Melissa Chiu, Museum Director and Curator for Contemporary Asian and Asian-American art at the Asia Society, has had a long involvement with Asian contemporary art and is recognized as a leading authority in the field. Prior to working at the Asia Society, she served as the founding Director of the Asia-Australia Arts Centre in Sydney, a non-profit contemporary art center devoted to promoting dialogue in the Asia-Pacific region among artists, writers, curators and filmmakers.
Additionally, Ms. Chiu has curated over thirty exhibitions with artists from Malaysia, Vietnam, China, Thailand and Japan, among others. She was a founding member of the Asian Contemporary Art Consortium and a driving force behind the establishment of Asian Contemporary Art Week, which will mark its sixth year in New York next Spring.
Melissa Chiu received her B.A. from the University of Western Sydney and her M.A. from the College of Fine Arts, University of South Wales. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Western Sydney and has authored many artist monographs and conference papers and has published widely in journals, magazines and for exhibition catalogues. Ms. Chiu has been a faculty member of the Rhode Island School of Design where she taught Asian contemporary art and design. She has also served on a number of boards and grant panels, including the New York State Council on the Arts, Museums Grant Committee and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
Question: What inspires you?
Melissa Chiu: I think I would have to say that seeing a great work of art is incredibly inspiring. I think that while I couldn't necessarily identify an individual who would inspire me, I think that that . . . seeing . . . seeing a compelling, poignant work that speaks to our time, that says something about current day issues, or politics, or how an artist was experiencing the world around them I think is an incredible experience. And I think that that's what really probably drew me to this field.
Question: Is there a work of art you find particularly inspiring?
Melissa Chiu: I think the one work that certainly comes to mind is a series of paintings called “The Bloodline Series” by an artist called Zhang Xiaogang. And I was lucky enough to see one of his first solo exhibitions in China. In fact, now he’s one of the hottest kind of highest ranking artists – Chinese artists – in the marketplace. But I think that when I . . . when I saw his work in the early 1990s – and in fact his solo show must have been in 1995 or something like that in Beijing at the Central Academy Gallery – I was immediately taken aback by the power of the images. They . . . They are usually painted on quite a large scale, and the portraits of families taken from the time of the Cultural Revolution. And they resemble old-style family portraits. And so they obviously have this nostalgia for Chinese people; but the way that they’re rendered with such delicacy . . . and the bloodline, which obviously has so many connotations about ancestry and things like that. But also I think for Chinese people, it also has a reference to one’s allegiances, whether it is in fact to one’s family and ancestry, or to the Communist party. And each of the family members in these portraits is joined by this very faint red line which is, of course, the bloodline.
Recorded on: 7/11/07