The number of times I have been asked that over the last 30 (or more) years beggars belief.
I would always reply with the same answer: “because its the most exciting region for new art in the world”.
After all these years of dealing in art from Asia, I must say that not once over that period have I ever changed my opinion.
Asia IS the new world, the new frontier.
But to lump all of the countries and cultures into the broad “Asia” grouping is too simplistic. The culture and history of each country and region in this part of the world is as diverse as Europe. This applies to the artwork of the region as it does to any other facet from this amazing part of the planet.
Just a quick background of my own “art history” may be of some interest before I start. I had been dealing in Australian art since I was at University and had always been attracted to new and innovative artwork. As time moved on, I found more and more that the artwork being produced by many Australian artists was derivative. The great period of the 1940′s and 50′s seemed somewhat distant in terms of originality and excitement. This was not to say that there weren’t some fine and original artworks being produced, there were, but I was being pulled more and more into the new frontier of Asia.
My first experience of what was happening in Asian art came through visiting a number of the very few galleries that were operating at the time in the region.
The artwork displayed was competent, but sometimes lacking in either originality or basing the artwork on more traditional themes. This was particularly true of the art in Thailand where the depiction of the Buddha or the King was the major subject matter.
In Indonesia, it was a different picture, with quite an established artistic heritage, both by local Indonesian and visiting, sometimes settling, European artists, particularly those experiencing Bali in the 1930′s. A haven for artists, much like Tahiti was for Gauguin.
However, in the 1980′s, much of the artwork was being done for the tourist market in Bali, whereas the more “serious” art was being produced in Jogjakarta, mostly for a local clientele.
The Philippines too had a history of many fine artists although much that was being painted was not seen outside of the country.
Malaysia and to a greater degree, Singapore, had some fine established artists, but most catering to local collectors.
Then there is China.
Over the last 30 years, Chinese contemporary art has dwarfed that of the rest of Asia, including India in terms of creativity, volume and pricing. It has been a giant waking.
But this is now changing………..