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Who Cares? 16 Essays on Curating in Asia

Who Cares? 16 Essays on Curating in Asia. Edited by Álvaro Rodríguez Fominaya and Michael Lee. Hong Kong: Para/Site Art Space with Studio Bibliothèque and seed | projects, 2010. 187 pages. ISBN 9789889896393

By Irina Leyva-Pérez

This book opens the forum with a simple yet intriguing question: Is it different to curate an exhibition in Asia than in Europe? There are many reasons why it could be dissimilar, and those are precisely the foundation of this book. The title, Who Cares?, is cleverly forged from the etymological root of the word “curator,” a comment about its function while directly questioning the support system for the arts in the region, giving us a hint of the conceptual intention.

By including 16 essays from a diverse collection of writers, the editors intended to cover all the angles within the theme: the curatorial process, exhibitions, commercial success and audience reaction. Situations such as interaction with the public might seem irrelevant when discussing structures, but when we are talking about public spaces it becomes of utter importance in this context. They also note the tendency towards a collaborative crossover between diverse disciplines, which is vital to accomplishing many projects that demand networking. When it comes to discussing events that legitimize these efforts in the region, the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art emerges as an important point of reference, somehow bringing everybody together in the effort.

The fascination with Asian art and its explosion in the market could make us infer that the region has an effective infrastructure in place that makes its success possible, when, in fact, that is far from the case. Álvaro Rodríguez Fominaya, one of the editors, points to the overlapping roles of existing institutions, portraying the panorama of the visual arts in the region as an incipient arrangement that tries to compensate for the lack of an effective infrastructure. He also stresses the importance of the multitasking role of the curator in Asia, while noting the different vision between those who work for a museum and those who toil for art galleries.

Recently we have seen in books about contemporary art the tendency to use interviews as a resource to comment on a particular subject matter. Here we see it in some of the texts, offering the reader firsthand information from a reliable source.

The idea behind this book, and the common thread that runs through these 16 essays, is the study of the challenges of promoting art in Asia, particularly the process of curating exhibitions there, touching upon neuralgic points that together make a whole. By shining a light on the peculiarities of the region and the many factors that contribute to its functioning, the authors are exposing problems and situations that reach beyond Asia’s borders. While many of these challenges are unique to each country and the socio-political development of the region, others can be seen in the worldwide artistic context, making this provocative book noteworthy beyond its original scope of interest.

Irina Leyva-Pérez is an art historian and critic based in Miami. She is the curator of Pan American Art Projects.