Symposium at Rossi & Rossi, London, UK, 2008
FR Fabio Rossi
EG Eliza Gluckman
GG Gonkar Gyatso
PW Palden Weinreb
KL Kesang Lamdark
CH Clare Harris
WW Wayne Warren
NB Nicky Baumann
UM Unidentified Male Speakers
UF Unidentified Female Speakers
FR Good evening, everybody. Thank you very much for coming tonight. Itís great to see such a response to the event. Iím Fabio and together with my mother, Anna Maria own this gallery, weíve just moved into these new premises, and I just wanted to thank specific people, particularly Elaine Ng, Eliza Gluckman, for offering to hold this event. And I want to thank our two assistants, Inne and Zaklina, who have helped with this organisation, but particularly of course my thanks to my mother who, while I was travelling all around the world, she worked fabulously to make sure that this gallery was finished in time for this show. And I think thatís all I want to say now and I pass on to Eliza.
EG Thank you, Fabio. I should say a few words about me first. Iím Eliza Gluckman. Iím a London editor for Asia Pacific. I work as a freelance curator and writer. I did an MA in Curating and Contemporary Art and my thesis was on Contemporary Chinese Art and how it was being shown and received in the West. I worked for Asia House a few years ago and now Iím freelance. So thank you for coming. Weíre going to talk around the forthcoming public reaction of the contemporary art market with Frieze art Fair, starting next week. But itís the word on everyoneís lips. So itís not just about money, itís about the survival of artists, itís about intellectual discussion and itís about the process which means that we will want to consume the art in some way, whether itís just visually or for money. So tonight we have on our panel a dealer, an academic, a collector and, of course, an artist. I thought we could work through the spectrum and talk about perhaps, first of all, the making of the artwork, its cultural significance, whether itís the tag of Tibetan and how the artist did with that, and then onto some of Fabioís clients work, the displays and curating of shows, and then the art of collecting it. So Iím just going to introduce the panel quickly and then Iím going to ask each artist to talk about their work in the show for five minutes.
FR Can you just switch off your mobiles as well?
EG So, first of all, next to me is Dr Clare Harris. Clare is reader in anthropology at the University of Oxford. Sheís also curator for Asia and runs the museum and a fellow at Maudlin College. In 1999 she published In the Image of Tibet, Tibetan Painting after 1959, the first academic study of modern and contemporary Tibetan art, based on her extensive research in Oriental and Himalayan Studies. More recently sheís curated Seeing Lhasa, an exhibition about British photography in Tibet, and produced a book of the same name. She is Director of the Tibetan Visual History project, which is an AHRC funded project that led to the creation of a website called Tibet Outreach, which is amazing, and features 6,000 historic photographs of Tibet. Thereís Fabio, who you probably are familiar with. The gallery was founded in 1988 with his mother, which has established a reputation as leading dealers in Indian and Himalayan art, early Chinese and Central Asian textiles and works of art. And recently theyíve additionally staged exhibitions on Tibetan and Chinese contemporary artists, as well as Western artists who have worked in the East.
And then we have Wayne, whoís a collector. Wayne Warren describes himself as a unique character. He owns a school and has travelled widely in the Far East and started collecting contemporary art sometime ago, but focusing on Tibetan art from about two years ago when he went to Fabio. And Iíll just quickly tell you about the artists and their work.
So Kesang Lamdark was born in Dharamsala in 1963 and grew up in Switzerland. After apprenticing and working as an interior architect there, he studied at the Parsons School of Design in New York and Columbia University. He combines unusual materials and ultimately his life and works are about bringing together the unfamiliar, from Tibet to India, Switzerland to America, from hair to plexi and butter to nail polish. His unusual background is the driving force behind his art.
And then we have Palden Larz Weinreb, who was born in 1982 in New York, where he studied art and still lives. He graduated from Skidmore College in 2004 and works at the Rubin Museum of Art. His work concentrates on drawing, painting and new media.
And then Gonkar Gyatso, whoís probably the most well-known of the artists. He was born in 1961 in Lhasa and studied in Beijing and London. He is the founder of the Contemporary Tibetan Art Gallery, The Sweet Tea House, and heís currently based in London. His work has been internationally published and exhibited in galleries and museums, in the Chinese National Art Gallery, Beijing, Kangra Museum, India, The Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art in London and many others. Having lived in Tibet, China, India and the West, Gyatsoís art comments on hybridity and modernity in these different cultures and traditions.
So weíre going to run through the lifecycle of artwork and discuss first the artworks and productions, physically, intellectually, then move on to the cultural significance of the work and the cultural identity of the artist and how this is viewed, or not, in their work, and whether you get 15 different interpretations of their work and finally collecting and [inaudible] [background noises]. So, first of all, can I ask Gonkar to talk about his work in the exhibition for a few minutes?
GG Well, I will try to make it simple. Mainly I work with drawing and painting with my subject being Buddha for many years, and then I started working with stickers. Then I had this interesting relationship with Buddha. At the beginning Iíd say the Buddha was, for me, almost like the door to know my own sort of culture. Then afterwards, I think Buddha became a little bit unhappy, possibly with myself, so probably there is something there which has been twisted and disguised. And then also there is the theory of when I was in India and I rediscovered the Buddha and I think the time in India, I learned vision and proportion much more. Then when I came to London, I think, 12 years ago, I virtually abandoned the project for five or six years because I was busy doing some other things. And I think probably about three or four years ago Buddha has come back to me again and this time I think itís with a much more potent theme. So I think I see Buddha as a kind of, for me, more like an icon, a cultural icon. And I think itís interesting. I have to say that probably about four years ago I sort of rediscovered London and then I think somehow probably my work, I donít want to go to China or Tibet anymore because London, I think there are plenty of things that really can inspire my work. I think this is great. I can save time or save money. So, yes, when I tell you London inspires, I mean I donít need to go out of the area. And I think that is probably the one with the really diverse culture and race and you can meet all kinds of people. And of course with art. And also I think an interesting thing here in London, Iíve really witnessed the changing of the work, the culture, especially in the place where I live, which is in my street. I should mention there is a Buddhist Centre which is actually run by a westerner. I mean, the things they do are things that are quite interesting. Quite often you can see a notice on the board saying lunchtime, 40 minutes meditation for alcoholics, or simply you get depressed and other sorts of addiction. So I find that sort of thing very inspiring. Although in a traditional way, I mean Buddha is very iconic for a religion, I think when it comes to a different country, especially when it comes to a city, I think it becomes sort of like a pop icon. So thatís really inspired me, especially people needing spirituality, whether unnecessarily treated as some kind of image or not. This can be something very funky. I mean, if you go to Oxford Street or some trendy restaurant or shop, you can see Buddha being displayed just by the window or floor. So thatís what Iím saying really inspired me to using this sticker. And I specialise in my work now, is I use lots of stickers. I think actually the sticker itself contains lots of cultural icons, especially in the Western culture. So I try to put those two things together and make a sort of interesting combination, especially the last work, which is behind you. Itís very strong, powerful, also very tragic image. But somehow I think whatís really happening in the modern days, I think quite often that kind of image is being explored by the media. So it can be reused on a magazine, newspaper, television. Only recently I can see that kind of image being made into a postcard, or even stickers. You can buy them. So I like this concept of very tragic icon, but gradually itís become a sort of commodity, then mixed with the pop culture, which we can see every day around. So thatís something that I think I tried to express in my work really.
EG Thank you very much. Palden?
PW Well, Iím going to be brief because I prefer that my works speak for themselves. As I said before, I try not to offer any specific statements because I find that it tends to cloud in certain areas. So itís best to just let the work speak for itself. What we can talk about is the visual abstraction and the way it became. I try to find a case that can hold many references, a lot of potential as far as possible. But I try and [unclear] towards a very civil [?] [unclear] or a severe parent [unclear] where the actual colonies [?] are just as evident as whatever happens [unclear]. And some lessons I find are that having the reality of abstract emergentation [?] and [unclear] [microphone being moved] going back and forth tends to bring the area to a kind of questioning with [unclear] in the sense thatÖ kind of question the abstract nature of this [unclear] in general. And I canít really say more than that. So Iíll keep it brief.
KL Hello. My name is Kesang Lamdark and my work is in the back with the beer can and the photograph. So last summer, this summer actually, I went to Tibet to visit my father in East Tibet. And I brought some prints with me, the beer cans, and itís in East Tibet and itís described as there are not a lot of foreigners there. So I was really interested in how these people there, they look at my artwork. And I showed it to my father and he looked at in and found it very interesting. And he was asking me if I copied that or if I made it myself. And I said, yes, I did it myself. And he really liked it. So that was a good thing, I think, obviously to have some people who are outside somewhere else to look at my work and appreciate it. And also I found there some special beer cans in Tibet, so when I travelled back I had like a huge bag with empty beer cans and 40 candles from out there. And every Customs I arrived, there were my beer cans and they looked puzzled.
EG So I think weíre going to ask some questions about how you all actually produced the work. But, first of all, Clare, could you say something about the moment of transition in Tibetan art when we moved into the contemporary or however thatís defined?
CH Yes, thatís a tricky one, thank you. Well, the first thing Iíd like to say is that itís very exciting to be in this room and in the presence of the artists, and in the presence of some extraordinary work. And I think we should first of all remember that actually we have the work of eight artists, four who are based in Lhasa, in Tibet itself, and four who are based in the Western world. And that is an important conjunction in itself and a rare opportunity to see the work of a group of artists from various different parts of the Tibetan world, shall we say. I also think that the work that weíre surrounded by is the efflorescence of a process that has been going on for a while, but it is also of extraordinary quality. And this is why I think weíre lucky to be in this environment and able to hear from the artists themselves about how this work has been created. But I was asked to just say a few words about how we get to this special moment and I think it can only get better. But certainly we are at a point where thereís some wonderful work being made and so, just to summarise at least 100 years of history, clearly most of us in this room are aware that Tibetan art in the past, pre 1950, was primarily devoted to Tibetan Buddhism and that it had a long history, a complex aesthetic system attached to it and a very complex religious scheme attached to it. That heritage, that history, itís going to be interesting to hear how much that still comes through. Looking at Gonkarís work behind you right now, I can see Avalokiteshvara with is classic iconometry, with the multiple thousand armed version of an iconography and an iconometric scheme that goes back centuries, however, superimposed with something which is absolutely to the minute. So I want you to remember that there are these centuries of history but, of course, then dramatic happened that caused some rupture with that history, created some rupture with that history, but in the early part of the 20th century, or certainly at least by 1940, 1950, you have a number of pioneering figures who start to trigger a new type of way of making Tibetan art that is not necessarily to do with religion, although often it is. However, it comes with a very different kind of aesthetic system attached to it, and Iím thinking of people like Amdo Chamba, who produced what we might think of as almost photo-realist kind of portraits, including very high ranking religious figures. And his work was revolutionary at that time. And also Gedun Choephel, who was possibly the first modernist Tibetan artist of a polymap of, like many people in this room, but of an extraordinary status. However, Gedun Choephelís legacy was not really revived or talked about much, from my experience, until probably the early 1990s, maybe mid-1990s, and now his name is given to a group of artists, a guild set up in Lhasa which named itself after this pioneering figure. And I think thatís key because what it says is that artists themselves in Lhasa, for example, and possibly the artists here, are looking back to the emergence of a new way of making Tibetan art, which has caused this enormous explosion just recently of very different kinds of image making, compared to those centuries of traditional work. The other thing Iíd like to say is that of course, during the cultural revolution, art of any sort pretty much doesnít really go on in Tibet itself. By the mid-80s, however, a liberalisation policy enables artists to start to work again and, at that period, artists start to go to art schools in Tibet itself and start to join artistsí guilds or associations of artists, and produce work which is sold in public places, in which the idea of modern or contemporary art starts to exist in somewhere like Lhasa. And of course here we have Gonkar who was one of the pioneers of that movement. He set up, with his friends, a group called The Sweet Tea artists, now again something else revived here in London in the form of his gallery of that name, The Sweet Tea House. So I think that in the 1980s Ė I hope youíre agreeing, Gonkar Ė there was a massive surge of interest and attempts by artists in Tibet itself to make a contemporary Tibetan style of art. And it was consciously Tibetan and, in many ways, consciously contemporary, although the language it used I would basically describe as modernist. And so this starts really in the mid-1980s and then gets more and more rich, more artists join this movement, go to art school, Tibetan artists become professors in Lhasa University Fine Art department and I think, around this room, for example, the work of Gade, who is one of the professors in the university, gives us an indication of how things have changed. So I think thatís my brief introduction. Shall I stop at that point? And Iím sure people might want to add. Fabio, would you like toÖ?
FR I think thatís sufficient.
CH Do either of you relate to this history because I have talked mainly what happened in Tibet itself and obviously your context is rather different?
PW Well, I think that [unclear] comes from the points in the story and is part of the situation across the work indirectly. I mean, in some cases, itís very conscious but, for the most part, itís a matter of environment exposure, influences and, in some cases, itís a bit more limited and, in some cases, itís a bit more available. And I think [unclear] and creates the very things there. And thatís probably the most current thing because [unclear] and this is the first generation and maybe 20 years later movements will [unclear] and itís all right [?] to say certain things that right now are [unclear]. So weíre just going to kind of [unclear].
EG How important is itÖ? Is there any significance in terms of connections to Tibet in relation to your work?
PW My work in particular? Itís hard to say. As far as my inspiration is in the theories and the general compositions, itís very abstract in [unclear] space. I canít necessarily say that my work comes from whatever is necessarily my heritage. But I think I can only share it in a certain way but, for me personally, thereís a number of different labels for contemporary Tibetan art as far as different [unclear] thatís required, which assume they should be a little silly, as with many things. And [unclear] although itís not directly Tibetan, is open to interpretations of Buddha.
EG Talking about the production of your work there, there is a sort of sensibility?
PW Itís quite indirect because thereís a subtle meditative repetition towards it. And oftentimes I recite a mantra as I create the work, just to calm me down because it is very soothing. And I guess the process shouldnít supersede the work itself, but obviously itís quite apparent that I try to make it as obvious as possible because I donít want to try having [unclear] so the process is hard to define. As I said before, we donít want to say anything particular about the work because I feel that detracts from it.
EG Do you relate to this system that Clare hasÖ?
KL UmÖ Actually I write there in the book about the Komsa School and this summer I was also in Komsa. I went to this tea house and they had this fresco on the wall, the general, newly painted and so-on.
EG Newly painted?
KL Newly painted, yes.
EG Can you describe to everybody what that sort of work is like?
KL It was like 1950.
CH Late Ď70s? Early Ď80s.
KL Early Ď80s. Itís a monk and a Chinese officer, general. Theyíre both sitting there and having a discussion. And I read about it. Because Iím also from Komsa, but like 20 years later. In a way I want to continue that school.
EG So thatís why you keep going back, to make connections?
KL Well, Iím coming from there actually, you know. So itís also people say, ah, you know, from there, not from Komsa, because I donít talk this language here. Itís like okay. But my father is from here, my grandfather is from here as well.
EG Moving on then perhaps to the big questions of how we define contemporary and Tibetan, Iím going to ask Fabio.
FR Itís a question thatís always been asked whenever we talk about contemporary Tibetan artists, and shall we call it contemporary Tibetan or Tibetan contemporary, or what it becomes for us? I think that, from a commercial point of view, itís obviously a useful tool and so, as a dealer and a gallerist, if you have to promote something that is not being promoted before and nobody knows much about it, if you sort of present it, if you give it an identity Ė in this case Tibetan Ė suddenly people react and take notice. Itís also true that none of the artists or myself want it necessarily to be put into a box that is an ethnic box, basically. But I think the work itself has, for me, quite a diversity so you cannot really necessarilyÖ I think the artists work in different ways so you cannot reallyÖ and then there is a difference the artists who live in Tibet and the artists who live abroad, even though there are connections. But there are also big differences, I feel. So I think in a way what attracted me to do work initially at a personal level was not the fact that they were Tibetan, but the fact they were doing work that I liked, and I liked contemporary art, Iíve always liked it. So I approached it from that point. And obviously itís something that I think, for the artist for example, recently there was a show at the Red Gate Gallery in Beijing of five artists, six artists from Lhasa plus Gonkar. And I think that for them it was a very important moment because it was the first commercial exhibition within China, not in Tibet, but in Beijing itself, which is one of the great centres for contemporary Asian art at the moment, many galleries, many artists too. For them it was important to somehow get out of Lhasa and not just be recognised in London, in New York, when we had a show or in Los Angelis or whatever, but also be recognised within China. And they were being appreciated and they met scholars and art critics and they had a wonderful time just because, again, it was a way to get out of the box somehow. So I think itís a useful thing to do at the beginning to promote something, but I think the more this is going to go on, the more the Tibetan name will start to fade in the background and it will be more about the work and the artists. Of course what is interesting to have from Kesang is that he goes back to Komsa and he feels heís at home. He wasnít born there but thatís his spiritual home, and I go back to Turin and thatís my spiritual home, but I donít want to live there. So I think that answers a little bit your question.
EG And I spoke to Kesang last night about how he thought Tibetan artists viewed his work who lived in Tibet. But then you seemed to think that that would be a difficult conversation and that maybe people would not be able to be that honest. I donít know if thereís a lack of critical discussion, or certainly there was at the beginning of the Chinese contemporary art developing.
KL Well, it was a little village actually; there were not a lot of people and basically itís like art murals. But actually there was a lot of really abstract stuff from thangkas.
EG And, Gonkar, have you ever discussed with artists in Tibet your work, or do you know what they feel about the work that youíve produced? Do they get it?
GG Yes. No, I think thatís something we have to learn. I think Tibet fully needs to apply itself, I guess, especially when it comes to confront with art critics or talking about somebody elseís work. No, we donít have the tradition so most of the Tibetan artists, except those two guys because they did their education in the West, and then I remember I had this amazing feeling of freedom. When I went to St Martinís in Chelsea I just went there. The students were so talkative, yes. They can talk about their work, really amazing. But in China I think art education is totally different. At the first [sic] of the day, when you get into the classroom, the teacher will be saying, just shut your mouth up and donít move your hands. So it was sort of harsh. So somehow thatís encouraging also, the artists from Lhasa who had an education over there, not quite so adapted to talk about their work. And also the Tibetan tradition, they are much more polite with each other. So you hardly hear critics about each otherís work, unless in the back, or the front.
EG One of the artists who isnít here, Tsewang Tashi, has said that he wants to avoid incorporating elements in his work that perpetuate the myth of Tibet as Shangri-La. And he believes that contemporary art cannot be contemporary. I think I just want to ask about how people felt about the mythical image of Tibet or whether there was something that seduced perhaps Fabio and Wayne into being interested in that work, about the country.
WW I think that art is, for us, to make sense of things around us and I believe that weíve all got romantic notions of Shangri-La and the hidden country and some idyllic paradise. But I think weíre very privileged and this is a very exciting time to actually be involved with these artists because theyíre producing high quality contemporary art, which is pervaded with their own cultural heritage and their own education. So there is something Tibetan in the work of the artists that live in Tibet, and also the artists that live outside Tibet. But I would honestly say that this is contemporary work, not contemporary Tibetan work and I think Fabio and enhanced studies in the future will do more than that. And let me say that I think we are all privileged to actually mix with these artists and actually try and learn from their work, to take from their work what is Tibetan, because I donít think they necessarily articulate it. Itís not easy for an artist to talk about his work. Look at the work and appreciate it, but it is exciting and itís thrilling and I donít think Shangri-La is there. But thereís a lot that is there that they donít necessarily think is there. So enjoy it because this is a living art movement and I think thatís the exciting thing. This is an art movement which dealers like Fabio have brought to the West, to their great credit, and weíre privileged now to actually see an art movement that is developing and will develop more and more and become more and more significant to us because, apart from the quality of the work, it has a deep spiritual resonance, which is very important in this particular part of the world at this time.
EG Since we were speaking about a quote from Tsewang Tashi, his work is behind us here on the wall, in fact, and I think itís interesting when he says that he wants to counteract the Shangri-La myth, which of course is not a myth that just circulates in the West; it also circulates in China. Itís interesting how he responds to that, or he works through that, in these kinds of works and I hope he wonít mind me saying something about the value of his work, since weíre talking about this. Because one of the surprising things about that is that he makes these large-scale portraits; he told me that one of the key things about the way he literally paints these portraits is that theyíre not supposed to be expressive in terms of the brush, in terms of the texture, in terms of the surface. And what he wants to do is kind of create something that is, in a way, aesthetically neutral. However, of course, these images do have huge impact and I think one of the reasons they do have huge impact is partly because of their scale, itís the way that theyíre framed and cropped and of course the subject still, in the end, primarily is Tibetan in the sense that itís Tibetan people. And so I think this is also very much about his definition of contemporary Tibetan art, i.e. the subject matter is to do with living in Tibet, living in Lhasa, as he does, and making that subject into a contemporary statement that is internationally understandable. I think, like many of the artists here and representative by their work, heís trying to cross a boundary between reflecting their own cultural tradition, which of course may be very nuanced, depending upon the location in which they grew up, the training that they received or not, and the visual world which they occupied. And thatís of course for all of us, is the fact that our visual worlds incredibly complex and dense. Gonkarís stickers reflect that brilliantly: youíve got every kind of image in one section of the wall over there. And what I wanted to say, just going back to Tsewang Tashi for a minute, I saw his beautiful landscape paintings that he painted in the 1980s, which I think was part of that movement, that early efflorescence of contemporary or modern Tibetan art style. These were basically still realist depictions of the Tibetan landscape, but moving towards a kind of abstraction in a way, very beautiful, very large-scale things. I had always thought that he had gone off into the Chang Tang, one of the massive expanses of open space, these beautiful empty spaces in the Tibetan plateau, to make those work. But when I went to see his house and his studio, outside the window is this stunning landscape. And itís just in front of you, because thereís a lot of concrete tables and a lot of cars and whatever else, but that view is literally on his doorstep. So I think I wanted to mention that because, in a way, those landscapes that he does, as well as the way he paints the human face, which is like a landscape of the face, itís that combination. Itís a Tibetan landscape, itís a Tibetan face, but I also think heís trying to say something that he thinks is universal, rather than Shangri-La-ist. And that links to Gadeís ideas as well about notions of modernity and notions of what would make Tibetan contemporary artÖ One of the things that he said has said several times is that itís to do with subject matter, to do with content and probably Manet said this back in the 19th century, heís a painter of contemporary life. And of course contemporary life is someone like Gade or Tsewang Tashi or Nortse, and even somewhere like Lhasa is a complicated thing and cannot be essentialised into just Tibetanness or Chineseness or anything else. So I think one of the reasons why we can understand this kind of work and might appreciate it is because it has a degree of Tibetanness about it, but many of the artists that weíre sitting with now whose work weíre enjoying are living a global life anyway. Their life is complex in visual terms, in social terms and in cultural terms, very generally.
FR Well, just about the portraits, one thing is that he uses also these very classical colours of Buddhism. Itís blue, green, yellow, red and white. Thatís what he does usually, use those colours, so thatís again a connection with the past. But I think what you said is absolutely correct, is this kind ofÖ I think even more so for the artists living in Lhasa is this kind of way bombardment of vivid imagery that there is now in Lhasa from the neon sign, to the Western culture, to the internet, whatever. On the other hand you still have a very serious traditional way of life, which is people still go every day to do the Khora and walking around the Jokhang. So the past is still very much alive and I think the artists are trying to make sense of all of this somehow. Itís a very seminal moment in the history of Tibet, and how to keep in a way this. And I think what Wayne said about spirituality is something that resonates with me personally because I think I often find art that has a spiritual dimension. For me, great art does very often have a spiritual message and a spiritual content. And I think there is a lot of that in this work, but there is also this kind of how to keep the spirituality within the world that is very materialistic now, more and more so in Tibet. And modernity is in Tibet and also in terms of comfort; everybody Ė almost everybody Ė people start to have cars, to have better houses. All the artists live in nice houses now; they have all the mod cons and they all want nice houses, understandably. So I think that those are some of the elements that come to the work definitely.
EG I wanted to move on to the display and presentation, which is Fabioís and Clareís part. But obviously part of that is the artist and the networks that they form in order to show their work and meet people. And, first of all, I just wanted to go back to what Gonkar said about rediscovering London and whether you feel part of a London art scene or an international scene, or do you feel that youíre always waving the Tibetan flag? Do you feel your networks expand across the international art scene or do you feel responsible for the Tibetan art scene as well?
GG Yes. I have this privilege in I managed to get out of Tibet and then based in London, especially in East London. And it is the largest artist community probably in Europe, so we have a couple of hundred galleries around and lots of art studios. So, yes, I do feel I am part of that and also I think that my circumstances are that I feel I become more like a sponge. Because Iíve got a problem with speaking English, but Iíve got a problem with the reading, so that means when I pick up the newspaper I only read really the headlines and thatís it. I try to not go any further otherwise I have to dig out my dictionary. So that sort of thing makes me observe a lot. I think the visual thing for me is so important, so in my studio I put two televisions and there is a radio. Then I collect all the magazines. So I think the visual is quite important for me. But also I go to the gallery. So, yes, indirectly, yes, I do feel part of the scene. But I have to say itís an exciting thing, especially for me, as certainly I have recently discovered there is a quite a lot of very interesting British Asian art or British African, or British whatever, doing really interesting work. So thatís also really a connection I find even more exciting. But then the other thing I think, since a couple of years back, Iíve also found the Chinese art very exciting because I am kind of from the same background, which is what they came through. And so the work there, I found I can connect much more easily than Damien Hirst or Tracy Emin. So thatís probably a good thing living in London: you can get access to all kinds of information, which is probably a Tibetan artist in Lhasa, maybe leading a life like that. I think the Tibetan artists, yes, I have the gallery in London so I try to do what Fabio does but not on a large scale; Iím just doing the groundwork, maybe one and a half artists a year, so just give them a small show and a look around London and maybe when they grow up I will introduce them to Fabio. So thatís an agreement we have. So, yes, thatís what Iíve been doing I think.
EG So itís about network, connections where you are.
PW Well, I guess [unclear] better, right, and I grew up in New York and I have frequent shows there. And Iím happy to be visiting London with Tibetan artists as a Tibetan artist, but also to Sydney artists, maybe on an international scale. But I think itís a point to be quite conscious of as many different levels as possible. Obviously the more people you meet, the more connections. Kesang?
KL Yes, international, I think. Because I think because I also browse the internet. I have a website and itís a website about in touch with Fabio, in touch with Colorado and it makes you connected and I was educated in New York so Iím not really a Tibetan. I live Switzerland, Zurich now but Iím not Swiss.
WW From an outsiderís viewpoint I would also say that the presence of this generationís work has had a profound influence on Tibet. And when Iíve been there met the second generation of Tibetan artists who are aspiring to the positions that these artists hold, they have learned a lot from these artists, not just in terms of the presentation, but in terms of perhaps what the West wants, or what sells in the West, without compromising themselves. And they are using very sophisticated materials in Lhasa now: video art, digital art, and those sorts of things are always part of whatís going on in Tibet. And there has been a big two-way education process going and I donít know if itís slightly humbling for these artists when they go back to Tibet, but whether they find it hard to reengage with where they were at one point, but there is a big network going on in the two-way and I think it is significant that the next generation are aspiring to come up and be recognised as contemporary artists in their own right.
EG Fabio, can you talk a bit about the contemporary art market?
FR Well, basically the first time we did the show Ė the first show was November, 2005 Ė and it was just born out of my interest. Iíd been interested and Iíd bought some of their works. I went to see Gonkar and I said why donít you curate a show for me, because he had the connection with the artists and myself of course. And the first show the only artists based outside Tibet was Gonkar. All the other artists Ė there were about 15 artists in the show Ė were all based in Lhasa and it was interesting because I really didnít know who the audience was going to be. You just do something for the first time and my mother and I had quite reputation to do that, to be quite innovative in the way we do our work. But this was quite a big step, in a sense, away from the traditional. And it was interesting because, even at that first show, we had a number of people that bought, that were collectors that were usually on my mailing list because theyíd been interested in the traditional works of art and had been buying traditional works of art. Then I had some people that had an interest in contemporary art or found the work engaging and bought, so somebody whoíd never buy an old Buddha or an old thangka but they thought it was interesting work that was on view. And then there were completely new people like Wayne, whom I met at the time, who obviously was very engaged in the contemporary art world but didnít know about its reality. And I think there are still these three categories of people who are interested and who come into the show and actually acquire the material, but I would say that the contemporary part of the collecting is increasing much more than the rest in the sense that now we have some museums interested. And weíve placed some of Gonkarís work as well already in a museum. So certainly what is interesting is that a lot of museums of traditional Asian art are now starting a department of contemporary Asian art because they feel the need to collect also the art of today, not just the art of the past. So I think that, in terms of the audience, itís going to be more and more an audience of people who are interested in the work because itís contemporary. So we go back to the same question: is it Tibetan or contemporary? A lot of people, more and more, itís the contemporary part of the equation which is important.
EG And, Wayne, can I ask you what you do with your collection?
WW What I do with it? I thought you were going to ask why I collect. But the answer to the second question, why I collect, this could be the embarrassing time for the audience when you think, oh God no, heís going to ask us to participate. Theyíre all sitting, behaving very quietly. So I would actually say the answer to the question Ė and Iím not going to ask you to participate unless you want to Ė but why do I buy contemporary Tibetan art? I would actually answer that as who could resist Fabioís selling ability. Iím not going to ask for a show of hands, but he is very persuasive and I, as a collector, am seeking to extend the range of products he sells because, as the prices rise on the world market, Iím aware that I have friends who are interested in the collections and canít necessarily afford some of the things. So Iím saying to him can we have smaller things, can we have screen-prints, can we move into another market as well, because I think buyers would like to be involved who canít necessarily be involved when museums decide to purchase and so forth. What do I do with my collection? Some of it is hanging in my school. I have a prep school and I do hang contemporary art in my school and I think itís very good for the children to be visually educated. They might not always know what theyíre seeing, but if you surround them with fine art, not just Tibetan art but other art, it is an enriching environment because I do find children and many adults, I have to say, are Ė this is contentious now Ė visually illiterate. They spend a fortune decorating their houses, spend a fortune carpeting, getting the furniture and doing wonderful lighting, but when you go in and look at the walls, you often see Boots prints on the walls or those sort of things. And I yearn to have high quality work on the walls and I do that in my own school. So some of the work goes there.
EG Theyíre intimidated perhaps?
WW What, people?
WW I think people have to be educated and guided. Youíre going to buy what you like, if you can afford to buy what you like. But it is up to educators like Clare and itís up to clever galleries and persuasive galleries like this one to actually say perhaps you could look at this instead of that, or perhaps I could offer you a small drawing, or perhaps Ė this is new now Ė perhaps I could loan you a picture for a while because you canít afford it. Perhaps you could loan it, see if you like it. So it should be all around. I try to put it all around really and I try to share my enthusiasm with a lot of people because I would reiterate that I do believe Ė I mean, I was heavily involved in the YBA movement as it developed Ė but I do believe this particular movement is significant. The Chinese contemporary is significant and I think this is part of it, in a sense. It is a significant time, so be involved with it. To be involved with a living art movement is fantastic; share it with everybody.
EG And can I ask the artists if they have any feelings about who they would their work to be collected by, how they see it, are they bought by private collections? Do you mind?
PW I wouldnít mind. I mean, obviously, the more exposure for myself and the group is obviously the best choice. Itís better to be in a public space than in a storage closet, but Iím going to sell to sell. I could be pretty indifferent towards whoís buying it.
GG I think a museum will probably be a fantastic for your work. Then I am able to show to more people who see it. Private collectors, I mean definitely I donít mind, but I think probably that work will be hitting the private house issues with less people to see it. And I find itís more important, especially like us, especially the contemporary Tibetan art, actually itís just started and so the more exposure, the more people know, it will be good for the whole movement, I guess. Thatís my view.
EG Can I ask why you think Tibetan art sells? Do you want to say something about why you think Tibetan art is gaining popularity?
CH Well, I wanted to say something that was, in a way, continuing on from what other people have just been saying and I suppose that might lead into why. I think thereís a whole interesting question about why this work is now getting a lot of attention. One of the key factors, I think, behind what weíve just been talking about is to do with the economics, basically. And in Tibet itself, in somewhere like Lhasa, the fact that artists have set up their own guilds, their own galleries Ė not many, but some Ė and that they have a certain amount of economic independence and support themselves, either through their work, although thatís still tough, or through working in positions like acting as professors in departments of fine art, gives them a freedom to do the kind of work that weíre seeing coming out there. I think thatís important. So as in pretty much any art form in the world now, the relationship between the artists, the object or the product, i.e. the art work, and those who buy it, and the circulation of money, is essential. And so it is a fantastic thing that artists are selling their work now for really quite substantial prices, particularly in the West. But I gather that there are also dealers now emerging in China and in several parts of the world, who are getting very excited about this work thatís coming out of Lhasa, and it does worry me slightly that the more that people start to appreciate this work, of course the greater the demand. And in the classic economic model this will mean that people will have to produce more and thereís a risk of a mass production. And given that, in the end, weíre talking about quite a small number of people who are making this work, what weíre seeing here in this room are some of the very best works by some of the very best artists. But there isnít a huge number of these artists. Compared to, say, the contemporary Chinese art movement, youíve got a lot more people coming out of art schools in China to draw upon. So I think itís going to be interesting to see how many young Tibetans will go to art school and become part of this. I think at the moment thereís a big incentive for them to do that because they can definitely see that that work will sell and is selling. Unfortunately, some of the things that theyíre selling in large numbers are things that really hark back to the work of the 1980s and are not so interesting. What weíre seeing is avant garde basically. The other thing I was going to say is of course what weíre talking about really is taste. Itís the production of taste and across the world this has happened at particular moments. If you think about, famously, Picasso and Bracke are supposed to be responsible for people in Europe starting to appreciate African art, for example. Similar things can be said really about the emergence of appreciation for modernist Indian art and its movement into the West and becoming a global phenomenon. And what weíre witnessing now, weíre talking about how certain people Ė and I include myself in this Ė and certainly institutions, by which I mean galleries, museums, publishing houses, journals, magazines and so-on. It takes all of those people and many others, of course, and collectors to change taste. And I think at the moment what weíre seeing is that taste, for many people, has developed for contemporary Tibetan art, whatever that might mean. I think weíll never quite fix on a definition for that. But I think that people are excited because of its novelty within the wider world of contemporary art.
EG I think weíre going to take some questions now. Has anybody got any questions?
NB My nameís Nicky Baumann. Iím interested in Tibetan art from the perspective of somebody whoís interested in Burma. In fact, Clare and I have emailed in the past about the Burmese artefacts. How far is censorship an issue for Tibetan artists, or it is not something which constrains people working within Lhasa or within Tibet?
GG I mean Iíve been through this stage and my experience doesnít compare with the one obviously in Tibet in the late 80s and early 90s. I think itís much more open now. I remember when I was doing my BA in Beijing and my final yearís work, actually I tried to create a kind of religious theme, which I was not allowed to complete, and so I had to draw up something very quickly to finish my final expiation. That sort of thing has really changed. Probably you can see the work from here. I think my view is that in Lhasa there is quite a good freedom, but definitely that probably happened in China. I was in Beijing this summer and also the year before. To compare inside China and Tibet, I think Tibetís artists are restricted more than mainland China. When I was in 798, which is the art district, I mean some of the work the Chinese artists were doing really even shocked myself. I thought, god, thatís amazing, so political. And that sort of thing, I donít think that would be allowed in Tibet. So I think Lhasa, yes, you can paint anything, but definitely nothing to do with politics.
WW Can I just say that Clare and I were in a contemporary gallery this year in Beijing for a two-person show and we were informed when we went in that one of the artists had been censored the day before and all his work had been taken down and was facing the wall. And I have to say that the Chinese artist was very cutting edge. His work was on the wall. The work that was facing the wall was by an English artist whose work was actually his view of China and had been turned to the wall. So itís censorship all the way round. Needless to say, Clare peeked at the work with me and it was, to be honest, the English person had done some images of Chinese people, or Chinese life, but heíd actually cut up Chinese money and make collages with cut-up coins and notes. And the images themselves, mouths, jackets, and things like that, werenít offensive, but it was the method that he had used. So censorship is there a little bit and political correctness. But there is greater freedom, but I just wanted to say that we were there when there was an English artist censored as well.
EG There was a Tate show censored the other day.
WW Yes, John Latham.
EG Yes, thanks, the John Latham Show, which had the Bible and the Koran in there.
WW It was censored on health and safety grounds because it was cut glass.
UF I was just unsure how much itís about actually the novelty of contemporary Tibetan art, or actually possibly that people are generally moving towards trans-cultural spaces. And possibly the work that is coming out of Tibet is perhaps a little bit more kind of those elements.
CH And our artists are asking is it moreÖ Itís not so much about the novelty of Tibetaness or the uniqueness of Tibetaness as opposed to people being generally more interested in the kind of trans-cultural or trans-national art in general. Is that what youíre saying?
CH Yes, well thatís tricky. I think that exhibitions that are happening in the West of contemporary Tibetan art, up to a point, have to acknowledge that thereís at least a residual Shangri-Laism about it. I think it would be difficult for us all to overturn what is now, well, going back to the 16th, 17th centuries, the Western fascination with Tibet, but in particularly a powerful fascination in the 20th century with Tibet. So I think we, if weíre talking about the kind of buying habits of we who live in the Western world Ė and of course I actually include all the people sitting here, whether theyíre British, Tibetan, whatever Ė we have, to some extent, absorbed a heritage that includes this fascination with Tibet. Itís not possible to overturn that overnight. However, what is exciting and probably most dynamic and interesting to people now about the work weíre seeing, is that it doesnít fit any particular stereotype. I know that sounds contradictory but none of these images, to me, reminds me of anything like Shangri-La actually. So itís that kind of contrast between a concept of a place, which is, in a way, fairly abstract, although it may relate to certain kinds of images. If I think of Shangri-La, I probably think of Spencer Chapmanís photograph of the Potala taken in 1936, or I think of Frank Capraís film, Lost Horizon. So thatís the concept, thatís the idea, which is slightly from, or dramatically different from the kind of images weíre seeing around us here that have been produced from the minds of Tibetans, basically. And within their minds Ė sorry, I have to speak about you lot all sitting here Ė but it must be also, some of these ideas, perhaps of this shared concept or this idea of the kind of Shangri-La thing and the history of Tibet and everything else. But thereís all sorts of other trans-cultural, trans-national influences coming into the work which makes it vibrant, dynamic and so-on. But I think what youíre getting at is that I think, in this country, for example, and of course in the States since the late 80s, the whole business of art that is not of the kind of Western canon, shall we say, an art that is coming from different places or from communities in America and in Britain and across Europe that have different roots. And that is definitely one of the most exciting things that weíve been thinking about for the last 20 years or so. And now, of course, Tibetan artists are part of that. So if weíre talking about the whole kind of black arts movement, Jasper Johnís art and all that sort of thing, now weíve got a new category within that, which is Tibetan art. We can talk later.
UF I was just wondering, as there are so few Tibetans now in Lhasa, what proportion of Tibetan artists and Chinese artists are there? And does it matter and do the artists mix?
GG I think at the moment it seems to be more Tibetan artists and then I think the Gedun Choephel Guild, which is the group, I think they have also Chinese artists among them as a group. And then they work quite well together. I think itís a long history. Even when I was in Tibet, especially in those days, we had quite a few very well-known Chinese artists at that time based in Tibet. And so, for instance, my first teacher was Chinese. So I think the interesting thing, I think the Chinese artists are quite open-minded, especially when it comes to Tibetan issues, so we donít have much problem with that. So itís mainly more relationships between artists rather than others. And then I think the [unclear] are very clever, including Chinese artists, so that means that they will be literally running about their business of expression and visiting outside. Because I remember when we set out the Sweet Tea House association we deliberately not tried to have the Chinese included and we got into trouble, so I think thatís the way that artists have become more clever. So I think today everything is that you have to learn how to manoeuvre around. If you are manoeuvring well, then you will survive. I think thatís the situation now.
UM I was wondering how much of the art is collected in Tibet. I actually work with Chinese artists and itís changing a bit now, but most of the major contemporary Chinese artists are actually now, to a certain extent, are mass-producing art for the export market which, in the long-term, can have an effect on the type of art they produce. And itís interesting now at this early stage here we all are, but if it became more and more collected just solely by Western people, is there a danger that Tibetans in Tibet or Tibetans in exile could, in effect, be producing art solely for export, following the long export tradition from Asia to Europe?
FR I think I can answer that maybe. I think there is obviously always a danger of that. I think obviously the Chinese have the tradition of making art for export, so in a way itís not surprising that all this contemporary Chinese artists are now producing, mass-producing, and going straight into the auction, etc. I think some of the artists will be tempted to do that, of course, and itís a path that one might decide to follow. Iíve been talking to all the artists in Lhasa, all the artists out here, and we work closely together and my advice to them has been to keep doing great work, which means not doing mass-produced and not be tempted just by quick profit to satisfy the market, etc. And I think that some artists will fall into the trap. As I say, I think that if they can avoid that, then I think the quality of the work will not suffer. And I think that will become apparent in the next few years. So at the moment there is very little collected. Well, there is some Chinese who go to Lhasa and buy some of the work, some people from Hong Kong, no Tibetans in Tibet, as far as I know.
UF As with Chinese. Itís more expensive.
FB There is no collecting yet. The traditional sculpture is not collected. Itís collected to put in front of the alter, so itís a different function. But the contemporary, I think itís just starting. Some young Tibetans and some people are starting to look at the work. I think unfortunately thereís nobody here from Lhasa from the gallery. The guild is from the gallery in Lhasa, which they keep open six months a year. But I always ask them expressly if theyíve got any local collector and the answer up to now is no. But it seems to be thereís more interest than before. And Iíve actually been encouraging my Tibetan friends to start looking at that because I think itís their heritage and itís part of the living culture. Itís a living culture so they should look at it. But itís interesting as well that, again, I donít think there are Tibetans abroad that collect the contemporary. There are some that collects the traditional, but not contemporary.
KL? I was outside the Dalai Lama Foundation in Delhi actually to participate there.
GG I think the question you ask is quite interesting because itís happened this summer, especially since Fabio was getting involved with the Tibetan contemporary art from 2005. I have to say commercially itís been really such a success that artists are really selling loads of work. And then thatís also bringing a question of, for instance, Lhasa, I think it was probably 2005 before you can see the artistsí work in Lhasa, especially with the Gedun Choephel group because they have their own gallery. So they would put up their new work and then probably Western tourists or Chinese will be buying. But, in a sense, I think after 2005, because the demand is so great, especially in the West, quite often artists will leave the studio, straight to New York or London. So that does bring a problem. I donít know; itís a question of the especially young Tibetan artists or Tibetan audience are not going to see the latest work. And so this summer one of the American curators came up with an idea. Just before the Beijing show she did the sort of 24 hour show in Lhasa, gathering most of the work and going to Beijing, to give a quick show for the Lhasa audience. So, yes, thatís the thing thatís coming to the peopleís attention, I guess.
EG Weíre going to call it a day. Thank you very much, everybody, and thank you very much to the panel.