My recently published article in The Myanmar Times was titled “Guggenheim plays it safe with Asian artists.” I did not choose the title and thought it was a bit sweeping, but I do stand by the idea that a museum such as the Guggenheim should have taken more risks, explored a bit further and deeper, and given June Yap more time to get to know the artists in her region. True, she had worked with some of the artists before, but she was basically made to “shop” for a collection AND present Southeast Asia in an interesting and introductory way. How can you make such a generalized exhibition for an audience who knows virtually nothing about what’s happening in Southeast Asia today?
I do not give the US audience a lot of credit, that is true, because I know after having studied and traveled in the US and abroad that if our government does not fund culturally contemporary endeavors in South Asia and our media outlets don’t talk about what is happening in the region and nor do museums, then why would US citizens be any more ‘aware’ of the goings on outside the country, culturally or otherwise? And while I’m being harsh, the Gutai group got a few floors and a big coffee-table book, as if we don’t already give enough attention and have for the past 100 years to Japan culturally. We now base a select few artists from the Japan as a higher priority than the entire REGION of South and Southeast Asia. No Country got a side gallery and a basement screening room with no catalog. Not exactly a pedestal.
Should they be given credit for even including it? Yes, but not without criticism. If you are going to put on a multinational exhibition showcasing the talented artists from all over the world, do it honestly and with respect – do not do it as your token “we did it first” show. This is why I believe that those in positions of power at the Guggenheim are far more responsible than the curator, June Yap. She did her best with what she was given. My only criticism for her would be that the show might’ve been organized by country or timeline. It is more of a traditional approach, but for the US art-audience, one cannot simplify enough when it comes to the international, especially Asia.
Very interested to see what the other UBS Map Initiatives come up with in the Middle East and Latin America – and better yet, the critics they face.