South & South East Asia on Guggenheim’s radar

Manjari Sihare on Guggenheim’s UBS MAP Global Art Initiative

New York: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation recently announced the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, an ambitious five-year collaboration with UBS Wealth Management to graph contemporary art from around the world. The initiative is an attempt to extend the Guggenheim’s geographic outreach by building relationships among curators, artists, and educators worldwide in a comprehensive program of curatorial residencies, acquisitions and touring exhibitions. Starting from 2012, the project will focus on South and South East Asia in its first phase followed by Latin America in the second and North Africa and the Middle East in the last and final chapter. The Guggenheim will invite one curator from each region to participate in a two-year residency in New York, and work with the museum staff to identify the best of contemporary art from the region. June Yap, an independent curator based in Singapore, has been selected as the Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, South and Southeast Asia. Yap is known for her curation of the Singapore Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale and holds a background as Deputy Director and Curator of the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, Assistant Director for Visual Arts at the National Arts Council (Singapore), the Singapore Art Museum. The selection was made by an expert panel instituted by the museum, which included Alexandra Munroe (Samsung Senior Curator of Asian Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York) and Kavita Singh (Associate Professor, School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi).  Works selected by the UBS MAP curators will be included in the museum’s permanent collection and showcased in a traveling exhibit to inaugurate at the Guggenheim, New York, followed by two other destinations, one among which will be in the focus region. Singapore and Hong Kong are being considered as possible destinations for the 1st exhibit.

The initiative highlights two interesting facets of global art politics. It is reflective of the growing attention towards the east in recent years. While more and more western museums are now focusing on the East, mainstream art fairs tell another story. Fairs such as the New York Frieze and the recently concluded Art Basel have been said to be mostly focused on the West.

Image credit: The Art Newspaper: Art Basel Daily Edition, June 12, 2012

Of the total 2,500 artists showcased at Art Basel, 23% were American and  whooping 60% artists were from European nations. In spite of the hype surrounding Chinese artists, their participation along with their other South Asian counterparts amounted to a mere 4.3% of the total. This discrepancy between the commercial and institutional infrastructures is a point of curiosity. Richard Armstrong, Director of the Guggenheim Museum and Foundation sheds light on this and talks more about the MAP Global Art Initiative in this video.

On another note, it is also interesting that in a global climate of supposed economic recession, UBS Wealth Management, a Swiss global financial services company, has sponsored the initiative. Perhaps, Indian corporations can learn a thing or two from such international counterparts and display broader empathy for art and culture in the region.

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