One of Several Art Shows Proves Not All Asian Art Is Ancient

Article excerpt

Asian-art exhibitions are opening across the country, but only one of them features working artists.

"In the minds of most people," says Vishaka N. Desai, director of galleries at the Asia Society, "contemporary art in Asia doesn't exist. Asian art' is that which was made only before colonialism."

Desai and her colleagues hope to dispel this notion with a new exhibition, "Contemporary Art in Asia: Traditions/Tensions," featuring 59 objects by 27 artists from India, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand. Located at three sites around New York City (the Asia Society, the Queens Museum of Art and New York University's Grey Gallery), the show will be hard for art lovers to miss. It also will travel to Canada and Asia.

Despite this earnest attempt to refresh perceptions, American museums will be top-heavy with shows reinforcing the association of Asian and ancient art. The Dallas Museum of Art has mounted a show of works from the 17th-century Japanese Momoyama period this fall. The Boston and Brooklyn museums are spotlighting their Chinese collections, both of which are lacking in contemporary works. Last year's blockbuster at the Metropolitan Museum, "Splendors of Imperial China: Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei," is making its way around the country with stops in Washington and San Francisco. And the Guggenheim Museum, known for its sweeping retrospectives, will present "China: 5,000 Years" in May. Even the Asia Society has lent some of its vast traditional holdings to the PaineWebber Gallery in that company's midtown Manhattan lobby for its current show, "Treasures From the Asia Society."

Crossing the centuries, then, will be as easy as passing from Manhattan's East Side to its West Side, though understanding what's on display may not be so simple. The works in "Traditions/Tensions" are, like much contemporary art, less about aesthetics than ideas. And if one is unfamiliar with the social and political tensions fostered by the rapid modernization and industrialization that has overtaken Asia, many of the works will appear hermetic and uncommunicative. …

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