Investing in the entire ecosystem
Joshua Lim is the Director of A+ Works of Art, a Kuala Lumpur-based contemporary art gallery which focuses on Malaysia and Southeast Asia. He has decades of experience in the hospitality industry before establishing the gallery in 2017. Since then, A+ Works of Art has energised the Malaysian scene with its robust exhibition programme, public talks and publications. Their notable projects include young Malaysian artist Tan Zi Hao's debut solo exhibition 'M', Ampanee Satoh’s first solo show in Malaysia 'Lost Motherland', and Tith Kanitha and Amy Lee Sanford’s two-person presentation 'Break, Bind & Rebuild' which was curated by Ben Valentine.
Ahead of its second anniversary in August, A&M speaks to Joshua to get his insights on the role galleries play and what it means to grow the arts ecosystem.
What motivated you to start A+ Works of Art?
Beyond personal enjoyment, I wanted to contribute to the development of visual arts in Malaysia and the region. While we have important art spaces, institutions and good initiatives in Malaysia, I feel there is a need for more diversity and depth to support the infrastructure. I started A+ Works of Art as a gallery with the mission to foster collaboration, interdisciplinary art practices, curatorial projects and critical discourse. We also hope to engage the public and collectors through education programmes and deepen their support.
Collaboration is stated as the key ethos of A+. Who are some of the artists and/or curators you'd like to work with in the near future?
In our collaborations, we hope to bring together emerging art professionals with more established ones, and also to work across different generations and cultures. For instance, senior Thai artist Tawatchai Puntusawasdi was paired with emerging Thai curator Vipash Purichanont in the show 'Superfold' (March 2019), and new curators Lienne Loy and Eric Goh worked with mid-career artists Roslisham Ismail (a.k.a. Ise) and Phuan Thai Meng for 'Kadang Kadang Dekat Dekat Akan Datang No.5' (April 2019). We have also collaborated with senior regional curators, such as Alia Swastika who curated 'Memories of the Unseen' (2018), which featured Indonesian artists Akiq AW, Jim Allen Abel and Wimo Ambala Bayang. We wish to work with Alia and Vipash again next year.
A+ is focused on new media art, especially photography, video, installation and performance art. Why these, and how do you envision the gallery contributing to the Southeast Asia art community in the long run?
Rather than focusing on specific media, we work with important emerging and established artists in the region. Many of them tend to have interdisciplinary practices which engage new media, painting, installation and so on. Even though these artists have good or promising track records in institutional shows and biennales, it may not translate to the collector support they deserve. This is something we hope to change.
What do you think is most exciting about running an art gallery in the region? And what do you see is the biggest challenge in running a successful art gallery here?
It is important to understand the larger role that galleries play as part of the support infrastructure for the arts. Galleries are not just places for selling art or for showcasing artists, but are also platforms that can support curatorial practice and art writing. We aim to invest in the whole art ecology: art-making, curating, art writing, collecting and public education. One important part of this larger investment is in the production of good exhibition publications which feature contributions from established and promising writers.
How have collectors responded to the exhibitions you've put up and the artists you represent?
For us, the presentation of a curated project takes priority over the sales imperative. We try to help collectors learn more about the artists we think are worth supporting, and this is best done by seeing their work in a curated context. It is important that more regional collectors support Malaysian art and we aim to continue developing relationships with them.
Could you talk about an upcoming project at A+ we can look forward to?
Our next group exhibition 'Rasa Sayang' will bring together a number of Malaysian artists, writers and poets to reflect on last year’s landmark election. We will also be organising a solo exhibition by Ise in Malaysia later in November 2019. He has had considerable success with international exhibitions, and was most recently included in the 2019 Sharjah Biennale. It will be Ise's first solo gallery show in his home country.
'Rasa Sayang' opens on 9 May 2019 at A+ Works of Art, and is on view till 1 June 2019.