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Photo by Yip Pak To for ArtAsiaPacific.

Cultural Accumulation

Also available in:  Chinese

As ArtAsiaPacific completes its 14th year of publishing an annual review on art from across the Asia Pacific to the Middle East, we have come to reflect on how the Almanac is a living archive of the region’s cultural activity and present history. Whether the information comes to us on paper, in the form of invitations, posters, announcements or press releases, or if we find it online, we’ve been accumulating and actively collecting material throughout the year. The Almanac is our opportunity to synthesize and then share our findings about the events and exhibitions that have happened over the past 12 months in the art worlds of 53 countries. 

What we print on these pages ranges from hard statistics such as arts funding, the number of foundations supporting artists and contemporary art, and a country’s GDP, to factual accounts of what happened when and where, as well as individual perspectives on art and its role in society. We believe that all of these components, when assembled in the Almanac, help to create a pragmatic and nuanced approach to understanding the maturing yet still delicate arts ecology of today’s world. Over time, the Almanac also serves as a repository on the history of specific art scenes. 

The Almanac would not be possible without the generosity of all our supporters. We are tremendously grateful to our principle partner Hyundai Motorstudio Beijing. Additional support has been provided by Burger Collection, Mapletree and the Frank F. Yang Art and Education Foundation. We also thank all the patrons, art institutions and galleries who cheer us on year after year in this this ambitious project. 

The 2019 edition records the most momentous cultural events of 2018, which informs what will come in the year ahead. None of this could be possible without the joint efforts of our editors, contributors and sources on the ground who help produce the 53 individual country reports of the Almanac. These dispatches spotlight the many dynamic but often overlooked art scenes, as well as significant projects and exhibitions of the year. 

In addition to the country reports, we invited six influential art-world figures to offer their thoughts on 2018 in the Reflections section. We hear from artist Zeng Fanzhi, who spent a large portion of the year working daily in his Beijing studio in the lead-up to his three-part exhibition held across Hauser & Wirth’s galleries in London, Zürich and Hong Kong. He explains his contentment with focusing on his work, and describes a few of his favorite exhibitions from a trip to Shanghai in November. Antonia Carver, director of the newly opened Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai, recounts spending a year mulling over the potentials for a new cultural space in the Gulf. Bartomeu Marí, the outgoing director of Korea’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, also reflects on his efforts at institution building and asserts the need to rewrite, and re-edit, the pages of Asian postwar art history. In Manila, Silverlens gallerist Isa Lorenzo describes the process of opening a noncommercial art house where artists dictate the program, which allowed her and her partner to get back to the roots of their engagement with art. Alarmed by recent global trends, Asia Society Museum director Boon Hui Tan weighs whether artistic responses to global crises can help re-establish trust between people. In a deeply personal essay, Brisbane gallerist Josh Milani analyzes what he calls Australia’s “morally anemic colonial mindset” with regard to the continent’s Indigenous populations and immigrant communities, and traces what kinds of engagement are necessary and possible in that context. 

We also spotlight the most memorable museum and gallery exhibitions, pore over artist books, monographs and anthologies to select the best 12 titles of the year, and preview the exhibitions worth looking ahead to in 2019. Controversies and censorship dominated the headlines in 2018, documented in our News sections, including the arrest and jailing of award-winning Bangladeshi photographer and activist Shahidul Alam for commenting on the student protests in Dhaka after a speeding bus killed two teenagers, and the ongoing worldwide movement against sexism and sexual harassment that continues to see the downfall of male figures in the art world, now increasingly in Asia, where speaking out is more often shunned than encouraged.

The Almanac is a form of storing, recording and memorializing the events that have taken place—an archive of the innumerable stories, and the ever-shifting forms of art. While the art world never pauses in its continual outpouring of exhibitions and events, at the end of the calendar year, the editors at ArtAsiaPacific take a step back as we try to take in the larger mosaic. The image we see might still be abstract and fragmented but there’s beauty in distance and perspective. And next year, we’ll do it all again. 

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