For the Hip and the New: An International Epicenter

Installation view at Bose Pacia (
New York has always been a destination for artists from around the globe. Because of its wealth of world-class galleries and museums, and because of the city’s long tradition of cosmopolitan open-mindedness, the city is a welcome home for painters, sculptors, photographers, designers, and other artists seeking to pursue their careers on an international level. Asian artists are no different, finding the fast pace of the thriving Manhattan commercial gallery scene in Chelsea, Soho, and Midtown, or the bohemian communities in Brooklyn, exhilarating environments in which creativity is valued and nurtured. As artist Shahzia Sikander says, “New York City is the place for me as it allows me to be local and global at the same time. . . . I never feel conscious of who I am or where I am from, which is a very common issue anywhere else in the U.S. I can transcend ethnicity here.”

A handful of hip commercial galleries have cropped up in downtown Manhattan specializing in modern and contemporary Asian art. Chelsea, the current epicenter of the international art world, is a fine destination for a Saturday gallery stroll. Two galleries showcasing 20th century Indian art have recently opened their doors in this neighborhood: Admit One Gallery and Bose Pacia Modern. Admit One often displays photography and represents hot young South Asian artists like Rina Banerjee. One of her mixed-media installations was featured in the 2000 Whitney Biennial. Bose Pacia deals in paintings and other works of art by such artists as Manjit Bawa, a prominent Punjabi painter who uses a bright, colorful palette and energetic forms.

Shows of today’s Asian artists are organized by independent curator Miyako Yoshinaga at M. Y. Art Prospects, also in the Chelsea area. Sepia International, Inc./the Alkazi Collection of Photography is both a commercial gallery and research center focusing on the 19th- and 20th-century photography of India, Burma, and Sri Lanka. There's also a branch in Chelsea.

In the Flatiron district, just across town from Chelsea on the East Side, the recently opened Paisley, a store featuring Asian furniture and objects, hosts exhibitions of contemporary Indian art, often in conjunction with Bose Pacia. Farther downtown, in Soho, the recently opened Dialectica presents international art, with an emphasis on Asian (namely South Asian) artists. Ise Art Foundation, also in Soho, presents contemporary Japanese (and other Asian) art. In Tribeca, Ethan Cohen Fine Arts presents work by internationally recognized contemporary Chinese artists such as Xu Bing and C. C. Wang.

Uptown, on the West Side, Gallery Dai Ichi Arts, Ltd., presents updated versions of Japanese ceramics (often based on or referencing traditional designs); the Tolman Collection of Tokyo is a must for those interested in fine contemporary Japanese prints. On the East Side, Lawrence of Beijing is an outpost of the China-based dealer, who represents contemporary Chinese artists with a bent for traditional imagery. Also on the Upper East Side is the Elizabeth Wang Gallery, which showcases works by artists of Chinese ancestry.

Perhaps the most powerful testimony to the high level of awareness for contemporary Asian art in New York is the fact that many of the world’s leading contemporary Asian artists have chosen to live and work in New York: Avant-garde Chinese artists Gu Wenda and Xu Bing (a recent MacArthur Foundation genius grant recipient) live here, as well as the Pakistani painter Shahzia Sikander (a Whitney Biennial star), Japanese photographer Mariko Mori, and Thai conceptual artist Rikrit Tiranvanija.

Another New York-based Asian artist fomenting a lot of buzz is Romon Yang, a.k.a. Ro-Starr, who was recently named one of the world’s hottest designers under the age of 30 by ID magazine. The Korean-born Ro-Starr has devised an East-meets-West visual style that’s recognized internationally; he has art-directed futuristic fashion layouts for Spin magazine and designed graphics for the likes of MTV, Nike, and Swatch. His firm, Starr Foundation, creates cutting-edge logos and album covers.

Dr. Arani Bose, a co-owner of Bose Pacia, captures the spirit of Asia in the New York art world today when he says, “The traditional art of South Asia really meets the contemporary art world in New York. The Brooklyn Museum’s collection of classic Indian miniatures is great and you can also go to Paisley for a lively look at what is going on in contemporary Indian art and design. Plus, Asia Week, which occurs every spring, is a focal point of the Asian art community, bringing people together from around the world right here in Manhattan. It’s an exciting time to be here for anyone interested in Asian art. We’re in the middle of an Asian art world that is currently a work in progress. It’s exhilarating.”