PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 June, 2012, 12:00am


The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York is famed for its collection of modern European art. The institution, founded in 1937 to collect non-objective art, has works by artists such as Russian abstractionist Wassily Kandinsky. Now, a new initiative is seeking to change its focus.

The Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative is an adventurous five-year curatorial and acquisitions plan to buy artworks from and develop artists in Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa.

Financed by Swiss bank UBS with an undisclosed sum, the Guggenheim will host visiting curators from each region who will identify emerging artists and important artworks from their geographical area of speciality. The museum will use the UBS funds to buy the works for its collection, and these will then be taken back to the region for exhibitions accompanied by educational programmes.

Hong Kong and Singapore are destinations for exhibitions in the first phase of the initiative, of works from South and Southeast Asia.

'The Guggenheim has been talking for 10 years about becoming a global centre for the art of our time, and it's about time we made those aspirations real,' says Richard Armstrong, the museum's director since 2008.

The joint project gives the Guggenheim 'the opportunity to add to its intelligence base and change the direction of its collection. We have a quite small collection of fewer than 7,000 objects, and we are expecting to add significantly to this over the coming five years. The collection will undergo a noticeable change. It will be bigger and more inclusive,' he says.

South and Southeast Asia is the first phase of the initiative. Latin America will be next, followed by the Middle East and Africa. The museum has announced its first visiting curator, June Yap, who previously worked at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Singapore and the Singapore Art Museum. Armstrong expects activity to formally start in the summer.

Hong Kong and the mainland are not part of the UBS MAP project but 'we will be addressing China through another initiative that will be exclusively about the country', says Armstrong. 'China is a very important part of the equation. It is so important we thought it called for its own highly concentrated effort. It is a complementary programme, and is not part of the Guggenheim UBS MAP. Hong Kong artists will come under the China plan.'

Armstrong says the initiative seeks to discover emerging artists and then develop them over a period of time. 'We are looking for artists who are shockingly convincing in what they make, artists who we know can sustain their quest for invention.'