Celebrating Collaborative Possibilities with Susan Baik

Susan Baik is the owner and founder of BAIK ART, a contemporary art gallery in Los Angeles and Seoul. She is also a partner of Baik + Khneysser.  In 2016, she organized the exhibition Art and the Measure of Liberty at the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations. In 2017, she assisted with Unexpected Light: Works of Young-Il Ahn at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to its critical acclaim as the first exhibition of a Korean-American artist at a major institution.  As the visionary behind the BAIK ART residency program, Baik places her artists into a country or culture distinctly different from their own. Each concurrent residency takes place in a different country and culminates in a curated exhibition accompanied by a comprehensive catalog. Baik currently serves as a Board Member at 18th Street Art Center, the Korea Arts Foundation of America at Los Angeles, and on the Art Committee at Davidson College in North Carolina. She graduated with a degree in Fine Art from the University of California, Irvine.

Baik Art is showcasing works by two Indonesian artists, Nindityo Adipurnomo and Eddy Susanto, at this year’s edition of S.E.A. Focus. Could you tell us more about the decision to show these artists at the exhibition? How would you describe the changes, over the last few years, with regards to the regional and international market for contemporary Indonesian art?

Baik Art’s involvement with the Indonesia art scene started with the Baik Art Residency Program in 2016, through a collaboration with Cemeti Art House, a Yogyakarta-based institution founded by artists Nindityo Adipurnomo and Mella Jaarsma. During this period, I was truly inspired by a visit to Jogja. I had an eye-opening experience witnessing a dynamic art scene with rich cultural history, exciting collaborations between artists, and innovative practices. Immediately, I recognized a desire for Baik Art’s platform to be a frontier to connect this rich art world with others around the globe. 

Baik Art has chosen to present Eddy Susanto and Nindityo Adipurnomo in S.E.A. Focus because of previous successful collaborations. In 2018, Baik Art’s Seoul gallery hosted Eddy Susanto’s exhibition 10+3 PROJECT: Small Narrative Paintings. In an effort to continue collaborating with the Indonesian art scene during the pandemic, Baik Art also presented Nindityo Adipurnomo during Art Jakarta Virtual.

Eddy Susanto, #5 Oxydentalism-Asia Influence on Western; after Thomas Doesburgh 1694, 2018, Drawing pen & acrylic on canvas, 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy of Baik Art.
Nindityo Adipurnomo, 31 Selera Cowok, 2019, Gouache on paper, 57 x 92 cm. Image courtesy of Baik Art.

Baik Art’s participation in Art Jakarta Virtual was an experimental moment. It was the first online exhibition for an international market. The decision to present Nindityo Adipurnomo’s work was an attempt to navigate how a virtual 2D screen could depict a 3D interactive space. The sculptural quality of Adipurnomo’s work posed an immediate technical challenge for viewers to experience the fullness of the work without being physically present. Not only this, the underlying messages expressed in Adipurnomo’s work are often controversial, confrontational, and difficult to grasp without immediate access to the work. While Art Jakarta Virtual resulted in a successful exhibition, the technical challenges still remain in attempting to depict physical works of art on a digital screen.

These difficulties presented themselves once again in the selection of works for S.E.A. Focus. While Adipurnomo’s work faced spatial difficulties, Eddy Susanto’s newest work demanded specific lighting arrangement to accurately display it as intended. These technicalities limited the opportunities for these artists to be shown in virtual exhibitions, but nonetheless they offer insight for Baik Art and other galleries to find creative new ways to adapt to changing times. As with any exhibition in a physical gallery space, the desire to maintain quality of presentation and care for the artist and their work remains of utmost importance. Baik Art presents never-before-exhibited works from both Nindityo Adipurnomo and Eddy Susanto at S.E.A. Focus as a continuation of the process of sharing and promoting Indonesian artists to an international audience.

Regarding regional changes I have witnessed in the last few years, there is a clear forward-thinking momentum arising in Indonesia. Even during my limited visits, each time I recognize a greater, more active participation in the development of a diversity of creative, social spaces. This progression is occurring not only in the visual art world, but also in design, fashion, music, and café culture to name a few. I think that internationally, Indonesia’s recognition as a thriving, creative culture is nurturing more international collaborations between creators as well as attracting the attention of collectors across the world.

The Baik Art Mural Project, run collaboratively with 18th Street Arts Centre in Los Angeles, has been ongoing since 2014. Could you elaborate on the premise of this project and the gallery’s specific interest in muralism here?

Mural of Songs For My Father, Bouquets For My Mother, Amir H. Fallah, 2019. Image courtesy of Baik Art.

The premise of Baik Art’s Mural Project is rooted in wider public accessibility to art through a very direct and immediate display. From 2014 – 2020, Baik Art’s Los Angeles gallery in Culver City would host a mural in collaboration with 18th Street Art Center and a guest artist. This large mural, facing a busy intersection, invited a diverse audience to take even a quick glance for a momentary interaction with the art world as they went about their day. The real attraction to this mural project was the opportunity to bring art outside into the public arena, and regardless of whether people had prior interest in art or an intention to find it, it existed openly for everyone to encounter.

The collaboration with 18th Street Art Center was a recognition of shared values with belief in residency and cross culture that aligns strongly with Baik Art. Along with this, 18th Street Art Center is a very established institution for the Los Angeles art scene and has existed for close to 30 years.

Baik Art’s residency programme has been described as especially “nomadic”, spanning locations as diverse as Seoul, Yogyakarta, and Mexico City. Why would you say this geographical diversity is so important for the programme?

As an institution with international ties at its foundation with gallery operations in Los Angeles and Seoul, Baik Art is inherently a space of geographical and cultural diversity with constant nomadic interactions occurring across the globe. This basis is the true point of success for the gallery in an increasingly globalized world where audiences are developing deeper curiosity and seeking points of access to experience multiculturalism.

Baik Art Residency Program is centered on the importance of spending time together and an openness to different backgrounds and cultures, celebrating uniqueness and similarities that are all brought to the table. We hope to learn about and share different art practices and artists in order to generate more empathetic understanding and effective communication between communities and cultures.

In an interview with The Artling back in 2016, you described the importance of “maintaining a balance between one’s own heritage and newer cultures.” From its nomadic residency programme to the gallery’s international roster of artists, this particularly ‘global’ outlook seems to also pervade Baik Art’s fundamental structure and operations. How does Baik Art navigate the complexities of ‘globalism’ especially in its representation of artists from Southeast Asia, a region that persistently resists a ‘universal’ logic?

A major question that galleries must navigate when presenting artists of different cultures to a new audience is how to gather and cater to the tastes of public interest while maintaining authenticity and care for the artist and their work. This becomes an increasingly blurred line as the world globalizes. To ensure that viewers always experience the fulness and depth of an artist’s practice, my focus remains 100% on the artists and embracing their collective message on globalization, globalism, and shared learning. Baik Art’s mission has been, and will continue to be, the promotion of empathy experienced through communication in art that is able to transcend regionalism, and resist the temptation for solely inward-looking dialogue apart from others.

What are some exhibitions or events that Baik Art will be hosting over the next few months that you are particularly excited?

In November of 2020, Baik Art launched a dialogue series that invites two artists from different regions and a guest curator to discuss various art practices, perspectives, and inspirations. The first four sessions of this series are a collaboration with curator Anuradha Vikram. While these dialogues have been conducted through Zoom Webinars to accommodate for the pandemic, Baik Art had originally intended to move to a bigger space in downtown Los Angeles to host these discussions and exist as an exhibition space. As with everyone, the gallery has learned to adapt to current circumstances and the dialogues can be approached as another form of presentation of art spaces.

An exciting exhibition taking place in Baik Art’s Seoul gallery will be showcasing Los Angeles based artist Elliott Hundley. Although a successful and well-known artist in the United States, Hundley’s work has never been exhibited in Korea. As such, Baik Art will proudly present his works for the first time in Seoul in this exhibition focused on his drawings.

Another intriguing, upcoming collaboration is with Judith Khneysser who has collaborated with Baik Art for the last couple of years especially for art fairs such as Felix in Los Angeles and Armory in New York. This partnered programming has existed under the name Baik + Khneysser. With Judith, Baik Art plans to show a series of pop-up exhibitions, the first of which will be held at a farmhouse in Los Angeles.