Archive for July 2011
Now that the annual orgy of patriotic schmaltz, brazen self-congratulation and tacky pageantry is upon us — that’s National Day to the rest of ya — I thought a tribute of sorts might not be untimely.
A couple of portraits spotted around town of our Minister Mentor no longer, juxtaposed with this rather spine-chilling remark from his N-Day rally speech back in ’86:
And I say without the slightest remorse, that we wouldn’t be here, we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters – who your neighbours are, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit or even what language you use. We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think. That’s another problem.
While the recent elections would seem to indicate that change is afoot for Singapore’s political scene, the ol’ days really weren’t all that long ago, were they ?
Guess everyone’s heard of the planking phenomenon by now.
Local plankers have even set up a Facebook page … Here’s a picture I swiped:
Newsflash, folks: this ain’t new.
Here are images of artist Dennis Oppenheim‘s Parallel Stress performance way back when — in May 1970, to be precise.
“PARALLEL STRESS – A ten minute performance piece – May 1970. Photo taken at greatest stress position prior to collapse. Location: Masonry block wall and collapsed concrete pier between Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. Bottom photo: Stress position reassumed Location: Abandoned sump, Long Island”. Photographs and typewritten text on paper, in the collection of the Tate.
Ladies and gentlemen, the fountainhead of all that is plank-y.
Granted, posture-wise, he wasn’t so much planking as he was … er, Superman-ing ? In any case, though, contemporary plankers seem to have displaced Oppenheim’s original intent – reconfiguring corporeal engagement with the landscape – with an increasingly inane fascination with novelty. In the artist’s own words,
… the sense of physically spanning land, activating a surface by walking on it, began to interest me. When you compare a piece of sculpture, an object on a pedestal, to walking outdoors for ten minutes and still being on top of your work, you find an incredible difference in the degree of physicality and sensory immersion. The idea of the artist literally being in the material, after spending decades manipulating it, appealed to me.
(Qtd. in Ben Tufnell, Land Art [London: Tate Publishing, 2006], p. 61.)
Oppenheim emerged as an artist in the late ’60s, his practice informed by the most cutting-edge notions of the day: conceptualism, earthworks, body art. He never quite rose to the same hagiographic heights of renown that others of his generation did, though that doesn’t detract from some good stuff – Parallel Stress is a prime example.
Oppenheim passed away in January this year. His New York Times obituary:
DENNIS OPPENHEIM, A PIONEER IN EARTHWORKS AND CONCEPTUAL ART, DIES AT 72
By Roberta Smith. Published: January 26, 2011.
Dennis Oppenheim, a pioneer of earthworks, body art and Conceptual art who later made emphatically tangible installations and public sculptures that veered between the demonically chaotic and the cheerfully Pop, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 72.
The cause was liver cancer, his wife, Amy Van Winkle Plumb, said. Mr. Oppenheim, who died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, had homes in Manhattan and the Springs section of East Hampton on Long Island.
Belonging to a generation of artists who saw portable painting and sculpture as obsolete, Mr. Oppenheim started out in the realm of the esoteric, the immaterial and the chronically unsalable. But he was always a showman, not averse to the circuslike, or to courting danger. For “Rocked Circle — Fear,” a 1971 body art piece, he stood at the center of a five-foot-wide circle painted on a New York sidewalk while a friend dropped fist-size stones from three stories above, aiming for inside the circle without hitting the artist. There were no mishaps.
Mr. Oppenheim had a penchant for grandiosity. It was implicit in the close-up photograph of a splinter in his finger, portentously titled “Material Interchange.” It was explicit in “Charmed Journey Through a Step-Down Transformer,” a Rube Goldberg-like outdoor installation from 1980 that sprawled 125 feet down a slope at the Wave Hill garden and cultural center in the Bronx, its disparate parts suggesting engines, tracks, organ pipes and much else.
Sculptures like these, from Mr. Oppenheim’s Factories series, combined aspects of machines and industrial architecture with intimations of mysterious human processes, presenting what he called “a parallel to the mental processing of a raw idea” by both the artist and the viewer.
Many works involved moving parts, casts of animals (whole or partial), upturned or tilted building silhouettes and sound, water and fireworks, which on occasion prompted unscheduled visits by the fire department.
An athletic, ruggedly handsome man who maintained a shock of blond hair longer than seemed biologically possible, Mr. Oppenheim had a knack for the oddly poetic title — as in “A Station for Detaining and Blinding Radio-Active Horses” — and a penchant for the occasional sensational remark. “Korea is a nice place to be,” he said after executing sculptural commissions for the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul, “if your work is hysterical.”
Dennis Allan Oppenheim was born in Electric City, Wash., on Sept. 6, 1938. His father was an engineer; his mother promoted his early interest in art. In the mid-1960s he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and an M.F.A. from Stanford. He moved to New York in 1966.
He first became known for works in which, like an environmentally inclined Marcel Duchamp, using engineers’ stakes and photographs, he simply designated parts of the urban landscape as artworks. Then, in step with artists like Robert Smithson, Walter De Maria and Lawrence Weiner, he began making temporary outdoor sculptures, soon to be known as land art or earthworks. “Landslide,” from 1968, for example, was an immense bank of loose dirt near Exit 52 of the Long Island Expressway in central Long Island that he punctuated with rows of steplike right angles made of painted wood.
In other earthworks he cut abstract configurations in fields of wheat; traced the rings of a tree’s growth, much enlarged, in snow; and created a sprawling white square (one of Modernism’s basic motifs) with salt in downtown Manhattan.
He had his first solo exhibition in New York in 1968, at the John Gibson Gallery, then on East 67th Street in Manhattan, and his work was included in groundbreaking surveys of the new dematerialized art in 1969 at the Kunsthalle Bern in Switzerland and in 1970 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In the mid-1970s, after tiring of the physical demands of body art and subsequently using his children in several works, he turned to custom-made automated marionettes, a solution that brought out his dark humor and theatrical proclivities and led to increasingly elaborate sculptural narratives. One of the first, “Lecture” (1976), centered on a marionette with Mr. Oppenheim’s face who addressed several rows of small chairs on the topic of the art world, talking especially about an artist whose preferred medium was assassination. Only one chair was occupied: by a marionette of a black man.
Mr. Oppenheim’s art-making could seem simultaneously driven and lackadaisical, fearless and opportunistic. Few of his contemporaries worked in a broader range of mediums or methods, or seemed to borrow so much from so many other artists. His career might almost be defined as a series of sidelong glances at the doings of artists like Vito Acconci, Mr. Smithson, Bruce Nauman, Alice Aycock (to whom he was married in the early 1980s) and Claes Oldenburg.
Yet few artists could give these borrowings such a personal, sculptural immediacy, as exemplified by “Recall,” a 1973 piece now on view in Manhattan as part of a group show at Salomon Contemporary in Chelsea devoted to art once exhibited at an artist-run alternative space in SoHo called 112 Greene Street.
In “Recall,” a video monitor shows a close-up of Mr. Oppenheim’s mouth as he recalls studying painting as an undergraduate, evoking the obsessive performances and gravelly voiced mumblings of Mr. Acconci, his friend. But in a glamorous, characteristically simple visual touch, the image of Mr. Oppenheim’s moving lips is reflected in the shimmering surface of a long, shallow pan of turpentine, the madeleine used to stimulate his memories.
Mr. Oppenheim’s first marriage, to Karen Marie Cackett, ended in divorce, as did his second, to Ms. Aycock.
In addition to his wife, Ms. Plumb, Mr. Oppenheim is survived by a daughter, Kristin Oppenheim, and a son, Erik, both of Brooklyn, from his first marriage; a daughter, Chandra Oppenheim of Portland, Me., from a relationship with Phyllis Jalbert; a son, Georges Poquillion, of Toulouse, France, from his relationship with Hélène Poquillion; his sister, Valerie Long, of Livermore, Calif.; and two grandchildren.
In the past two decades Mr. Oppenheim turned to smaller, less elaborate pieces whose all-purpose, rather coarsely made forms were generic and instantly legible. Among the 25 or so permanent sculptures from this period, several used enlarged objects in the manner of Pop Art: orange safety cones, Hershey’s Kisses, diamond rings, an easy chair, paintbrushes. “Device to Root Out Evil” (1997) is an inverted church, its steeple provocatively stuck in the ground. “Monument to Escape” (2001), a memorial in a Buenos Aires park to victims of the Argentine military dictatorship during the so-called dirty war, is simply a pile of three boxy house forms with bars added to their windows and doors.
His work was the subject of many surveys and retrospectives in the United States and in Europe, including a 1991 exhibition at the P.S. 1 Museum, and is represented in museum collections around the world.
Mr. Oppenheim’s best work had a transparency, almost an obviousness, that could seem hokey. But it also took the notion of communication seriously. It refused to talk down.
No art here. Word to the wise: as the title suggests, this post is a pretty random synthesis of inconsequential facts.
Now that that’s done with …
The date: 19 October, 1973.
The place: London’s Marquee Club.
The event: The taping of David Bowie’s The 1980 Floor Show concert, where he is to perform for the very last time as Ziggy Stardust.
The controversy: A duet, “I’ve Got You Babe”, with guest Marianne Faithfull, the latter dressed in a nun’s habit. Faithfull’s solo rendition of her biggest hit, As Tears Go By, also shocks some: the singer is clearly drugged out, completely wasted, blankly and badly singing along, with half-closed lids, to an old recording. The entire performance is shot through with a mocking irony. Looking almost angelic in a long white gown of satin and tulle, her hair cropped to a pageboy’s cut which shows off her bones to great effect, the contrast between her appearance and her stupefied demeanour is disconcerting. The tragedy is only compounded by the fact that she is crooning to her younger, sober self on a ballad of lost youth and regrets.
♪ “It is the evening of the day, I sit and watch the children play, doing things I used to do, they think are new …” ♪
Judge for yourself.
Marianne Faithfull performing As Tears Go By at the Marquee Club in 1973.
The emcee who introduces Faithfull, by the way, is Amanda Lear, who famously appeared in skin-tight black leather on the cover of Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure album (below) — about whose original gender there have long been rumours …
I love Marianne Faithfull.
Every gay man has a fantasy — secret, not so secret — of his ideal image as a woman.
I guess you could say she’s mine.
I’m a huge fan of the doe-eyed, waifish ingenue aesthetic. You know, fragile features; dewy expression; soft bangs; a lilting susurrus of a voice, a repertoire full of songs about melancholy and youthful world-weariness. (Francoise Hardy would be someone else who fits the bill marvellously.)
Faithfull’s struggles with drug addiction — and for a time, homelessness — are the stuff of rock legend. While she eventually beat her demons to come out on top, as her revitalized career the last couple of decades is wonderful testament to, the 1970s marked a pretty bleak period in her life. I won’t bore you with google-able details. Interestingly enough, though, in the latest volume of her memoirs, titled Memories, Dreams & Reflections, she recounts an otherwise little-known, drug-related episode that happened to her in – wait for it – ……
…… Singapore !
Of all places. God only knows what she was doing in this part of the world in 1974 (the year after her doped-up display above). In her own words:
Incident on Boogie Street
In 1974 Oliver Musker and I were staying at Raffles in Singapore – the old Raffles Hotel – it’s now quite ghastly, but back then it still reeked of faded colonial splendour. Oliver is the knight in shining armour who came and rescued me at my darkest hour, swept me away from all my demons and off to exotic locations. One evening Oliver and I decided to seek out an opium den on Bugis Street, affectionately known as Boogie Street, in the red-light district. We were both rather foolishly dressed as if we’d just stepped out of A Passage to India. Oliver in his white suit and panama hat, and I in a topi with a veil and a long grey suit with grosgrain on the collar and hem.
Unbelievably stupid to go down to Boogie Street looking like a couple of twits from the British Raj. Darling Oliver, who really is such a sweet guy. He eventually married an Indian girl and now lives in India, so he’s mellowed a lot, but in those days he had an unfortunate habit of going, “Come along now, chop chop!’ to natives who understandably did not take his supercilious attitude too well. Suddenly we were surrounded by a gang of Chinese felons and I heard this terrifying sound – swishhhhhhh-hhhh-eeeeee – as they brought their knives out.
And I thought, “Right, that’s it! We’re going to die – and in this incredibly stupid way!’ And then out of the blue who should appear but Roderick O’Connor, younger son of a good Irish family, on his way to Australia to try to pick up an inheritance, which he did not manage to do (he subsequently went to India to do a bit of grave-robbing). He’s a chancer but a really good friend of mine. Brave, quick-witted Roderick just stepped into this situation and addressed these vicious thugs in Chinese – obviously telling them something like, ‘Don’t bother with these two; they’re completely stupid!’ – and made them fall over laughing. He got rid of them just like that and we walked away.
Then Roderick took us to an opium den. It is the only opium den I’ve ever been to and it was as sublime as I’d always imagined it to be. A lot of people lying around on couches in deep dream states. You lay your head on a wooden pillow, servants prepare your opium pipe, and you fall into the most blissful reverie, for I
On honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
But, you know, even without Oliver’s colonial condescension we might well have stirred up the Boogie-dwellers’ wrath because we looked so mad. Of all the things to wear when you go to Boogie Street ! it’s the sort of rough, criminal place you should go to wearing a leather jacket and jeans. And here we were, blithely ambling through Boogie Street’s nightly transgender sex bazaar of ‘Billy boys’, freaks, drug thugs, and cutthroats, dressed up like Algernon Montcrief and Cecily Cardew in a revival of The Importance of Being Earnest. We were mad, mad in the way of characters who wander into the wrong movie, forget their lines and lose their lives.
A rare image of an opium den in Singapore, c. 1965. Photograph by Burt Glinn, from Magnum Photos.
Hmm. I’m not sure if I want to take her word for much in that little anecdote — I mean, c’mon, the woman calls a dope hole “sublime” (?!) — but it’s a fascinating nugget about local history nonetheless, if only for the revelation that opium dens persisted in Singapore right into the 1970s (and probably beyond).
Sure, the ladyboys of Bugis were infamous, but opium ? Kinda passé for the ’70s, ain’t it ?
Elsewhere, I’ve remarked that my own grandfather enjoyed chasing the dragon; I guess now it seems less strange that he was able to indulge the habit right up to his death sometime mid-decade. It’s not something the government enjoys discussing. I think they’d prefer it if we all just assumed that opium addiction went the way of the leftist movement, a dirty fact conveniently swept under the rug of historical amnesia … Which is our cue to segue into a brief mention of the remarkable Saint Jack. If you’re savvy enough, you’d have seen/heard of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1979 film, which to this day remains the only Hollywood movie to be shot entirely in Singapore. If you’re out of the loop, just head out to the HMV store at 313@Somerset; they had shelf-loads of copies the last time I was there. It’s not for those seeking celluloid thrills. The film is a pretty slow, meandering character study, but interest in Bogdanovich’s otherwise little-seen gem has been on the rise here, mostly because he managed to capture a seedy, seamy side of sunny Singapore that, even in 1979, as the director himself puts it, was on the way out. (Well, there’s still Geylang, I guess …) A significant portion of the film’s first half actually takes place on Bugis Street — the real Bugis Street of yore that is, the one inhabited by ladyboys, ang moh johns, hustlers, hoodlums, junkies, and other denizens of the dark, the Bugis Street where Marianne Faithfull, dressed like a “twit”, nearly met her end before that last toke on a joint. <lol> Oh, yeah, a long-ish trailer is available on Youtube for those of you who haven’t had the chance to see the film. When you get to the 2:26 mark, a brief clip of an erotic (supposedly) dance routine by two Bugis St. girls happens; in the film itself, if one looks very closely, there’s visible evidence that the long-haired chick is quite definitely pre-op …
Oh, and one other thing. Saint Jack also commemorates another seldom-discussed slice of Singapore’s past: back in the bad ol’ days, before the economy took dizzying flight and we morphed into one giant, hyper-glitzy, micro-managed megamall, the island used to be a regular stop for American GIs on R & R breaks from Vietnam. And apparently there were whole institutions, housed in their own buildings, that er, catered for this crowd — in existence thanks to tacit official approbation. Again, not something that makes it into the history books much. Westsiders familiar with Bukit Timah will know where Serene Center is; for the rest, it’s a teeny mall that sits at the junction of Bukit Timah and Farrer Roads (across the street from the Adam Rd. food centre).
Well, guess what dear ol’ Serene started life as ?
Um hmmm. A brothel.
Across the road from Coronation Plaza, Serene Centre is today a family-oriented shopping centre frequented by students in the area. However, during the Vietnam War (1959-1975), the building was known as Serene House and used for servicing US Army soldiers on rest leave in Singapore until 1968. Many residents of the area recall prostitutes being specially recruited and freely entering and leaving the building. There were also other such facilities off Bukit Timah Road for US Army soldiers at Shelford Road, across the road from Coronation Plaza, and Newton Road during that period.
(Blurb courtesy of Heritage Trails.)
Ben Slater has written a riveting, exhaustively researched book on the making of Saint Jack, called Kinda Hot. It’s a total page-turner. Among the many entertaining bits of trivia he dishes up — and the whole book’s full of ‘em, in between lots of solid detective work — is the fact that Peter Bogdanovich’s infamous Hollywood romance with Cybill Shepherd finally unravelled in Singapore, when she visited him on the Saint Jack set. (He’d been carrying on with one of the local extras, Monika Subramaniam, a Tamilian nymphet; Shepherd knew it was over.) Slater also has a blog which details his experience writing the book, and trying to track down the various local cast and crew members who worked on the film all those years ago.
One more of Marianne for the road:
Secluded in the hushed, verdant, bug-colonized environs of Fort Canning is the ASEAN Sculpture Garden.
The tiny park, which houses six outdoor works by artists from various SE Asian nations, commemorates a little-remembered slice of regional art history: the ASEAN Sculpture Symposium. It was convened by ASEAN COCI, the organization’s Committee on Culture and Information, in 1981, with the first ever conference taking place that year in Singapore:
ASEAN Sculpture Symposium. With the aim of promoting a sense of community among sculptors of member countries whose works of art will be visible symbols of regional cooperation, COCI held its first symposium in Singapore from March 27 to May 10, 1981. Five distinguished sculptors from the member countries worked under one roof where they discussed, shared and learned from one another to produce a group of five magnificent five-meter tall sculptures displayed at Singapore’s Fort Canning Park. The Indonesian sculptor contributed a copper plate sculpture called “Unity”; Malaysia, a fibreglass work called “Taning Sari” [sic]; the Philippines, a reinforced concrete cast of an unfinished boat called “Fredesvinda”; Thailand, steel plates combination called “Concentration” and Singapore, a rising balance of circular and cylindrical shapes called “Balance”. The entire symposium has been documented on film by the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
(Quote from this page.)
I haven’t seen the SBC docu, nor is it available on Youtube the last time I checked. (<lol> Talk about retro power: I haven’t heard the name SBC since .. well, the days when Duncan Watt used to read the news. Anyone remember him?) In any case, the ASEAN Sculpture Symposium lasted six summits, with the last conference taking place in 1989 at the CCP in Manila. The Singapore sculptures were unveiled the year after the Fort Canning symposium – a sixth piece, Together, by Bruneian artist Osman Bin Mohammad, was added to the flock after the Sultanate’s full independence and subsequent ASEAN membership.
Here’s the question, though: what happened to the Taming Sari sculpture (below), which was Malaysia’s original contribution to the project ? I haven’t been able to discover much about it online — not even the name of the artist.* It seems to have been replaced with the current work, Augury (below), by Anthony Lau, in 1988, at the same time that Osman’s piece was introduced.
* Update: Never mind that. The artist in question is Ariffin Mohammed Ismail. See “Asean Sculptors to Display Their Works”, The Straits Times, 2 Apr 1981 (archived here).
Another one for the history detectives.
Not me, though. <lol> I’m done ferreting around.
The other works in the ASEAN Sculpture Garden:
Dancers in Pink (c. 1876), Edgar Degas. In the collection of the Hill-Stead Museum.
Yesterday, on July 24, 2011, the state of New York passed the Marriage Equality Act, enabling gay men and women from Staten Island to the Adirondacks to legally wed their partners.
This is in their honour: Degas’ Dancers in Pink.
To all my friends in the Big Apple, you guys rock.
Its almost three in the a.m. and I’m still lucid, lying in bed waiting for the next signal to make a mad dash for the bathroom.
I love the simmering homoeroticism of the scene … unsurprisingly.
A title that fawning can really only be sardonic, no ? <lol>
The obvious truth is, I don’t much care about, or for, UOB’s Painting of the Year competition.
Which is my way of warning readers that this is going to be one long roast.
The whole idea of one of the nation’s top art prizes being solely for painting is pretty bizarre — not to mention retrogressive. How large is Singapore’s pool of decent artists that UOB feels an award just for painters indeed “encourage[s] local artists to persist in their creative endeavours, and provide[s] recognition for the best creative works” ? (In their own words.) This may or may not be news to a bunch of bankers, but the “best creative work” these days isn’t necessarily produced on canvas. Besides, if the roll call of past winners is anything to go by — the complete list at the end of the post — the organisers and judging committees have had issues with their own categories: the 1987 laureate, for one, was Baet Yeok Kuan’s Man and Environment I (below), a mash-up of various found objects and plaster casts of faces, all tied up with twine like one giant, unwieldy postal package. I mean, Baet’s piece can be considered painting only in the broadest, most generous sense; otherwise, it’s pretty much what it looks like, a Rauschenberg-ian ‘combine’ of the two- and three-dimensional. Then there was the photography debate: for two years running, in 2007 and 2008, the prize was handed out to photographic works, Anatomical Fantasies of Meat by Joel Yuen, and Zhao Renhui’s Space In Between #1, #6, #63, respectively. And last year’s winner, 18-year-old Bai Tian Yuan’s What (below), was based on a photograph, which also raised a furor — apparently by folks who’d never heard of the photorealist movement, or pictorial tools like Durer’s grid (imagine how Raphael would’ve reacted to Durer’s lil’ invention).
Bai Tian Yuan and her winning entry, What (2010). Image from Flickr user ArtSingapore Fair 2010.
Those couple of admirable blips aside, the favoured UOB strategy has mostly been one of safe, static picture-making. And this year’s honour roll, now on display at the Jendela gallery at the Esplanade, doesn’t buck the trend. Granted, the actual winning entry is pretty good: Gong Yao Min – who now joins Kit Tan Juat Lee as one of two two-time winners – used Chinese ink on rice paper to depict a dense cityscape of skyscrapers and colonial structures, which rise like a phantasmagoric megalopolis above scenes of local roads and traffic (below). Titled My Dream Land, the combination of craftsmanship, traditional Chinese materials, a modern sensibility, and patriotic fervour on the part of an immigrant (Gong moved here from China in the ’90s) probably proved too potent a mix for the judges. The other winning works though, were, well … let’s just say it — pedestrian. Ong Jie Yi’s Old Haunt (below), for one, which won a Platinum award and 10,000 SGD, was about as insipid as it gets. A torn poster of the Haunted Changi movie — which also sucked, by the way — and close-ups of peeling paint and shadows of leaves were intended to convey a sense of dereliction and eeriness. And that’s all there is to it: cliched imagery and banal sentiment. Lester Lee’s The Idea of Great Success (below) received a Highly Commended Award, and 2,500 SGD; as the monetary aspect suggests, it was even less interesting than Ong’s work. An amateurish portrait of some hybrid creature, along with symbols gesturing at conventional notions of personal success, it too married idea, image, and execution in one uninspired chain of epic blandness.
I always knew the UOB laureates weren’t terribly compelling, but this was beyond the pale.
I wonder if UOB realizes that stuff like this is just reinforcing every negative stereotype out there about how démodé it is. On the economic front, a hyper-aggressive, rapidly expanding Citibank is pretty much giving it a run for its market share, and it’s continued efforts at corporate sponsorship of the arts in such an .. unenlightened manner isn’t doing it any favours in the public eye. If it wasn’t for the 30 grand in cash they were doling out, I wonder if anyone would care about the award at all …
Artist Gong Yao Min with his work, My Dream Land. Image from TODAYonline.
Old Haunt, Ong Jie Yi. Image from thinking, reflecting.
The Idea of Great Success, Lester Lee. Image from For Art’s Sake! (The scorecard reflects the grade that the painting received from one of Martin’s readers – which was 1 out of 5.)
A companion exhibition, titled Beyond A Prize, is currently showing at the ION Art gallery, located on the fourth floor of the mall. It features their winners from 1982 — when the award was first given out — to 2000, the more recent entries having had their own show last year, which I missed. (A pity — it would’ve been great to see Yuen’s piece in the flesh, or Namiko Chan Takahashi’s Charisse, a nude portrait which looks amazing even in reproduction.) Nonetheless, the work of several of the older laureates definitely still held their own. The highlight of the afternoon for me was Anthony Poon’s Waves (below) from 1983, a large, aquamarine-coloured canvas featuring his signature motif, punctiliously plotted on a grid, its patterning and colour scheme of cool hues clearly calculated to rhyme and dance and pulsate. Wee Shoo Leong’s Yuen (Affinity) (below) was also a revelation — why haven’t we heard or seen more from him lately ? — a calm, phlegmatic, carefully delineated still-life of various objects on a desktop, the most salient of which is an empty birdcage, posed before an expansive wall of blank space.
Those, however, were few and far in between. True to form, the show was mostly a display of UOB’s utter lack of imagination when it comes to being a corporate collector. Chng Chin Kang’s She Loves Me But She’s Not My Mummy (below), which was awarded the prize in 1998, deserves the lion’s share of brickbats here. It’s not a bad work, really, the artist’s choice of floral fabric as canvas even demonstrating a certain flair, but as far as being “Painting of the Year” goes, it’s dismal. The theme is obvious to a fault — yes, being raised largely by foreign domestic help is causing an emotional disconnect between parents and children these days, everyone knows that, it’s like saying “How awful it is that there’s war in this world” — but, even worse, the figures simply had no life to them. A quick comparison with Fan Shao Hua’s 2000 winner, They (below), hung on a wall nearby, which also depicts the sundering of familial bonds, throws the limitations of Chng’s vision into relief: Fan borrows a couple of Post-Impressionist techniques from Degas, employing a telling use of compositional space and unexpected figural cropping to drive his message home. Next to it, Chng’s figures just look sterile, and the work hackneyed. Likewise, Hong Zhu An’s Yi-Er-San (One, Two, Three) (below), which, according to the label, features the prominence of the calligraphic line as a means of conveying “the mystique of a transcendental world”, was pretty unimaginative, despite a couple of original touches, like the lopping off of the line midway, or the use of calligraphy on a near-abstract background of oil paint. Chua Ek Kay’s My Haunt (below), the 1991 laureate, which perhaps is a more traditional use of Chinese ink, manages to convey the serene sense of place and wistful nostalgia that his works are known for, yet comes across as simply being more dynamic than Hong’s hippie-ish pictorial platitudes and threadbare sentiments.
And the less said about stinkers like Soh Chee Hui’s Blue Balloon (1992′s winner), Kit Tan’s Endless Love (her first win from 1997) and Lim Poh Teck’s City (1990), the better.
Again, this should be stressed: these aren’t bad works per se, but to valorize them as the cream of the local crop by handing out undeserved laurels and moolah just seems like utter mockery, or ignorance — or both.
UOB Painting of the Year winners
1982 – Goh Beng Kwan, The Dune
1983 – Anthony Poon, Waves
1984 – Wee Shoo Leong, Yuen (Affinity)
1985 – Ng Keng Seng, Steps
1986 – Sandy Wong, Exhibit ‘86
1987 – Baet Yeok Kuan, Man and Environment I
1988 – Ang Yian Sann, One’s Habitat
1989 – Lim Tiong Ghee, From the Turtledove
1990 – Lim Poh Teck, City
1991 – Chua Ek Kay, My Haunt
1992 – Soh Chee Hui, Blue Balloon
1993 – Raymond Lau, Echoes of the Window (I)
1994 – Hong Zhu An, Yi-Er-San (One, Two, Three)
1995 – Tan Chin Chin, The Statue of Gods, 1995
1996 – Chen Shi Jin, Root
1997 – Kit Tan, Endless Love
1998 – Chng Chin Kang, She Loves Me But She’s Not My Mummy
1999 – Tan Kay Nguan, Trifling Matter
2000 – Fan Shao Hua, They
2001 – Erzan B Adam, It’s Hip 2 B Square
2002 – Gong Yao Min, The Impression of Singapore, Series Three
2003 – Luis Lee, Packed
2004 – Kit Tan, The World of Xi You Ji
2005 – Alvin Ong, The Window
2006 – Namiko Chan Takahashi, Charisse
2007 – Hong Sek Chern, Aspects of the City II
2008 – Joel Yuen, Anatomical Fantasies of Meat
2009 – Zhao Renhui, Space In Between #1, #6, #63
2010 – Bai Tian Yuan, What
2011 – Gong Yao Min, My Dream Land
Lucian Freud in 1952. Image from CNN.
Lucian Freud passed away in London yesterday.
His New York Times obit:
LUCIAN FREUD, FIGURATIVE PAINTER WHO REDEFINED PORTRAITURE, IS DEAD AT 88
By William Grimes. Published July 21, 2011
Lucian Freud, whose stark and revealing paintings of friends and intimates, splayed nude in his studio, recast the art of portraiture and offered a new approach to figurative art, died on Wednesday night at his home in London. He was 88.
He died following a brief illness, said William Acquavella of Acquavella Galleries, Mr. Freud’s dealer.
Mr. Freud, a grandson of Sigmund Freud and a brother of the British television personality Clement Freud, was already an important figure in the small London art world when, in the immediate postwar years, he embarked on a series of portraits that established him as a potent new voice in figurative art.
In paintings like “Girl With Roses” (1947-48) and “Girl With a White Dog” (1951-52), he put the pictorial language of traditional European painting in the service of an anti-romantic, confrontational style of portraiture that stripped bare the sitter’s social facade. Ordinary people — many of them his friends — stared wide-eyed from the canvas, vulnerable to the artist’s ruthless inspection.
From the late 1950s, when he began using a stiffer brush and moving paint in great swaths around the canvas, Mr. Freud’s nudes took on a new fleshiness and mass. His subjects, pushed to the limit in exhausting extended sessions, day after day, dropped their defenses and opened up. The faces showed fatigue, distress, torpor.
The flesh was mottled, lumpy and, in the case of his 1990s portraits of the performance artist Leigh Bowery and the phenomenally obese civil servant Sue Tilley, shockingly abundant.
The relationship between sitter and painter, in his work, overturned traditional portraiture. It was “nearer to the classic relationship of the 20th century: that between interrogator and interrogated,” the art critic John Russell wrote in “Private View,” his survey of the London art scene in the 1960s.
William Feaver, a British critic who organized a Freud retrospective at Tate Britain in 2002, said: “Freud has generated a life’s worth of genuinely new painting that sits obstinately across the path of those lesser painters who get by on less. He always pressed to extremes, carrying on further than one would think necessary and rarely letting anything go before it became disconcerting.”
Lucian Michael Freud was born in Berlin on Dec. 8, 1922, and grew up in a wealthy neighborhood near the Tiergarten. His father, Ernst L. Freud, an architect who was Sigmund Freud’s youngest son, married Lucie Brasch, the heiress to a timber fortune, and the family enjoyed summers on the North Sea and visits to a family estate near Cottbus, in Germany.
In 1933, after Hitler came to power, the Freuds moved to London, where Lucian attended progressive schools but showed little academic promise. He was more interested in horses than in his studies, and entertained thoughts of becoming a jockey.
In 1938, he was expelled from Bryanston, in Dorset, after dropping his trousers on a dare on a street in Bournemouth. But his sandstone sculpture of a horse earned him entry into the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. He left there after a year to enroll in the East Anglian School of Drawing and Painting in Dedham, where he studied with the painter Cedric Morris. While it is true that the school burned to the ground while he was there, the often repeated story that Mr. Freud accidentally started the fire with a discarded cigarette seems unlikely.
In 1941, hoping to make his way to New York, Mr. Freud enlisted in the Merchant Navy, where he served on a convoy ship crossing the Atlantic. He got no nearer to New York than Halifax, Nova Scotia, and after returning to Liverpool developed tonsillitis and was given a medical discharge from the service.
Mr. Freud was a bohemian of the old school. He set up his studios in squalid neighborhoods, developed a Byronic reputation as a rake and gambled recklessly (“Debt stimulates me,” he once said). In 1948, he married Kitty Garman, the daughter of the sculptor Jacob Epstein, whom he depicted in several portraits, notably “Girl With Roses,” “Girl With a Kitten” (1947) and “Girl With a White Dog” (1950-51). That marriage ended in divorce, as did his second marriage, to Lady Caroline Blackwood. He is survived by many children from his first marriage and from a series of romantic relationships.
His early work, often with an implied narrative, was strongly influenced by the German Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) painters like Georg Grosz and Otto Dix, although his influences reached back to Albrecht Dürer and the Flemish masters like Hans Memling.
On occasion he ventured into Surrealist territory. In “The Painter’s Room” (1943), a zebra with red and yellow stripes pokes its head through the window of a studio furnished with a palm tree and sofa. A top hat sits on the floor.
Mr. Freud later rejected Surrealism with something like contempt. “I could never put anything into a picture that wasn’t actually there in front of me,” he told the art critic Robert Hughes. “That would be a pointless lie, a mere bit of artfulness.”
A decisive influence was Francis Bacon, a fellow artist at the 1954 Venice Biennale and the subject of one of his most famous works, a head painted in oil on copper in 1952. Bacon’s free, daring brushwork led Mr. Freud to abandon the linear, thinly painted portraits of the 1940s and move toward the brushy, searching portrait style of his mature work, with its severely muted palette of browns and yellows.
“Full, saturated colors have an emotional significance that I want to avoid,” he once said. To the artist and Freud biographer Lawrence Gowing, he said, “For me the paint is the person.” Mr. Freud’s dingy studio became his artistic universe, a grim theater in which his contorted subjects, stripped bare and therefore unidentifiable by class, submitted to the artist’s unblinking, merciless inspection.
The sense of the artist-model relationship is suggested by “Reflection With Two Children,” a 1965 self-portrait showing Mr. Freud seen from below, the vantage point of a dog looking at its master. Two children, almost miniature in scale, are shunted to the side of the canvas. A glaring light overhead contributes to the impression of the artist as all-powerful inquisitor.
His female subjects in particular seemed not just nude but obtrusively naked. Mr. Freud pushed this effect so far, Russell once noted, “that we sometimes wonder if we have any right to be there.” By contrast, his horses and dogs, like his whippets Pluto and Eli, were evoked with tender solicitude.
“I’ve got a strong autobiographical bias,” he told Mr. Feaver, the British critic. “My work is entirely about myself and my surroundings.”
On rare occasions Mr. Freud took on something akin to official portraits. He painted the collector Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, fully clothed, in “Man in a Chair” (1985). His stern 2001 portrait of Queen Elizabeth, showing the royal head topped by the Diamond Diadem, divided the critics and public.
Some critics hailed the picture as bold, uncompromising and truthful. Arthur Morrison, the arts editor of The Times of London, wrote, “The chin has what can only be described as a six-o’clock shadow, and the neck would not disgrace a rugby prop forward.” The newspaper’s royal photographer said Mr. Freud should be thrown into the Tower of London.
These were deviations. Much more in the Freud vein was his portrait of a man sprawled on a couch holding a sleeping rat (“Naked Man With Rat,” 1977-78). The animal’s tail, draped across the model’s left thigh, nearly makes contact with his genitals, producing an ineffably creepy effect.
Mr. Freud remained deeply unfashionable in the United States for many decades, but in 1987 the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington exhibited his work in a show that no New York museum would take on. This was a watershed event. Mr. Hughes proclaimed him “the greatest living realist painter,” and a Freud cult soon developed. In 1993 the Metropolitan Museum of Art organized a retrospective of his work.
“It is an attempt at a record,” Mr. Freud said, describing his work on the occasion of his retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1974. “I work from the people that interest me and that I care about, in rooms that I live in and know.”
I’ve been obsessed with Anthony Poon‘s paintings lately.
More on that later though. While doing some research, I stumbled onto a fashion spread in the 1987 issue of the Her World Annual (below), which featured Singaporean designer Tan Yoong’s creations, inspired by the work of several local artists — of which Poon was one.
Tan Yoong left the gallery with his imagination fired by six local artists’ works. The challenge presented itself – to translate art executed in fabric, metal, ink and acrylic into a form which could be draped on the human body. The works themselves were diverse expressions from a group of second-generation painters and sculptors. Gathered under one roof for the Asian Contemporary Art Exhibition 1986, fashion designer Tan Yoong was transfixed by the textures, colours, shapes and forms which were a bold departure from the restraint of linens, organza’s and crepe de chines in his workshop. A few months after th exhibition, six outfits emerged which imitated the perfection of what Tan Yoong had seen in the gallery, but with a new interpretation of form and shape. In one instance, Teo Eng Seng’s The Great Gossip, the transformation was subtle: a cluster of withered Sakura trees imported by the artist from Japan, inspired in Tan Yoong a design full of Eastern austerity and grace – a jacket-suit textured with embroidered pleats, fold after fold falling in a restrained ripple down the body. Thomas Yeo’s collage composition, on the other hand, found a reflection in gossamer-thin layers of organza, while Eng Tow’s fabric sculpture (Four Winds) became a fragile shell of hand-painted organza. Whether in idea, colour or texture, Tan Yoong has faithfully created fashion in the image of Art.
[Top] FOUR WINDS, Eng Tow: ‘Constant change and movement is personified by the nature of wind. There is constant change in life, in the things around us. Just like wind, you can’t see it, but you know it’s there. Four Winds is a way of showing this change.’
[Bottom] A hand-painted silk organza blouse features the intricate Eng Tow pleat. But the delicate shadings come from Tan Yoong’s palette.
[Top] UNTITLED II, 1986, Tan Teng Kee, Sculptor: ‘You can heat metal, you can fire it, you can cut it up, build it up … It needs strength, a big hammer to hammer it. Yet, it’s also very flexible. My work is not so smooth that you can stroke it – if you’re not careful, you might be pierced. You can say that I have some thorns too …’
[Bottom] The timeless fluid lines of this crepe jacket-suit find a counterpoint in the stark modernism of polished metal and jagged edges.
MOVEMENT IN WHITE, 1986, Thomas Yeo, Artist: ‘Some people say, how can a mountain look like that? I ask them, have you really seen a mountain? Before you look at the painting, you’ve got to get rid of the pictorial preconception. You’ve got to clear the mind, be an innocent, and look again.
Looking at abstract painting, a lot of people expect to visually come to terms in the first encounter. But it takes time to understand the modern picture language. And you’ve got to allow yourself to be exposed to the different mediums. Then, you can come to terms and grasp the language. Abstract works require participation. You can’t just sit there and look …
When I see a great painting, all my hairs stand. It moves me.’
The gentle blithe spirit of layered gossamer echoes the delicate paint on paper on paint collage …
FIRE DHYANA, 1986, Tan Swie Hian, Artist: ‘Dhyana means meditation.
There is an episode in the Buddhist scriptures – a monk meditated on a pool of water and became the water, such that he found rocks in his body. He had become the water and the rocks were rocks from the pool …
The fire dhyana is inspired by fire. Once, when Buddha was meditating on a mountain, he achieved the state where he became fire. When you achieve that state, you can become a holocaust … You can achieve anything through meditation, through the power of the mind.
For me, to create requires the freeing of one’s mind. A great artist, according to Picasso, has no one style. There shouldn’t be any restriction to what may appear on your sheet of white paper …’
The flame of thousands of beads flickers on hand-painted fabric, raising this tunic-and-skirt ensemble to a high point of sophistication.
THE GREAT GOSSIP, 1986, Teo Eng Seng, Sculptor: ‘My job is just to create the object, and it’s for the viewer to respond – people using the trees will have to use their imaginations. In all my work, I like to see that there is an allowance for people to come up with something which is a part of them. I want to create an event or occasion when people can participate. It is not just passive art.
I don’t think artists today can run away and hide in a cave. You need to be able to share your art with others, to forge relationships …’
Pleats crest on pleats to fall in a gentle froth of fabric just below the hips. Tan Yoong’s mastery of the medium has resulted in opulence but with Oriental understatement.
P ON GREY RECTANGULAR, 1986, Anthony Poon, Artist: ‘One always wants to do something different, but it needs continuity to maintain a seriousness about it. I look to see the progression – how some good things become better …
The years before my seriousness occurred, I dabbled and had a lot of fun. I think there comes a time in life when one has to decide. I made up my mind that the good that would eventually arise in this journey, would be very obvious – to attain the consistency which I am very conscious of.
Some day, I want to gather all my works together and illustrate the changes, and show how they’re related in the continuity process.
I think that the format of the canvas is just as important as the content … I must do them big. And I’ve been asked, how big is big? … My dream of the scale …
The great satisfaction is, once you overcome it, you regain the confidence and surety of what you can achieve.’
Shape has been given new definition with colour. A midriff blouse sheds its frivolity when teamed with an elegant, black body-conscious shift.
God, how I love Poon’s meticulously plotted, methodically coloured canvases …
Interestingly enough, the work of Op Art pioneer Bridget Riley – Op Art provided Poon with one his biggest influences – was likewise transposed into the realm of the sartorial back in the ’60s (though perhaps not voluntarily). Art historian Pamela Lee relates the episode in her book, Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s:
For soon after hanging her works at the MoMA, Riley met up with Larry Aldrich, among the best-known collectors of contemporary art in the city. A dress manufacturer for B. Altman’s, among other stores, Aldrich owned one of the two Riley paintings in the show, Hesitate, and had built a public institution to house his collection in Ridgefield, Connecticut. He had a good reputation for supporting the work of emerging artists, and so Riley was pleased to meet him. After exchanging introductions in the gallery, Aldrich invited her to his Seventh Avenue studio for a “surprise.” The surprise was such that Aldrich arranged a photographer to document the event.
Yet upon her arrival, Riley was not so much surprised but shocked and offended. For Aldrich had taken the pattern of Hesitate, now hanging at MoMA, and commissioned Maxwell Industries to make a mass-produced textile out of it. Aldrich’s in-house designer “Morton Myles for Young Elegante” then fashioned the fabric into simple modish shifts, all the better for the wearer to serve as a moving screen for the optical dazzle. An obscure, blurry photograph … [above] records the tension of the summit. Hands in pockets, Aldrich attempts to gauge her response. Riley presses her fingers to her temples as if massaging an incipient headache. “I was shocked,” she stated flatly of the encounter. “In England, there are laws that take care of things like that,’ she complained to a fashion reporter. “Nobody asked my permission for the fabric.” ……
For his part, Aldrich willfully ignored Riley’s claims by suggesting his actions were populist in intent. “Everybody else thought it was gay and amusing,” he shrugged. “I respected her attitude, but I made no effort to apologize. After all many people approached me to get Hesitate fabric or buy dresses for the Op art show at the museum. They wouldn’t have wanted to if it were wrong.” In the spring and summer fashion season of 1965, he would produce a number of Op art dresses from paintings in his own collection. In addition to Riley, the artists Julian Stanczak, Richard Anuskiewicz and Vasarely would also have their own work transformed into the dresses by “Young Elegante,” as seen in a photo spread in Art in America … [below]. Unlike Riley, however, they were content to oversee the metamorphosis.
Here, then, begins the vertiginous rush into the craze for Op fashion of the mid-sixties. Coverage was not limited to the fashion trade, although Vogue, Harper’s, Women’s Wear Daily, and other style magazines weighed in on the phenomenon exhaustively. In addition to design magazines, which seized upon Op as an important trend in interior décor, local American papers from all across the country clamored to get a piece of the Newest Thing. Days after the opening, photos appeared in the papers documenting the wild and vibrant styles that various artists, collectors, and socialites wore to the event. Black and white was the order of the evening, taking the form of checks, stripes, dots, and mind-numbing patterns. Ethel Scull attended with Warhol on her arm, mysterious behind huge black glasses and a wavy line lame suit. Larry Rivers showed up wearing two ties, one black, one red, as if playfully dressing the part of an afterimage. Store windows in New York – Bonwit’s, I. Miller, Lord and Taylor, Elizabeth Arden, and Altman’s among them – all scurried to showcase the new fashions against equally eye-popping backdrops. “Op fabrics, Op stockings, Op maternity wear, Op everything,” one reporter put it, “exploded on the style scene.” There were even such inventions such as Op restaurants, Op beachwear and, improbably enough, Op girdles. And in a presumably unironic twist, Women’s Wear Daily reported on Op cosmetics, highlighting a fanciful new way of adorning the eyes. In record time, then, Op became something of a media spectacle. It even made it to the airwaves in a show hosted by no less of an art authority than Mike Wallace, entitled “Eye on New York.”
Hesitate (1964), Bridget Riley. In the collection of the Tate.