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Asian art reaches HK via NY and LA

Agus Suwage's Fragmen Pustaka - Bedah Buku (2019). It's no longer unheard of for artists from one end of the earth to be represented by dealers from the opposite end.

Hong Kong

THERE you are in Hong Kong, making your way through the convention centre and here is this newest iteration of Art Basel. Ah! There's a group of bamboo and rattan sculptures by Sopheap Pich, the Cambodian artist, inspired by trees in his homeland. And there, at the same booth, a new map - she'd call it a cartographic work - by Tiffany Chung, the Vietnamese artist. Maybe it's a new addition to The Vietnam Exodus Project, whose images Holland Cotter described in The New York Times as "personal, political and ineradicable".

The gallery name may be a surprise. These works didn't come from an exhibition across the harbour in Kowloon or from Tokyo, Jakarta or Saigon. Pich and Chung (the latter now lives in Houston) are represented by Tyler Rollins Fine Art in New York, a gallery in the Chelsea neighbourhood of Manhattan, half a block or so from the West Side Highway.

It's no longer unheard-of for artists from one end of the Earth to be represented by dealers from the opposite end.

"Huge kudos to Tyler for doing this," Adeline Ooi, Asia director of Art Basel, said in a telephone interview from Hong Kong. "His sole commitment to South-east Asia and the Asia Pacific is unparalleled." The Rollins gallery, which specialises in mid-career artists, will also be exhibiting the work of Pinaree Sanpitak and Agus Suwage at Art Basel Hong Kong.

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Pinaree, born in Thailand, often uses images of the female body - especially breasts - and domesticity as themes in her paintings, drawings, sculpture and installations. She also likes candle wax as a medium. Jason Farago of The New York Times has compared her work to that of Louise Bourgeois.

Suwage, an Indonesian of Chinese and Javanese heritage who often uses watercolour, ink and tobacco juice in his work, has also been praised by The Times.

Cotter called his work remarkable and summed him up as "a born satirist, which means a born moralist". Rollins, the gallery's American namesake, said in an email that he had "noticed a huge change in the market" since the gallery opened in 2008. Collectors now seem to have a broader interest in Asia "beyond the most familiar countries", he said.

Rollins is not the only New York gallery with a thriving and highly focused Asian art programme. At New York art gallery Fergus McCaffrey, a few blocks north in Chelsea, one speciality is the Gutai group, the avant-garde Japanese artists who gleefully challenged artistic tradition after World War II.

At Art Basel Hong Kong, Mr McCaffrey is showing the intense dark colours and bold strokes of several Gutai artists, including Kazuo Shiraga (who has a solo show at Mr McCaffrey's new Tokyo gallery at the same time), Sadamasa Motonaga and Toshio Yoshida.

Americans may have been slow, Mr McCaffrey said, compared with their European counterparts, to appreciate Japanese postwar art, but that has changed since the gallery opened in 2006.

"Collectors quickly came to realise that something special happened in Japanese art and culture after the horror of the war," said Mr McCaffrey, who was born in Dublin and studied at Kyoto University in the early 1990s. They also realised that its best artists were "equal to the leading innovators in the Western canon".

One sign: When Epic Abstraction opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art late last year, curators put a Shiraga ("an extraordinary untitled 1958 painting," The Times said) right in the middle of the Jackson Pollocks. Mr McCaffrey called that decision "an indication of how things have changed".

"We do give thought to regional tastes in deciding on which artists to bring," said Kibum Kim, a partner at Commonwealth and Council, a gallery in Los Angeles's Koreatown. "But we feel that generally Asian collectors are eager to learn more and increasingly interested in expanding their collections to include more international emerging artists." NYTIMES

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