*APAC Heritage Month* Fireside Chat: Christine Starkman
Christine Starkman is a contemporary art curator inter ested in the global, transnational, and transcultural histories of modern and contemporary art between Asia, Europe, and Latin America. She has been a researcher and curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, Cleveland Museum of Art, and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She has a master’s degree in Japanese art and architecture from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and did PhD coursework in art history at Rice University, Houston. In 2021, Starkman received the award for the Fulbright Scholar Program for Korea.
Hi everybody, welcome to Cloudflare TV and happy Asian American and Pacific Islander Month.
My name is Michelle and I'm on the business intelligence team. Right now in the United States, May is observed as Asian American and Pacific Islander Month and Cloudflare, since we're a global company, so our two employee resource groups, Asianflare and Desinflare, for employees of Asian descent and their allies, decided to make this initiative globally inclusive.
So to celebrate APAC Month, we're hosting the Amplifying Asian Voices FireTrack series on Cloudflare TV, showcasing leaders and organizations from the Asian Pacific region.
So without further ado, I would like to introduce my guest of honor today, Christine Starkman.
So do you just kind of mind sharing a little bit about yourself and what you do?
Oh, you know, should I start the share? Because I have it in the share. Yeah, yeah, you can.
Okay, good. Because I'll start there. Well, I'm a curator of contemporary art.
I live in Houston. And let me just start here.
I'm an art curator. And this was my office at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, as you can see with all the books and research.
And as a curator, you know, you work at the museum, research, organize exhibitions, produce publications, fundraise, collaborate with colleagues and other museums and universities.
I think from the beginning, I did not know really what the world of art and the museum will give me.
But as I work over the years, I discovered that it's so rich and the travel and the people that you made it so interesting.
The small picture you can see in the corner.
Sorry, it's a little dark, but it's very special to me when I was preparing for this presentation.
You could see me there kneeling at the table. And that is we're looking at a sixth century Silla Korean crown gold with jade.
And it's very special because it came from Korea for the arts of Korea gallery that I worked on in 2007.
And when it arrived, you know, it came with its own courier, it flew in a special box.
And two people from the museum, National Museum of Korea came with it.
And I remember going to the museum at midnight because it was arriving.
And the next day we opened the box. And this is really very rare. You're not not too many people get to see it up close.
Usually it's behind glass. So once they opened it, we took some time to really look at it and just, you know, experience the sixth century Korean gold crown.
And when I was negotiating the loan, the director asked me, would you like to borrow the crown or the gold belt?
And I said, Well, can I borrow both?
You know, if you ask me which one I said both, and it's the first time to leave Korea.
So it's quite a quite a special experience to see it up close.
So you see me there. And this was published in the newspaper because we allowed them to come in.
And I just have a quick question about that. So when you have like, something that it's so like historic and so important to like Korea as a country, right?
Does the government get involved? Yes, yes, it all has to be approved.
The National Museum of Korea is a government museum. So when they asked me, everything has to be approved through the government to the Ministry of Culture, everything has to be approved.
So it was very special for the Arts of Korea gallery in Houston to be able to have their designated national treasure.
And my reasoning to them when I borrowed it, I said this would be the first Arts of Korea gallery in the southwest.
And I said many people it will be the first time to see it and probably the last time if that was their only visit to Houston.
So I worked very hard to borrow the best of Korea because it was the first Korean gallery in Houston and in the southwest.
That is amazing. So I just sorry, I'm going to go through your question.
Just to show you the kinds of exhibitions that I worked on. There's Arts of Korea and Korea in 19 2007.
And I also worked with the ink painter.
So that's the museum you can see there. So when you organize an exhibition, you know, you start with research, you make a publication, you do research.
And for me, when I did Korea, it was my first time I studied Japanese art.
So it was all from beginning from 2004 to 2007.
I studied Korean, I started Korean art, I worked with colleagues, I really studied so hard that to open the Korean gallery, I wanted to make sure I understood the culture of Korea from ancient to contemporary, as you can see here, sorry, if you're not able to see the whole thing, your bright future, I also organized a contemporary show.
So what's interesting about my work, not too many curators are able to go from ancient antiquity, as you say, the sixth century crown to contemporary art.
But because the director of the museum, Houston, he said, Well, I'd like to also have contemporary art show.
So this show was in 2009.
So two years later, but I was already working with Los Angeles Museum to meet artists and select artists.
So the title of the show is your bright future.
12 contemporary artists from Korea. So we selected 12. And you can see videos.
And this is something on billboard. That's in Hangul or in on him Bokeo, which means we are happy.
And that's one work by an artist, he wanted it to be a billboard.
And that's actually in Houston. And this one is in Los Angeles, the artist with the color stream.
Yeah, likes to work with found objects are not really found objects.
But, you know, he he would go to the store and would buy these colored streamers.
And that's how he likes to do it. He likes to show the public that these ordinary things that you use for the house for decoration, uses it for art.
With how does the process to be when you're trying to, like gather, I guess, artwork, right to present at these, like publications, right?
How do the artists approach you?
Are you the one seeking them out? Like, what is how does it usually for a museum?
We are the ones, we went to Korea 2000, the curator from Los Angeles, which is the picture in the bottom from 2004, 5678, like five years, every year, we would go for two weeks or three weeks.
So and we had a colleague there who knew a lot of artists.
So each visit, we would meet 2530 artists, and would just talk to them, see what they do.
But by 2008, we probably had 20 by 2000. Yeah, 2008, we went down to 12.
And what's interesting about the 12 artists we wanted to show it was about contemporary art.
It was about Korea, but it was about contemporary art. And also 11 of them are living abroad or studied abroad.
Only one stayed in Korea, like this artist who is showing the streamers, he never left Korea to study.
But many of them, this artist with the Hangul on the billboard, he was in New York from 82 to 95.
These artists with the video right up there. He date it's a collaborative two of them.
They live in Paris, they speak French. So 11 of the artists we selected, studied abroad.
So in a way, their practice includes the the language of contemporary art, it didn't stay as just if they stayed in Korea would have just been Korean works or well, I'm making a mistake there, because that's my that's really my point.
Many of these artists know about contemporary art because of travel, right?
Because of museums because of publications, they see all the works that are being published.
So that's really my point. Even though these artists are from Korea, they live abroad, they study abroad.
And in Korea itself, the universities there and exhibitions are all international.
Okay. So I think that kind of really brings us to like, kind of like the main chunk of kind of the thing we really want to explore in this interview is like what makes art art?
Yes. Well, I have other works that I worked on.
Saigo Chang, a contemporary artist from China and Taiwan, I worked with him on gunpowder drawing.
So this is how we made the work.
And then another artist, Do Ho Suh, his work with the house and we can go back to that if you want.
But I'll go to your question. Well, another question you asked, why did you decide to pursue this career?
Well, you know, it really started because you can see my major was biology and political science.
And then I went to Japan, because I was interested in Zen.
And you can see in the picture there, Kyoto, Japanese archery, I became interested in Japanese archery because of Kyoto.
But my time in Japan really showed me the art of Japan. And when I came back, I went to graduate school, studied Japanese art and architecture.
And my first job in Chicago is the Art Institute of Chicago because they had Japanese collection.
So that's really I didn't know I was going to be curator, I didn't know I was going to work in a museum, I just knew I was very interested in Japanese art.
And where was Japanese art in Chicago at the museum.
And when I started working, I realized, I think this is where I want to stay.
Because like research, I want to learn about Japan, Japanese art, but then the added feature of being curator is the public.
You make an exhibition and you educate the public about Japanese art, my work with Japanese art.
So I think that was the addition that I also didn't know about with being a curator, is that it's really educating the public about different cultures.
So is that like, because since you had a strong interest in art, what kind of made you want to be a curator versus just being an artist yourself?
Oh, I Wow, that's a really good question. I've always just, I think my interest is the research.
And I never really thought about drawing or painting or I wanted to.
That's a really good question. Because I think while in Japan, I tried to do drawing class, and it was impossible.
So I gave up. You know, it takes a long time.
So I think for me, it's more about research. I love research, learning about what makes something work.
That's really good. But I think for artists, it's a different kind of way of make, they make things, right?
And for me, I guess I make things, but more on maybe intellectual or like appreciating and learning upon and sharing with that knowledge.
Yeah. As an artist, I think you're born with that art making and expression.
Yeah, that there's in a way, it's the same parallel path.
I try to understand what is art and maybe the way. And that's why I think I stayed with as a curator, that world of art.
But you're right, because in a way, in understanding an artist, you almost have to be thinking like an artist to have the sensitivity of how an artist makes a work.
You know what I mean?
Yeah. And, you know, I organized our talk from your question. And the next question you had, what are the current projects?
And, you know, the artist I worked on for my exhibition, you can see his billboard there.
He died in 2004. And when he makes a work of art, it's installation, he draws it up, makes instructions, and he sends it ahead of time to the site.
For example, this one picture with the pieces of wood that's in Venice, his idea for that, but he shows up, he buys plywood, he makes it, but then after the exhibition, they throw it away.
Because he only makes it just for that, it's called site specific.
It's really his ideas are so strong, it has to be really strong, that the actual material of the work doesn't need to exist, the idea exists.
So he can go to another area, another site, and he won't make the same.
Because this is just for Venice. And then on the other side here, that's in San Antonio, it's called sky of San Antonio.
Because he died, we wanted to make that in Houston, and we wanted to do it sky of Houston.
Yeah, he made it, he put cameras on the roof, four directions and one direction to the sky.
He live streamed that to the floor in the gallery. You could see it's a beautiful work, because in the morning, I would go to the gallery, see the sun rising, the birds are flying, and you could hear sound.
Oh, that's so it's very like in the moment.
Yes. It's like this is this is here, this is now this is my piece.
And when we're done with it, it's it is now over as well. So you're seeing a different kind of practice for an artist.
He never likes to make work that's permanent.
So what happened, because I had to do it, right, because he died, I had to do it.
So I had to really study his work, like look at it, look at the archive material of how he did San Antonio.
And then also here, the billboard, he wanted it to be a billboard.
So we actually had to get a billboard in the city, four of them on the highway.
So when you're driving, you see Hangul. And that's really his point, because he wanted people to look at this graphic image, and perhaps maybe ask someone, if they find a Korean, they would say, what is that?
And the Korean will say, well, it says we are happy.
So the Korean himself won't even know what that is.
We are happy, you're happy. So it's this kind of communal art that he wants everyone to participate in.
So that's the reason why I over the years since 2009, I'm still on his work.
And that's the application I made for Fulbright.
I want to go to Korea and study his archive, because his archive is in the National Museum of Korea.
Oh, that is awesome. So was it so you were pretty much like inspired.
So you kind of you started your career with Japanese art, right? As you explore more about different art, like outside of Japan, then you kind of were found inspiration other places.
And then you pursue that with your research efforts.
Yes. And, you know, living artists are this way, this one, not living, but brought me from antiquities where you learn about the culture, you know, you learn about how they lived in 6th, 9th century, 17th century, but they no longer are around, right?
But this exhibition of your bright future gave me the opportunity to work with living artists.
And I feel over the years from 2009 to today, there's still a lot of work to be done, especially for Korea, China, Japan, all these Asian countries, there's still a lot of research and writing that need to be for contemporary artists.
So let's see if we Oh, current projects. So I just finished finishing this book.
And you know, now because in contemporary art is interesting, in a way, I'm open to different opportunities.
So I was asked to cook to curate and organize an exhibition about this photographer, and I've never done a photography show before.
But I was given the archives and 1000s of pictures. And I had to probably November, December, select pictures from her work.
She also died in 2000 2020.
So um, you can see I found these pictures, they're rappers in 2000.
And I thought it was very important that a photographer in Houston took pictures of all these rappers in 2000.
In Houston, right when the rapping was, rap music was starting.
So these are all the names. And I also designed that graphic for presenting the pictures because I thought, I don't want it to be boring, where you put the name right under the picture.
Yeah, I think that itself is also art, right?
Because you're designing, you're creating how to present this, you know, especially after the original artist passed away, you're reiterating kind of on it, and trying to best tell her story.
Thank you so much. You know, that's really the work I wanted to make sure that I was able to show who she was.
And it took time because she wasn't there.
And all I had were 1000s of pictures. But she was great in a sheet, plastic sheet with all the pictures in it.
She would, with a red marker would exit and say, select or final.
She was kind of guiding me. Yeah. And when it's not there, after a while, I learned really what she was looking for.
So I would look at the pictures really hard.
And I said, I think this is the one. I think this is the one.
So I also had to become a photographer, like her. And these are the pictures she took, you know, she took Destiny's Child in 2000.
Before they, just when they were starting, they were 19 years old at this picture.
I was excited to find them because you know, they're from Houston.
The next picture, she went to Russia in 1990 on skydiving trip, because she wanted to go.
And then she took pictures of President Bush because she was doing the cover of People magazine.
So she was invited. So this photographer, not too many. She wasn't known as photographer in museum and galleries, because she was busy taking pictures for magazines as editorial.
And that's what happens sometimes with photographers.
They, they, they are, you know, they go through their career, not known because they're busy working.
And but you can see her lighting, the way her relationship with the sitter, you're not able to get this kind of picture, unless you're confident of the photographer and the photographer has a good rapport with you.
And I learned all that. With interviews, I did a lot of interviews for the book.
My current project. So this one, my next project that I'm excited about is this.
Yes, you told me you told me a little bit about it. And I'm excited. Yeah, you know, from a book of dim sum, the norm, parlor tea parlor.
I in that book, he talked about the ang family fong on in Chinatown in New York.
And I thought, you know, it was only a couple page.
So I wrote to Mr. Ang on Instagram. And now we're on connected on email.
I said, you know, Mr. Ang, I think I want to write about your family.
It's 133 years old. This a tofu. He, you know, it's from family secret.
He's the third generation. So I thought, you know, there's a story about you, the family tofu Chinatown in New York.
I said, let's make a book together.
So that's my next project. I'm so excited. I'm really excited. Because I think it's also just like now we're at a time when people are really interested about hearing a lot of forgotten stories, too.
I think that's also why we're doing this.
It's like amplifying Asian voices. It's really giving people a platform allowing now it's a time where not only can we share stories, but people are willing to listen to them.
And I'm one I'm on the in a way with my job. I can do that, right?
Because I do research, I conduct interviews. And from my photography experience of working on that, I was comfortable to say to him, you know, I will do interviews with your family will take pictures, I think I want to invite a photographer to take pictures.
So we'll make a beautiful book. I know how to make a book, you know, working with a designer.
So it's interesting how my experience from that gave me confidence to work on this project.
It's very exciting. And I think we might get to your question now.
Yes. Sorry, it took so long. No, no, it's great.
Because I think it's all just like bringing all these little bits from your background.
And you really kind of answer kind of a lot of these kind of bigger, I guess, more broader questions, too.
So your question was hard, because I don't think about that.
But maybe intuitively, I do. So I selected works of art that I like are my favorite.
And we start with 1434. Jan van Eyck, Dutch painter, Marriage of Arnolfini.
When I was in art institute, I picked this book up. And, you know, because I was focusing on Japanese art, but I thought I want, this is such a beautiful painting.
I've always seen it. I studied in art history, the whole book, I'm going to read it.
And what makes art art? Because when you look at a painting like this, okay, first, it's marriage.
Second, materiality, the curtain, the attention to the chandelier, the fur, the velvet, the dog, the slipper, everything is a decision by the artist, everything is placed the right way.
And also, what's interesting, there's political social comment, also, that you don't realize, you know, you're just like a marriage picture.
But if you really, as a researcher, if you really am the writer of this book, research in a 14, 15th century Dutch, Netherlands, and he this Arnolfini is a rich businessman, he's able to afford fur.
And you know, when you have a portrait made, that means you are presenting your persona, your status to the audience, right to the city, I'm very rich, I can afford all this, and all the things that are very hard to get gold and velvet and, you know, fur, look, I can have it.
Right. And then also social, the dog, you know, tea, right?
The symbol of the dog is loyalty. And then the business of marriage is also here, see how the scholar was able to unpack and really find out what this painting is about.
Well, it's her research, it's original. But the business of marriage, you know, when you get married, you have to, you have to, especially for the woman, you know, have to be able to present her with all her riches, right.
So again, you know, with all the material that's in the painting, it's presenting also her status.
So what makes art art, because it reflects the culture reflects the materiality of the culture reflects social and political comments of how people lived at that time.
Yeah, right. We go to Renshaw. And this is my most most favorite ink painting.
Because again, Richard Vinograd, a scholar at Stanford.
He is a sinologist, his main field is Chinese art. But in this painting, 1850, just imagine what's happening in China, right?
1850. It's a portrait of Renshaw.
But the ink, the, the brush, how powerful it is, and then the inscription on the side of making a comment of what's happening in China, and just how he's presented, you know, his face, and then just how big he is the power.
So in art, you're able to make a statement, right? So but then is it like, is all art?
Is it kind of just for the artists to make an opinion to make a statement to kind of become a medium for their own opinions?
Own opinion, but also respond to what's happening in society.
But is that also art that just, I guess, that just looks nice, which is like visually appealing?
I guess there is, but then those, those works of art don't stand the test of time, in a way, for me.
Because you can look at it, it's really pretty. But then it didn't say anything about connect to it.
Yeah, yeah. And you see Amy Sherald, and I'm sorry, for President Obama, it's a different artist.
But they were together when I picked it up.
For the first time, in portraits of presidents and First Lady. It's not one of those old painting, as you can see in Jan van Eyck, you know, yeah, it's like, yeah, they're sitting there.
For the first time, President Obama and Michelle Obama wanted contemporary artists, Black artists, for the first time, they are presented at the Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, Black artists making portrait of, you know, Black leaders.
It's really monumental for this statement.
And, you know, for Amy Sherald to be selected, to make her portrait, you know, seated with this beautiful dress, you know, it really reflects her.
And then for President Obama, another artist, it was really a collaboration.
You know, not only an artist coming to the White House, the President is seated there, they just paint them, and it looks like all the other painting.
This one, I thought, was a great work of art in that it was making all these different levels of statements, right?
The first Black artist to be shown at the National Gallery portraying President Obama and Michelle Obama.
So, but let me ask you, yeah, when you ask this question, what makes art art?
Like, for me, or like, why did I ask the question?
I think for me, I think it's all about just connecting. I think because a lot of that when you read like any works of art, regardless of what the medium, like, even just be like a book, right?
I think what really resonates, it's something, I think it really is something that resonates, you know, like, it's something you find, because there's some books you read that you just like, forget about, because you don't, you don't connect to it, you know?
So I think for me, what makes art art is like, what can I connect to?
And I think that, but then that definition differs by each individual person, right?
Because like, someone looking at that marriage painting, it's just like, okay, that's just two people getting married.
But like, for me, that's what I see. But for you, since you understand the like, scholarly background, right, the academic background of it, to you, you can connect to it in a different viewpoint than I can.
So I think that's what makes art so interesting is that people are coming from all walks, all walks of life and trying to figure out what resonates with them and what doesn't.
I love that answer that we can all come to art with our own experience and emotion.
And you know, I heard Baryshnikov say that, you know, art is all around us.
And sometimes it doesn't even need to be part of us the way we live, right?
But he said, but if you make art as part of your life, that gives you freedom.
That gives you freedom.
If you become like, for example, for him as an artist, as a ballet, as a, you know, in ballet, it's artistic, the way he made his body become this ballet art, right?
For him, it gave him freedom, freedom to express himself. So it's very interesting.
You're right. Thank you for that. That art gives you a chance to connect and to understand the world.
I also love what you said about art is everywhere.
Like I think, what was the type, the sky of Houston or the sky of whatever.
It's really just the sky. Like I look up and that could be nature's eye, you know?
But for the artists, they're very sensitive. So what he wanted to do to go into that gallery, he wanted you to see the sky.
So he had to think about how do I do that?
Oh, and you know, a lot of that is decision-making, right? And he had to like experiment what makes, once you get to the work of art itself, that had a hundred decisions, right?
It's like, how do I bring the sky live stream? Oh, video. Where do I put the video?
How do I bring it? And you know, he could have projected that to the wall, right?
Usually the projection is to the wall, right? But for him, he's like, well, that's what you see.
Then people will come in there, walk in, walk out.
But if I take a wall down, he actually cut a wall down and he projected it there.
And when you entered the room, you entered the wall opening that he took down.
So there's a connection. And then you walk and you're like, what happened to the wall?
Oh, it's on the floor. Oh, what's on the floor? Oh, the sky. So he said, my floor is your wall.
I actually read that in his notes. Oh, really? Okay. Yeah.
My floor is your wall. It's so good. Okay. What differentiates Asian versus other contemporary art?
As I have learned over the years in looking at art, there are works, you know, Liu Xiaodong from China.
He makes a social realist painting. He was trained at the Central Academy.
So he can paint pictures that look real, almost real.
And then Jeff Koons, 1955. He was born in 1955. You know, he selects this kind of material, you know, and then he makes everyday things like this balloon dog or the tulips.
And then we have Yang Hegyu, born 1971. He's one of my artists from my show.
He, she is actually in Berlin, moved there in the 90s. And she's considered a German artist, but goes home to Korea.
And at some point, it must have been early 2000, where she decided to select, you know, blinds that you have on the window.
She decided that that's her material. And this sculpture is made out of blinds.
Oh, that's really pretty. It's so big, too. So because of just really long practice and intellectual and theory of art, that she takes an everyday material and gives it an idea that it can be abstraction, it can have color, it can have it can have scale.
Right, that she can take an everyday material and give it a statement.
It's very powerful way of thinking that you can take something that you see in the house.
Yeah, and she does, she's not using a regular material for an artist, right?
Ink, acrylic, canvas, you know, she actually takes an everyday material and makes it say something else.
And so what difference is Asian with other contemporary art?
For me these days, the artist might be born in Asia, but because of their opportunity and training, yeah, they're able to also just be contemporary artists.
They are Asian. Yeah, perhaps they can make Asian things. But because of their way of thinking and opportunities to travel and make social statements, that they are just contemporary artists.
They no longer need to just be Asian artists. Yeah.
And it's also like looking back, like you look at ancient art, right? Like when you look at like a sixth century, the gold crown from Korea, you can tell that's from Korea, right?
Because of the history in it. I think what's really interesting is, as our world modernizes and globalization is now like a very big thing.
Now, art in itself is now, it's very hard to find, I guess you can't look at this, like, for example, that painting in the middle, right?
You can't look at that and go, that is definitely done by whatever artists and you can't label that.
It's just at this point, right?
Yes. Yes. You can't say it's in China, just China. It's people fishing, you know, it's a family, right?
It's, yeah, in a way you're right.
This global nature of art now that artists are able to travel. And also, I would think we need to be open to artists just because they're Asian.
It doesn't mean they just need to make Asian things or, you know, Yang Hegyu, do we tell her you're Korean, you should just make Asian, you know, Korean things?
Liu Xiaodong, do we tell him to just make Chinese things?
You know, artists are expressing the world they see, right?
They travel and yeah, it's good. Yeah, I think a lot of people, like, I think before we talked, I always kind of thought like artists is, like, that art is an extension of themselves, but it's also an extension of the world around them.
Yes. Good. Good. I think that is, I think that was one of the most, like, things I kind of recognize is, you know, as the more we talked as well.
So how has the art scene changed from minority artists over time?
Interesting, you use that word minority.
Why did you use that word minority? I think because I'm looking at it from an American sense in which, you know, I guess European art kind of dominated America for a good part of the century.
But then as, you know, people come in from all over the world to this country, there's a lot of times, you know, we are the minority here.
But even though if you look at it globally, like, I think the Asian population is kind of the majority, but like numbers wise.
But it's good.
Yeah, it's good. That happens in art. And that's actually part of my research.
I'm looking at Baki, so the artist with the sky of Houston. In the 80s, he was at Pratt.
You know, he went to Hongik University in Seoul, wanted to go to New York, because many of the artists were going to New York in the 80s, got accepted to Pratt.
So he was in Brooklyn. And also Byron Kim is Korean. He was also in Brooklyn.
Byron went to Yale. Baki, so went to Pratt. And at that time, 80s and 90s, they were considered minority artists, ethnic artists.
And there was a show called the Decade Show in the 90s.
And it was about all the minorities, Blacks, Latinos, Asians.
And when I studied that book, I said, it's, it's extraordinary that there was a time in art and in New York, that these artists, these are minority artists, it's kind of separating them, right?
These are the American artists, Western artists, these are the minority ethnic artists.
But when you look at the work, what is minority about it, right?
Synecdoche, 1991. Byron, coming from Yale, was selected from Whitney Biennial.
This every two years, they have this show at the Whitney, and they select American artists, right?
Because Byron is born in the US and went to Yale, was selected.
Synecdoche. And synecdoche is a literary word, which means many, but one, or one, but many.
And what do you think of this work of art?
It's small canvases, small canvas. And there's probably 100 of them.
He still continues the work where he, but this is an interesting thing.
Because one day, you know, he would carry around his small square canvases.
He was studying color. And he would ask his friends, can I, with watercolor, can I paint your skin color?
These are all skin colors. And after a while, he would have many famous friends, too, artists, so their color.
So synecdoche became this very important work, because on one level, it's abstract art, right?
Color, and, you know, the approach that he made, many colors. And you would think, oh, it's abstract art, right?
Not figurative, but abstract art. But when you look behind it, it has the name of the person.
And it's their skin color.
So it made a really, it was an important work of art. But it was in a show in 1991, where there were ethnic artists, multicultural exhibition.
And they invited Byron Kim to kind of be the multicultural artist.
But looking back at it now, there's nothing.
Well, it is multicultural, because there are all these artists there.
But on a level of art itself, right? That's not abstract art. And he continues.
He's still a painter. He's still an instructor, a lecturer at Yale for painting.
So Untitled 2020, this is New York sky. At night. And then 2020, BQO, the last year, he was in La Jolla because of his parents, and he would go out swimming in the ocean.
So this is his painting of, you know, kind of coloring the ocean, right?
So I don't think the artists have changed in a way. It's really society, maybe I hope have changed, right?
Because he's always been an abstract painter.
He's always been a painter. But in 1990s, he was looked at as a minority ethnic artist, right?
These days, not really, because he's just a New York painter.
He's a, you know, an abstract painter. He's a dealer in New York. And you can see 2020, he still continues with color, and, you know, light.
So I would think it's really society giving that label to an artist.
They were never minority artists.
They were just artists. And then yeah, that's part of my work. Yeah.
Really writing about that. Yeah, because I think like, especially looking at people who are often rated by labels of your identity, like you're Asian American, you're African American, you're not just American.
You're often attached to this foreignness of, I don't know, of society construct, I don't know.
It is. And I hope it just keeps changing, you know, I hope it just keeps changing because you know, you just do your work.
You don't think, I don't think I, on a daily basis, I don't think, oh, I'm Filipino, I'm Asian.
I don't think, I'm not conscious of that. It's not till someone asks me, what are you?
Where are you from? And then you're like, I'm from here.
Yeah. So it's interesting how it's really society that gives you that label.
And it's good to talk about it with art because for Byron, he's always, he was a poet, he's a painter, he wanted to study color.
So from the beginning, it was all about color and painting and the history of art.
He was very conscious of that, the history of art, right?
But because of society, 80s and 90s, the curators, oh, he's Korean, he must be painting minority identity kind of painting.
And of course, you know, all his friends, different color skin, they said, oh, yeah.
So he's painting all the other people, the minority people. And that's the writing today for many of my colleagues, is that I look at it as recovering the artist and recovering the work, that it wasn't only about being minority, he didn't go around saying, I'm Korean, I'm only going to paint the minority people.
In his mind, I'm going to paint color. How do I capture the color of your skin?
It's all about color. Yeah. But they never wrote about that. They didn't write about him doing that.
They wrote about him being Korean, you know, Korean War, you know, coming to the US.
Oh, yeah. Okay. The writing in the 80s and 90s was all about being the other.
So many of my colleagues are rewriting, in a way, a different kind of history for these artists.
Yeah, not focusing more on the art itself and not really who the artist is.
And I think, you know, a lot of artists, they probably prefer that, right?
Because like you said earlier, like the art for themselves is like a statement.
It's like a message that they want to share.
And I think that's probably what they want to focus on versus who they are, I guess, as a person.
And maybe it's the training of the curators at that time. You know, they only studied Western art.
But I would think, I wish they were more open to the history of art and the way these artists are painting about painting itself, right?
But they were busy. Oh, he's Korean. He's not an American painter. He's a Korean painter.
So it's interesting how the training of the scholars at that time, too, was Western art.
So in a way, they couldn't imagine that an Asian painter can paint Western art also and know about history of art.
They didn't have that in their mindset.
These days, it's better. But in the 80s and 90s, definitely, they just saw him as a Korean artist.
So I'm really curious, like something I'm curious about, when you like curating for like an expedition, for like in like Korea versus Houston, do you approach it differently?
Is that a different approach based on your audience?
I know you said a lot of it is how people perceive it, right, too.
And you know, you did ask that question. I don't know. Well, let's go over this one because I will get to that question.
How has cultural understanding and identity impacted the way people perceive contemporary art?
You know, I guess we go back to the same thing again.
Shu Bing, Tian Shu, it's book from the sky he made in 1989, 1990.
He showed this in Wisconsin. And if you can read Chinese, not one person in the whole world can read this actually.
And you know why? Why?
Can you read it? Do you read Chinese? Not very well. I have like, just take your time and select a character and see if it makes sense.
I can tell parts of it like, yes, like the one, the one in the middle on the right side.
That's like, yeah, you know, the radical, you can probably get the radical.
But Shu Bing, in making this work 1989, you know, during the Tiananmen Square, he studied at Central Academy printmaking.
So he actually carved three to 5000 characters in reverse. That did not make sense.
He used the Kangxi dictionary, you know, character dictionary.
So he had a system, you know, how to make a character dictionary, you've seen those character dictionary, it starts with the radical, and then all the other strokes that go with that.
So he had a system. But in each character, either he added one or he took one out that you cannot read it.
And I think that really, I think I mentioned this too before, it's like, in America, you see that stuff.
And he's like, Oh, that looks like Chinese, right?
But it's foreign. And then you, he kind of made Chinese foreign to Chinese people.
Yes, democracy, democratize. Yeah. The first time this was installed in Beijing, everyone came in, everyone was happy, you know, Tian Shu, Book on Sky, they're all reading it.
And after a while, everyone started screaming.
Because they said, I can't read it. And what did the artists do?
He took down the Chinese culture. So they had to shut it down. Because it was a scandal, that an artist would take down the Chinese language.
And then the whole this is a soul home. He made a one to one copy of his parents house.
It's a Korean house, a humble hanok and sewed it into fabric. He put it in a suitcase, and he brought it to LA and installed it in the Korean Culture Center.
So his idea is I've always wanted to bring my home with me. So he sewed one to one.
And you know, he worked with the Hamburg, the Korean dressmaker is a very good seamstress.
He they showed him how to sew. So this is one to one scale of his home Korean, his parents home Korean home.
And he wanted to bring it to the United States and put it in a suitcase.
So cultural understanding identity impacted way people contemporary art.
I hope from the work of these artists, that when you come see their work that it's about art itself, it's about the material, but it's about ideas also, right?
That he comes from Korea, but his idea was home. He wanted to bring his home with him.
And he would make these different houses of his apartment, of his house, his gate, he would make them to go with him.
And then shoobing, the language itself, you know, how during the Cultural Revolution, you know, at first intellectuals, right, you can read the history of Chinese art and then Cultural Revolution, take all of that out, and, you know, change the language to simplify from traditional, right?
Yeah, democratize. But at the same time, he said, you know, the government sometimes just uses language to control.
Right? So he himself then said, Okay, well, I'm going to make my own language that no one can read.
What's kind of really interesting, you mentioned about the shift from traditional Chinese to simplify writing, right?
Yeah, like the Chinese government, in a way, reinvented Chinese, make it easier, right?
But then this guy kind of reinvented Chinese, he kind of just stretch up the radicals, he took the same basic system, but then change it a little bit, right?
Because like, I read traditional, I can't read.
Yes, I read traditional. So it's interesting how when the Chinese government does it, it's okay, when he kind of reinterprets it for art now, it's like a whole culture.
People are like, what? Yeah, you're taking down the culture.
So yeah, depends on the ruler, right? Who's the ruler, like the government, right?
They can control also. So it's, I think sometimes the role of artists is to really shine a light to what's happening in society.
And if they're really smart, as you being is able to do it intellectually, right?
Well, in a way, because his parents, their intellectual family, so he learned that language is powerful.
But for an artist to say, is training printmaking, I will carve 5000 characters that don't, that don't make sense.
Yeah, that's commitment and determination.
Mm hmm. And how does identity impact current artists and their works versus the past?
So this is Ayoe Kusama. She was in New York in the 60s. And it was very hard for female artists, then Asian artists to even have any attention.
So in 1960s, this was her work. She created, I think it's fabric with all the dots, she became very famous with all these polka dots, but installation art.
Yeah, and body art, because she was part of the work and interaction, but also, it's about art because of color, and making and installation.
So but this is 2021.
This is at the botanical garden. So she still continues to work now it's sculpture, but it's still bringing her ideas about painting about these dots, installation, it's about sculpture.
Now it's interaction with nature and with, you know, viewer when they come to it.
In a way, she's, she is still practicing herself.
It's society that's kind of changed a little bit.
Right? Yeah, I think I think you can see that trend, like was it Van Gogh, like when he was painting, he wasn't appreciated till after he kind of died.
And it's like kind of like a running joke, right? When you look at, like the ancient, not ancient artists, but like artists in like the 18th, 17th century, a lot of that art was when they were, they were very poor people who yes, just painting for the joys of painting, right?
And it wasn't until after they died, that now we look back, that we started appreciating a lot of these artwork and pieces.
So we have four minutes. Oh, no, let's keep going. Um, you asked about Korea and Paris, and this is the same artist Yang Hye-kyo.
And I could say, you know, I, if you select the right artists, they would actually be making really strong works of art.
So it could be in Seoul and in Paris. And it's the same artists, the same work, actually.
Oh, this is the one where you ask about the, you know, non fungible token.
Yeah. And, you know, I, I accepted it as the way technology comes printing, photography, and then now this is, you know, 21st century works of art with computer lighting, and material, but let's keep going.
I looked at NF, you know, works of art. And then artists who were actually doing the same kind of thing NFT today, but Nanjun Paik in the 50s and 60s, it was television, you know, Yayoi Kusama was sculpture and color, and then Ai Weiwei, you know, reflecting the culture and the time, you know, refugees, bicycle, you know, about China, and then Andy Warhol in the 60s and 70s, reflecting commodity.
So I see it as the time the art of the time, but it's very complicated.
It's technical, you know, that Ethereum block, was that blockchain?
I'm like, wow, it's so technical.
And you know, many of the athletes are really in there. And I said, but which artists are they working with?
Because I'm not sure these are really good artists.
I can say I'm sorry to say they're making like Andy Warhol, taking the Campbell soup, and the can, in a way, they're kind of like that, just taking the, you know, popular culture, and making works of art, but these athletes are making money because of the NFT.
Yeah. So last one, maybe I'll be fast. Interesting, you pick this, you pick Rudolf Stengel, Kirchner, but I found the original.
So the artist actually repainted the original.
It's exact, but different size. Because I was curious why he said Kirchner as the title 1922 2020.
Because the original is this, and his painting is that.
Oh, I just really liked it, because it looked a little lonely, like that little tree person, I don't know, that little brown line.
Very interesting. You know, I like to do research, I was curious, this looks like a really good painting, and maybe it's been around, and he repainted it.
So it's very good.
Uday, you like the, it's a cherry blossom, four season. And then, you know, I found Lucy Liu's painting is like, oh, interesting that she's a painter now.
She needs to do a lot more work.
But it's good. She has a commitment to painting. I think what I like, wait, can we go back to Lucy Liu, what was really interesting about her, it's, it looks like a, like a typical, like family portrait, but like having the two moms and I, for me, what really hit me was the detail.
The kids are like a shade darker than the parents.
Yes. I think that for me was I remember growing up, my parents are like completely covered up, because they're like, no son, and we're just like running around in America, like getting all the tanning.
And it's, it just, I think that's a detail that a lot of people don't really understand.
And I saw that, I was like, I like, it's, it stood out to me, because a lot of times when you see a family portrait, it's, they all look the same, because it's a family, right?
But this, but it's specific to her, reflecting her family. So it's good. I know, I did, I heard she was a painter.
So it was good to see her painting and amplify Asian voices.
It's really my work, right? I, my, my research for my Fulbright is Korean artists.
And why is it important? Because there's still a lot of work to be done in terms of equalizing and seeing us as equal as American or as artists, right?
They're not Korean artists, they're artists. And we're not Filipino or Chinese American, we're American, right?
So I think it's important to keep the work.
Kryptonite, I don't know, maybe chocolate, and then my binge on Netflix, K-drama, I'm, I need to have Korean in my ear.
I listen to Korean pop, K-pop, and I listen to, and I see movies, because I always have to have Korean in my head for my research.