AAA’s collection is a dynamic, growing body of material intended to reflect contemporary artistic practice and developments of Asia within an international context. Built through a systematic programme of research and information gathering, AAA is widely regarded as one of the most valuable public collections of primary and secondary source material about contemporary art in Asia.

Built of 85% material donations, the Archive is a community effort that has grown from a single bookshelf in 2000 to a collection of over 50,000 records, comprised of hundreds of thousands of physical and digital items. It includes books and catalogues, audiovisual material, rare periodicals, primary source material, and individual personal archives.

AAA fills a crucial role by preserving documentation about the field and by activating the material it houses through public programmes and research activities. AAA’s activities however are not about ownership; the Archive believes in preservation through sharing and gladly accepts digital copies of material held elsewhere. The collection is accessible free of charge from AAA’s physical space and searchable from anywhere in the world via its online catalogue.

In 2010, in order to make more of its collection available to the public, AAA began a major digitisation initiative; the newly launched Collection Online is the first step in the realisation of AAA’s goal to provide access for all to its extensive resources. 



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Scope of Collection


The over 50,000 records in AAA’s collection comprise hundreds of thousands of physical and digital items. Each ‘record’ is indexed and catalogued in correspondence to a ‘unit’ in the Archive. A ‘unit’ can be a single item, for example, a book, an invitation card, a leaflet, or a news clipping; but, as is the case with approximately 18% of the records in the Archive (or around 9,000 records), the ‘unit’ refers to a set of material with multiple elements. These ‘sub-units’ comprise hundreds of thousands of elements grouped within ‘unit’ records. For example, ‘Materials of the Future: Documenting Contemporary Chinese Art from 1980-1990’ is one ‘record’ held in AAA’s Special Collections that contains more than 70,000 digital documents related to this seminal decade in China’s recent art history.


AAA’s definition of 'Asian art' is not restrained to geographic location and includes artists of Asian descent living around the world, as well as artists of non-Asian descent living in Asia. In building the collection, AAA aims to strike a balance between documenting key players and the most visible developments in the field with areas of experimentation and contestation that might otherwise be overlooked.

As AAA is based in Hong Kong and in close contact with Chinese contemporary art communities, China and Hong Kong are represented in AAA’s collection by the largest quantities of material, followed by Japan, Taiwan, and India. However, the imbalance in material from such countries as Bhutan, Indonesia, Laos, or Nepal, for example, is not representative of a lack of importance or interest in those countries. It is instead reflective of country size, and/or the inaccessibility of information in a particular geographic location, as well as the intentional omission of documentation known to exist in other archives. 

Material concentrations in the collection mirror the efforts of AAA’s researchers, who have built networks and fostered long-term relationships while posted in the following cities: Bangkok (2005-2009); Beijing (since 2003); Lahore (2007-2009); Manila (since 2007); Mumbai (2008); New Delhi (since 2007); Seoul (since 2005); Singapore (2005-2006); Taipei (since 2002); Tokyo (since 2005); Yokohama (2007-2008); and of course Hong Kong/PRD. AAA consistently shifts its resources by moving researchers to locations that have yet to be explored by AAA. The collection is not static and neither are the regional material concentrations; as AAA looks to the future of the Archive, it addresses the imbalances in the collection through individual research posts and focused Special Collections projects.

At the same time, AAA is one archive and recognises its limitations in documenting the entire history of contemporary art in Asia. The Archive encourages the establishment of other archives throughout the region and proactively maps other organisations’ resources to form collaborations and avoid the duplication of efforts. AAA has relationships with 13 local and international academic libraries and art institutions, with which it exchanges resources on a regular basis. One such example is the Indonesian Visual Art Archive (IVAA), which holds a rich and comprehensive collection of items documenting modern and contemporary Indonesian visual art dating back to the 1960s.


Formally published material, including exhibition catalogues, monographs, theoretical writings and essay collections, and audio-visual records take firm seats in AAA’s collection. However, the research-driven formation of the collection lends a distinctive character to the Archive, particularly in comparison with traditional art libraries. Ephemeral material, ‘grey literature’, and primary source material are well represented in the Archive and are a direct result of this research-driven philosophy.

Collection Breakdown by Category (as of 29 May 2017)

7.4%AAA File
10.6%Exhibition Catalogue
39.6%Digital Collection

Informal Material Classifications


‘Ephemera’, which accounts for a large percentage of the items in the ‘AAA files’ and Special Collections categories, includes invitation cards, leaflets, news clippings, and other material that was not formally published but exist as documents of an event. Ephemera accounts for 44% of the total number of catalogued records.

Grey Literature

A substantial portion of the monographs, exhibition catalogues, and periodicals in AAA’s collection falls into a category known as ‘grey literature.’ Available in limited quantities, they quite often carry no ISBN or ISSN, and are therefore in limited circulation.

Primary Source Material

The term ‘primary source material’ refers to sketches, correspondence, photographs, and other unique documentary material. AAA estimates that half of the material found in ‘AAA files’ and the ‘AV section’—or 13% of the total number of records—is primary source material.


Instead of trying to locate the various parallel histories of this region on one linear timeline, AAA attempts to identify important pockets of material and address them according to local social and artistic contexts. AAA began compiling its collection when it was founded in 2000 by documenting the artistic currents of the time. As the organisation has moved forward, it has also looked backward to fill in strategic gaps and to accurately contextualise contemporaneous cultural production throughout the region. The majority of the material in AAA’s collection was produced in the last 20 years, though there is material that dates back as early as the 1950s.


Collection Breakdown by Language (Top Ten, as of 29 May 2017)

11605Chinese - Traditional
5933Chinese - Simplified
444Bahasa Indonesian

The Archive currently contains material in 40 different languages. Though the predominant language is English, AAA recognises the importance of collecting material in its original form and welcomes material written in all languages.

Material Acquisition

AAA’s collection is a dynamic, growing body of material intended to reflect contemporary artistic practice and developments of Asia within an international context. Guided by AAA’s Board of Directors, Advisory Board, professionals in the field, and the expertise of the team, AAA researchers— currently posted in Beijing, Hong Kong/PRD, Manila, New Delhi, Seoul, Taipei, and Tokyo—work steadily to uncover the vibrant but scattered documentation of recent contemporary art activity in the region. The research-driven formation of the collection involves soliciting material from organisations and artists; documenting art events at both conventional galleries and institutions and non-commercial, independent platforms; preserving reference material; and inviting material donations from key stakeholders in art communities of the region. AAA is not concerned with material ownership, believing instead in preservation through sharing, and thus gladly accepts digital copies of material held elsewhere.


AAA’s collection is a valuable resource for curators planning their next exhibitions, professors designing courses of study, and students conducting research. It is an independent source of information for collectors, artists, and writers. More than 200,000 people visit AAA’s website each year; more than 3,000 people—a third of whom are from overseas—come to the physical Archive to conduct research; and another 14,000 attend our public programmes.

In 2007, AAA developed its Learning & Participation programme to reach out to new audiences, beyond professionals in the field, and introduce them to AAA. Since 2009, the Learning programme’s key audience has been high school teachers and their students.

Users’ Profiles (Jan 2015 - Dec 2015)

28.4%Art Professional
12.3%General Audience
34%University Student
7.9%Academic Professional
5.2%Secondary School Student

Interpretation of the Collection

AAA regularly initiates projects that use the material in the collection to connect to other knowledge networks and create platforms for further study. One such example is ‘Open Edit’, a project that brings a selection of material from AAA’s collection to different cities in Asia, inviting people to read and interact with it in unconventional ways. AAA’s Residency Programme is another way that AAA encourages new readings of the physical material in the Archive, offering arts practitioners the chance to work with material outside their usual concentrations, and to develop projects around the idea of the ‘archive.’

In order to make the Archive accessible on multiple levels to a range of audiences, AAA has developed points of entry such as ‘Shortlists’, thematic recommended readings from AAA’s collection; 'Off the Shelf', musings on subjective groupings of texts in AAA’s library; and will continue to develop other resources and programmes for teaching and learning.

Special Collections

The Special Collections comprise groups of material gathered from donated personal collections and focused research projects undertaken by AAA. Tangible material in the Special Collections is housed in a fireproof room with temperature and humidity control. On-site access to the Special Collections is possible by making a request to library staff. AAA’s activities however are not about ownership; the Archive believes in preservation through sharing and gladly accepts digital copies of material held elsewhere. All of the Special Collections material in digital format is available on computers on-site at AAA and the Archive is working to make as much of it available through the Collection Online as possible.

Collection Online

While creating access to the Archive has always been critical for AAA, it is only now, with its newly developed digital collection management system, that AAA is able to offer online access for all to the digital material in its collection. Newly accessible resources include scanned images, correspondences, and artists’ personal documents, as well as streaming audio and video of performance art, artist talks, lectures, and other art events. After making an initial batch of digital material available to the public, AAA will stagger online delivery of its collection, prioritising certain material for earlier access. This includes Zhang Xiaogang Archive; Mao Xuhui Archive; Zhang Peili Archive; The Chabet Archive: Covering Fifity Years of the Artist's Materials; and Another Life: The Digitised Personal Archive of Geeta Kapur and Vivan Sundaram. AAA will also share In-house Audio-Visual Productions that document AAA programmes, interviews with key individuals, and significant art events. Though AAA has a policy of openness, it does not have the permission to make everything in its collection available through the Collection Online platform but instead aims to deliver as much information as possible.

The Collection into the Future

Since its founding in 2000, AAA has been focused on building a horizontal collection, compiling material about the broad range of artistic activity in the region and trying to be as inclusive as possible in identifying individual and organisational archives and engaging in cross-regional comparative histories.

AAA however recognises the inability of a single archive to document the entire history of contemporary art from Asia and, in its second decade, has shifted towards a more vertical in-depth approach – expanding its Special Collections and building deeper pockets of material around specific subjects or areas. As well, to ensure that limited resources are not being used to duplicate efforts, AAA is working to develop a network of like-minded archives and organisations in the region to facilitate the sharing of information.

While AAA’s road map is constantly being reconsidered and adapted in response to the developments of regional communities, the Archive has clearly identified a number of areas of focus based on its collection and current commitments.

Beyond compiling specialised research collections, AAA’s goal is to activate the collection in a number of different ways – through facilitating new research, acting as a curatorial platform, and developing public programmes. At the same time, AAA’s energies will be focused on increasing digital access to the information in the collection to create access for all.

AAA recognises that the digital era has changed the way we produce, consume, access, store, and share information and AAA’s new website, its Collection Online, and its new internal digital infrastructure will utilise available technology to enable flexible and increasing accessibility to – and interactivity with – its collection.