There’s no shortage of information about contemporary art from Asia in the Western art world these days. A broad spectrum of work by current Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, and Pakistani practitioners is frequently shown in museums and commercial galleries and often appears at well-publicized auctions. It’s easy, too, to see prime examples of Asian art of the past, if we wish to learn something about the historical aesthetic traditions of the East; all we have to do is visit the right museum collections. Yet knowing something of those traditions may not deepen our understanding of the work of today’s artists from the Far East or the subcontinent, who often look to precedents and experience far beyond their local or regional heritage, no matter how rich that may be. To come to terms with the efforts of the current generation of Asian artists, we need to know about the more immediate context from which...


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