their past works.
"I invited the artists to create a work for the exhibition, but I didn't tell them what to do and I didn't need to see their proposals. These are artists whose directions I knew would fit right into the theme," he explains.
He's been given freedom to work the way he wants, and is appreciative of how the administration is very open to new ideas. "And yet, there are actually quite strict rules behind how we hang or display the works; even if it's not obvious to the audience," he quips, referring to the seemingly haphazard way the works in Archipel Secret are placed.
Mr Khairuddin has also made a point to feature artists who aren't necessarily trained in art in the show. "There are young artists I've met online, and I try to follow their progress. What I think needs to be shown in Europe now are the emerging artists in Asia," he adds.
And, sensitive to the "exoticism" of Asia, Mr Khairuddin left out subtexts such as "South-east Asian art" in describing the exhibition so as not to risk a "ghetto-ing" of the art. "The global feel is important so that there isn't also a sense of exoticism."
As the largest space for contemporary art in Europe, Palais de Tokyo is a significant platform for young artists from this part of the world. While the Secret Archipelago is about the hidden links between lands in the region, it also gives contemporary Asian artists the necessary exposure and chance to be seen on the world's visual arts stage.
- Archipel Secret runs until May 17 at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris. For more information, please go to www.singapour-lefestival.com or www.palaisdetokyo.com