When it comes to the arts, Asia’s eclecticism means there is something for everyone. The region is home to some of the most exciting developing contemporary art scenes (Hong Kong, China), indigenous art traditions still very much alive (Cambodia, Indonesia) and world-class modern museums (Japan, South Korea). In many countries, Remote Lands has a deep roster of specialist art guides who can provide exceptional insight for art connoisseurs. For music lovers, we can arrange hands-on experiences (and performances) with such alluring instruments as India’s sitar, Japan’s koto and shamisen, and the Balinese gamelan orchestra, whose sounds have beguiled composers East and West for centuries.
A highlight of any visit to Cambodia is discovering the renaissance of traditional Khmer performing arts and handicrafts. Phnom Penh’s Cambodian Living Arts is a school for semi-pro music and dance students, while Apsara Arts provides free Khmer dance training to Cambodian orphans. In Siem Reap, Remote Lands recommends visiting a school of Khmer music and learning about indigenous Khmer instruments and music theory. And the renowned Artisans d’Angkor provides training and jobs while at the same time reviving Khmer artisanal skills like silk-making, stone and wood-carving, lacquering, painting, silk-plating and more.
While Hong Kong may have the higher profile, mainland China has plenty of contemporary art attractions of its own. Beijing’s 798 Arts District is home to scores of galleries, the Ullens Center and an outpost of Pace Gallery, while the Caochangdi area became an art neighborhood after firebrand Ai Weiwei moved there. The capital’s National Center for the Performing Arts houses multiple venues for theater, music and opera and is an architectural landmark in its own right. Shanghai, meanwhile, is home to a budding MOCA and the “M50” warehouse district, which is choc full of galleries. In both cities, Remote Lands knows specialist art guides that can accompany clients.
The recent expansion to Hong Kong of Art Basel, the renowned contemporary art show traditionally held in Switzerland and Miami Beach, has confirmed what Remote Lands and our aficionado clients have known for some time – that this is one of the most exciting burgeoning art destinations not just in Asia but the whole world. Galleries like Hanart TZ, Chancery Lane and Yallay Space are among the vanguard, while Remote Lands can also arrange specialist art guides and exclusive access to prominent private collections.
Dating from the 17th century, Kathakali is one of India’s foremost traditional arts, a dance-drama form marked by vibrant, flowing dress, dramatic make-up and, like Thai khon dance, elaborate headdresses. Today, visitors to the International Centre in New Delhi can see not only performances of the genre’s 101 classical stories, but also kathakali renditions of Western milestones like Othello. Contemporary art fans, meanwhile, have a growing number of excellent Delhi galleries to choose from, as well as the National Gallery of Modern Art, housed in a former Maharaja palace residence on the Rajpath.
Indonesia’s hypnotic gamelan music, made with ensembles of string instruments, metallophones, bamboo flutes and more, is the country’s greatest contribution to world music, its influence marking Western composers from Debussy to Philip Glass. Traditional Balinese dance, highly kinetic and expressive, is another great indigenous art form that still thrives today. In the visual arts, Indonesia is rich in both age-old tribal art and contemporary painting from artists throughout the islands. Remote Lands highly recommends holidays that are immersive in these compelling artistic traditions.
It might seem an unlikely candidate for contemporary art mecca, but Japan's tiny Naoshima Island – home of Art House Projects, the art-laden Benesse House hotel, the Chichu Art Museum, and the Lee Ufan Museum – is becoming just that. Outside Kyoto, the I.M. Pei-designed Miho Museum is another must-see for modern art lovers. And Tokyo, of course, is simply one of the best museum cities in the world, with the Roppongi Art Triangle (the Mori, the National Arts Center and the Suntory), the Tokyo National Museum, the Tadao Ando-Issey Miyake designed 21_21 Museum, and much more.
One of Thailand’s most distinctive traditional art forms, Khon dance features choreographed stories, mostly from the Ramakien (Thailand’s national epic, adapted from the Hindu Ramayana) performed by dancers in elaborately embroidered costumes, masks and the signature chada, or pointed gold headdress. Another iconic art form still prospering today is Thai shadow puppetry, which dates back to the 14th century, when Ayutthaya was the capital. Fast-forward to the 21st century, which finds Bangkok, especially the emerging gallery scene in Silom and Sukhumvit, in step with the contemporary art movement that is flourishing across in Asia.
Vietnam’s arts scene is eclectic and still quite new – the first private art gallery in Hanoi, Mai Gallery, was opened only in 1993. It remains one of the country’s best, frequently showing Vietnam’s up-and-coming contemporary artists. The capital’s excellent Fine Arts Museum ranges from folk art to Soviet-inspired Social Realist works, while the Museum of Ethnology chronicles Vietnam’s diverse ethnic minority peoples. We also recommend a private, hands-on demonstration of lacquer painting, a traditional Vietnamese art. In Saigon, Remote Lands also keeps the pulse of the city’s best galleries, such as Galerie Quynh and San Art, the latter an independent artist-run exhibit space.
This is just a selection of the Asia arts and music experiences that Remote Lands can incorporate into your Asia luxury holiday. Please contact us today for more information and to begin planning your trip.