Guggenheim Takes Bed of Razors, Baseball Bat Monk to Asia

A bed made of razor blades, a Buddhist monk carved from a baseball bat, and minimalist goats are on display at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center.

“No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia” features works specifically acquired by the Guggenheim Museum to create the touring show of artists you won’t find at many auctions or international art fairs.

The show feels fresh and edgy. Take Bangladeshi artist Tayeba Begum Lipi’s “Love Bed” (2012), composed of gleaming stainless steel razor blades that challenge traditional notions of marriage, childbirth and gender.

Tuan Andrew Nguyen, a refugee who returned from the U.S. to Vietnam 10 years ago, examines questions of war, cultural imperialism and religion. By carving the likeness of the protesting Buddhist monk who self-immolated in Saigon in 1963 from a Louisville Slugger, he imbues the bat with menacing double meaning.

U.S. imperialism is also evoked in Philippine painter Norberto Roldan’s “F-16,” (2012), which juxtaposes a fighter jet over Afghanistan with text from President William McKinley’s speech justifying American manifest destiny in its colonization of the Philippines.

Nanny State

Singaporean Tang Da Wu’s “Our Children” (2012) is based on a Chinese parable where a young boy is humbled at the sight of a baby goat fed by its mother. His minimalist steel-and-glass sculpture with a milk bottle could also be read as a veiled reference to Singapore as a nanny state.

The question of the lack of assimilation in neighboring Malaysia is examined in photographs by Vincent Leong. In “Keeping up With the Abdullahs” 1 and 2, he dresses two groups, one Chinese, the other Indian, in Malay costumes and makes them pose as they would for traditional 19th-century portraits, except that some are holding Ipads or mops.

Pakistan’s Bani Abidi also uses humor in photographs and video to provide a light-hearted look at Muhammed Bin Qasim, an 8th-century general venerated in post-partition South Asia. The trilogy “The Boy Who Got Tired of Posing” shows a child dressed up as the hero in a photo studio posing first astride a plastic horse on wheels, then with a sword and robe, and finally fleeing the third frame.

Mumbai-based Shilpa Gupta makes a pithy comment on Indo-Pakistani relations in her hand-wound ball of thread accompanied by a plaque reading “1188.5 MILES OF FENCED BORDER -- WEST, NORTH-WEST/DATA UPDATE: DEC 31, 2007.”

“No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia,” sponsored by UBS, runs through Feb. 16, 2014. It will then travel to Singapore.

(Frederik Balfour is a reporter-at-large for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Mark Beech on music, Lance Esplund on U.S. art, Greg Evans on U.S. television, James Russell on architecture and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.