A Museum Director’s New Direction

You haven’t done many one-person shows in the past; is this a change in strategy?

We were the first museum to really focus on showing Asian contemporary artists, even since the 1990s. And so within that, we often think of Asian contemporary art as beginning in the 1970s, but really culminating in the 1990s. And I think [that’s] one of the reasons why, right now, in the last five to six years, we’ve really started focusing on one-person shows. I think a lot of the artists have reached a degree of maturity and there also more audience interest in seeing the work of Asian artists in depth and in focus and in comprehensive ways that you can address in a one-person show.


What’s changed in the five years since you took over as director?

What has surprised me most is the growing, intense interest in Asia. Even when I started at Asia Society in 2001 as curator, the landscape and level of interest on the part of individual Americans has changed enormously. We’ve seen a recognition of the rising powers of India and China within the region and with that has come an interest from the museum side of things, in learning about the cultures from these places.


What else is coming up at the Asia Society?

In the spring, we’re doing a major exhibition of Gandharan art. It’s a group of over 100 objects that are from Pakistan, but it’s the Buddhist heritage of Pakistan. So I think that we’re able to speak about Pakistan’s history, but also look at the current understanding the way Pakistan is today. Many assume that it’s a Muslim state and it certainly is, but it has this really interesting history where it was a cultural crossroads and largely Buddhist in the third century. These objects have never left Pakistan before. Audiences are able to see for the first time this material and also the new scholarship surrounding it and the new research.


You’re an expert on Chinese contemporary art. That market kind of zoomed ahead, then softened; how is it doing now?

I think the Chinese contemporary art market, like the market everywhere, did go through a kind of correction process. I think the market itself is healthy in the sense that artists are still able to sell their work. And there is a very healthy arts scene still in China in places like Bejing and Shanghai and Chongqing and elsewhere. The market is, of course, only one stream of practices that exist in China. There is a very healthy museum system that is booming in the same way that the auction houses are, and also, alternative spaces. This is a great time for artists in China because they’ve seen their work recognized internationally.


What about other Asian nations’ art?

Speaking in generalities is always hard. I think that certainly the art scenes in India or in China have gone through perhaps the greatest growth, but many are looking now to places like Indonesia for the ‘next big thing.’


What are you looking forward to most in the fall in New York?

The fall is the beginning of the season, and there are always great shows, and one of the great things is when all the museum shows open. Generally, it’s when the whole season begins, and the opening night in Chelsea, when all the galleries open, is the one of the best promenades in the United States, when everybody comes out and it’s the beginning of the season.




A Museum Director’s New Direction