Exhibition as Historical Proposition


Patrick D. Flores, Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, University of the Philippines

"This panel explores the relationship between the methodology of exhibition making and the anxieties, if not the demands, of the 'historical.' Mediating this particular project is the notion of the 'curatorial' as an aspect of the exhibition's facture and its aesthetic and discursive articulation of the historical. The term 'proposition' is foregrounded in all its provisional but at the same time provocative implications: to propose is to open up to the risk of critique and reposition. The exhibition, in shaping its material, may engage in a range of curatorial practice in the modality of a proposition. It may historicise this material; it may also render it contemporary. Or, it may demonstrate through it a particular condition. The exhibition, therefore, proposes a 'historical imagination' or an affective reflection on what it means to be historical or to be in/of history. Is this still a history of art, governed by the disciplinal logic of art history? Is it an ethnography of the production of art in the present ecology or life world, inflected by both activism and anthropology? Is it the social life of the curatorial, confronting the spectres of the historical, finally unburdened by its dialectic and its overdetermination? In all these questions, the geography and the locality of the exhibition as well as the labour and capital of the curatorial become salient: Where does the exhibition take place and who receives it? How does the work of the curator transpire?"

Paper 1
Kevin Chua, Associate Professor, 18th and 19th Century European Art and Contemporary Asian Art, Texas Tech University
On Exhibiting Modern Asian Art in Southeast Asia

"Amidst the recent proliferation of innovative approaches to curating around the world, it is not a stretch to say that exhibitions of modern Asian art have been lagging behind. This paper critically examines two exhibitions of modern Asian art in Southeast Asia – 'Realism in Asian Art' (a joint exhibition between the Singapore Art Museum and the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea, 2010) and 'Strategies Toward the Real: S. Sudjojono and Contemporary Indonesian Art' (National University Museum, Singapore, 2008) – in the light of Maria Lind's notion of the 'curatorial' (by which she meant exhibition strategies that are expansive and open rather than closed, that present rather than represent, and that reflexively take into account socio-historical context, environment, and audience). If 'Realism in Asian Art' harboured a repressed anxiety about the West, leading the viewer into the cul-de-sac of an evacuated, if properly 'Asian,' identity, 'Strategies Toward the Real,' by virtue of its contrapuntal organisation (with modern artworks playing of contemporary ones), more successfully allowed the viewer to grasp a multi-layered sense of historical and geographical time and space. How were these exhibitions using 'modern' Asian art – itself defined in relation to the 'contemporary' – to strategically position Southeast Asia within or against 'Asia' and 'the West,' and why did this matter in 2008-2010? In the light of T. J. Clark's statement that modernism is beginning to look like 'our antiquity,' how, through these two exhibitions, can we understand the particular historicity of modernism in Southeast Asia?"

Paper 2
Lucy Steeds, Editor, Afterall Books: Exhibition Histories; Pathway Leader, MRes Art: Exhibition Studies, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London
The Making of Recent Exhibition Histories: Two Asian Pacific case studies

"'Cities on the Move' (initiated in Vienna in 1997) was intended to showcase the recent work of East Asian artists and also to challenge the white cube of contemporary art exhibitions through inspiration from East Asian urban experiences of the 1990s. Equally influenced by the urban experience of modernist/postmodern Europe, however, it risked exoticising, once again, that which Western audiences might describe as non-Western. So what happened when the show was rethought for Bangkok in 1999? Conceived as an ongoing and organic or evolutionary project, it would not survive long beyond this exhibition situation and, in its wake, we may productively consider 'Project 1: Pause' of the 4th Gwangju Biennale in 2002. The latter took its lead from exhibition practice in the given context and worked to bring this into dialogue with comparable models globally, oering a forum for reflecting on and developing artistic agency, resistance and self-organisation – within Asia and Europe in particular. Here, urban representation or evocation within the exhibition space gave form to urban engagement. This paper will endeavour to move away from North Atlantic regimes of art history, shifting towards the global discipline-information of exhibition histories by taking a position on the role of Asian Pacific art and urbanism in two exhibition projects at the turn into the new millennium."

Polemical position
Lau Kin Wah, art writer, Hong Kong
Art's Leap in Hong Kong with Its Denial of the Local

"The art scene in Hong Kong is getting more internationalised owing to market tides and M+ (of the West Kowloon Cultural District). But Hong Kong as a global city undoubtedly has its own local, cultural dimensions. The debate over 'local-ity' is perhaps as critical as ever, for it is now being tugged in between the decolonisation discourse of left-wing activists (like 'Local Action'), and the rather populist Hong Kong Autonomy Movement (which sees it as a lifeline to keep post-handover 'mainland-isation' at bay). A serious gap (even hierarchy) has therefore appeared, in between the art world's global players newly airborne within the local context. Terms like 'local artist' have been dispelled, as if it is something provincial and degrading, demonstrating an insensitivity towards the complexities and politics behind such usage. The art world in Hong Kong, one could only say, is finally catching up with the capitalistic city's collaborative colonisation. For reference, please see the exhibition catalogue 'Local Accent' (2003) which Lau edited, or his essay, 'No Local is an Island' (2006)."

Nora A. Taylor, Alsdorf Professor of South and Southeast Asian Art, School of the Art Institute of Chicago




Patrick D. Flores is Professor of Art Studies at the Department of Art Studies at the University of the Philippines, which he chaired from 1997 to 2003. He is Curator of the Vargas Museum in Manila and Adjunct Curator at the National Art Gallery, Singapore. He was one of the curators of ‘Under Construction: New Dimensions in Asian Art’ in 2000 and the Gwangju Biennale (Position Papers) in 2008. Flores was a visiting fellow at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1999 and an Asian Public Intellectuals Fellow in 2004. Among his publications are: Painting History: Revisions in Philippine Colonial Art (1999); Remarkable Collection: Art, History, and the National Museum (2006); and Past Peripheral: Curation in Southeast Asia (2008). He was a grantee of the Asian Cultural Council (2010) and a member of the Advisory Board of the exhibition ‘The Global Contemporary: Art Worlds After 1989’ (2011) organized by the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe and member of the Guggenheim Museum’s Asian Art Council (2011). Flores co-edited the Southeast Asian issue with Joan Kee for Third Text (2011) and convened in 2013, on behalf of the Clark Institute and the Department of Art Studies of the University of the Philippines, the conference ‘Histories of Art History in Southeast Asia in Manila’.


Kevin Chua is an Associate Professor of Art History at Texas Tech University in the United States, where he writes and teaches on 18th- and 19th-century European art, and modern and contemporary Southeast Asian art. Dr Chua obtained his PhD in the History of Art from the University of California, Berkeley, and has held fellowships at CASVA in Washington, D.C, and the Center for 17th- and 18th-century Studies at UCLA. In addition to his work on 18th- and 19th-century European art, Dr Chua has published widely on modern and contemporary Southeast Asian art, including essays on animality in 19th-century Singapore, 1950s Nanyang painting, Simryn Gill, Ho Tzu Nyen, Donna Ong, and the Migrant Ecologies Project.


Lucy Steeds is the editor of Afterall’s Exhibition Histories series and a pathway leader for MRes Art: Exhibition Studies at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. She is the lead author of Making Art Global, Part 2: ‘Magiciens de la Terre’ 1989 (Afterall, 2013), offering a critical reappraisal of the Paris show promoted as the first to be worldwide. Lucy is currently working on an anthology of texts about exhibitions for the Documents of Contemporary Art series (Whitechapel Gallery and The MIT Press, 2014). Previously employed in the exhibitions department at Arnolfini, Bristol, and by the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford, she has a doctoral degree in Cultural Studies from Goldsmiths College, London.


Lau Kin Wah graduated from the New Asia College Fine Arts Department of The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1993, and was a research assistant for the Research Institute for the Humanities at CUHK from 1995 to 1998. He became an arts and cultural critic as well as independent curator, with a focus on local political issues and politics of aesthetics. After projects such as a residency at Asia Art Archive tackling Hong Kong art historical writing in 2007, and the curatorial attempt ‘CHiE! Culture Seizes Politics’ (2008), Lau opted to recede from the art circle and yet was the founding director of the Wooferten experimental community art space from 2009-2011. Lau now resides in Yuen Long, New Territories, where he practices organic farming at Sangwoodgoon.


Nora A. Taylor is the Alsdorf Chair and Professor of South and Southeast Asian Art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her publications include Painters in Hanoi: An Ethnography of Vietnamese Art (Honolulu 2004 and Singapore 2009) and Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art: An Anthology (Cornell SEAP, 2012). Curatorial projects include: ‘Breathing is Free: 12,756.3, Recent Work by Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba’ and ‘Changing Identity: Work by Women Artists from Vietnam.’ As the recent recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation Award, she is conducting a research project on Performance art and its narratives and documentation in Southeast Asia.

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