Contemporary Art in Asia:


October 3 - December 23, 1996

Contemporary Art in Asia: Traditions/Tensions

New Asian art is challenging and provocative, capable of both staunch traditionalism and dazzling innovation.

Contemporary Art in Asia: Traditions/Tensions, an exhibition organized by the Asia Society, New York City, and presented simultaneously at the Asia Society, the Grey Art Gallery of New York University, and the Queens Museum of Art, features the work of 27 artists–many of whom have not previously exhibited in the United States–from five countries: India, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand. Their work confronts the preservation or eclipse of tradition, the increasing globalization, the rapid modernization, and the changing relationships with the West and within Asia that are major factors in all contemporary Asian societies. As the subtitle Traditions/Tensions suggests, the art deals with the old and the new, the supposed opposites of the traditional and the contemporary, and how individual artists in Asia today accept, integrate, and/or reject them. Key themes include politics, religion, the environment, and women’s issues.

Intro Text

In the West, at the end of the twentieth century, Asia generally appears in one of two guises: as a newly powerful and threatening economic giant or as a bastion of traditional cultures bound to a premodern way of life. It should come as no surprise that neither of these stereotypes is wholly accurate, though some elements of each do influence contemporary Asian culture. For Westerners, one way to apprehend the dynamism and diversity of postmodern Asia is through an engagement with contemporary Asian art.

This exhibition is designed to introduce viewers to a range of issues and practices that currently animate new Asian art. Instead of trying to provide a homogeneous survey of regional trends, Traditions/Tensions focuses in depth on art from urban centers in five Asian countries: India, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand. These countries were selected to suggest not only the diversity of this vast area but also the surprising similarity of intent demonstrated by some artists from quite different contexts.

New art in Asia resists easy categorization. But one principal theme in recent years has been the tension between traditional and modern cultures. The seductive diffusion of global consumer culture through music, fashion, and information has radically transformed conventional Asian societies and their art. Some Asian artists regard the traditional as an inheritance that offers inspiration for their creative imagination. Others redefine and renegotiate tradition through cultural and regional identity in ways that can be challenging, innovative, and provocative. Often the works these artists create are startling in their hybridity, in part because they use a variety of forms and media, ranging from highly Westernized techniques to more localized and indigenous elements. All of the works shown here were created in this decade, a period in which many Asian countries have assumed an international economic and cultural prominence.

This exhibition is not organized by individual countries but according to the transnational issues and concerns that the artists share. In New York, Traditions/Tensions is seen simultaneously at three venues: the Asia Society, the Grey Art Gallery at New York University, and the Queens Museum of Art. We encourage you to visit all three in order to experience the whole show. Works dealing with the role of religion or utilizing religious forms and icons are being shown at the Asia Society Galleries. Those that reflect on the historical and colonial past and contemporary urban dislocations while utilizing some traditional techniques are on view at the Grey Art Gallery. Many of the works exhibited at the Queens Museum of Art address the intermixing of ethnic, racial, and religious groups as well as issues of gender. Although many of the artworks contain specific cultural references that may not be apparent to all visitors, we hope their visual language will be potent enough to transcend national and cultural boundaries.

Contemporary Art in Asia: Traditions/Tensions was organized under the curatorial direction of Dr. Apinan Poshyananda, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand.


Contemporary Art in Asia: Traditions/Tensions is organized by the Asia Society and presented simultaneously at the Asia Society, the Grey Art Gallery of New York University, and the Queens Museum of Art. The exhibition is supported by funders including AT&T, Lippobank of Indonesia, the National Endowment for the Arts, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro, W.L.S. Spencer Foundation, and The Joseph H. Hazen Foundation. Additional support for the exhibition and Asia Society Galleries education programs is provided by the Friends of the Asia Society Galleries, The Starr Foundation, The Armand G. Erpf Fund, and the Arthur Ross Foundation.

Special thanks to ART AsiaPacific magazine, Asiana Airlines, GreenPoint Bank, and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

The presentation of the exhibition at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, also receives the support of the Abby Weed Grey Trust.

The presentation of the exhibition at the Queens Museum of Art is also supported by Anheuser-Busch Companies.  Additonal support has been provided by Independence Savings Bank.

The Queens Museum of Art is housed in the New York City Building, which is owned by the City of New York. With the assistance of Queens Borough President Claire Shulman and the New York City Council, the Museum is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Additional support is provided by the New York State Legislature and the New York State Council on the Arts.

Fast Forward: The Contemporary Art Scene in Asia is also supported in part by New York University.  

The Satyajit Ray Retrospective is funded in part be the Experimental Television Center Ltd. in cooperation with the Electronic Media and Film Program of the New York State Council on the Arts.

Starts Thursday, Oct 03, 1996
Ends Monday, Dec 23, 1996