Posts Tagged ‘private galleries’
Maimed, melancholic, meta-textual.
A portrait of a young boy missing a limb, the dismembered stump dissipating into polychromatic, painterly wisps where skin and flesh should be – like so many of his fellows. A child sits with a paper-bag over his head; another is poised before what looks to be a row of Japanese soldiers in hachimaki headbands. A boy in a sailor suit and a girl perched atop a tiger-skin rug strike poses — in two different paintings — before renderings of Friedrich’s Rocky Reef on the Seashore. A seemingly unfinished triple portrait includes a re-presentation of Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath (the Borghese version), with a filmic projection placed squarely over Goliath’s head, introducing a constant glare of shifting, flickering disruptions into the visual field.
Such is the iconography of enigmatic, near anonymous Singaporean painter Huang Wei.
According to local gallery owner Alan Oei (the man behind Evil Empire and the annual OH! Open House event), who also curated the present show at Valentine Willie’s space in Kuala Lumpur, the story of the discovery of Huang runs like this:
In mid 2009, my [Oei’s] friend Nora Samosir called me. She said her uncle-contractor had found rolls and rolls of old paintings. At that time, I was deeply interested in the Equator Art Society – a group of Chinese Social Realist painters who were largely forgotten. To come across an outsider artist who didn’t even make it into our art history – was an incredible find !
The paintings of strange and maimed children were just completely at odds with everything I knew about Singapore. Me and Nora, and a few others decided to organize a lecture-performance. Nora is a veteran actress so she presented it while I helped with the research about the artist and restoration of the paintings. Part of the attraction was that there was so little material about him – one trunk of personal effects – and I’m not exactly an archivist researcher, so there was a fair amount of conjecture. I became obsessed with this romantic archetype of the melancholic artist painting in his own warped universe.
Of what little is known about Huang:
Huang Wei is a Singaporean artist born in 1914. He worked in his family photography studio even while he was in school. My guess is that his first love was art not photography. He won an art scholarship for instance, and also studied with the famous Richard Walker, art superintendent of Singapore. But his paintings are all heavily influenced by photography.
(From an interview published in the show’s accompanying pamphlet.)
In a nutshell, that’s pretty much it for facts.
And the significance of Velázquez, so tellingly namechecked in the title ?
Cue Huang’s triumvirate from the early ‘60s: The boy in the arch, The boy with the glacier, The girl with the tiger. (See above.) That the three paintings belong in a series of sorts is clear at first glance: Arch and Tiger both feature the back of a large canvas as a salient motif, the first on the right side of the composition, the second on its left, as if the same canvas – visual details also correspond in both works – had been stretched across the interstitial gap. And a rendition of Caspar David Friedrich’s Rocky Reef on the Sea Shore (c. 1824) appears in Tiger and in Glacier: mounted on the wall in the former, as a surreally large copy in the latter. The motific parallels to Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656) are unmissable, if somewhat ambiguous: the canvas with it’s back to viewer, of course; the slant of sunlight moving in from the right of the space in Glacier (Las Meninas is similarly lit); the painting of a painting (like the del Mazo renditions of Reubens in the background of Meninas, themselves depictions of copies, or paintings of copies of paintings); the pendant around the necks of the girl in Tiger and the figure of doña Isabel de Velasco (standing to the right of the princess in Meninas), as well as the tiger’s head in the former, and the dog in Velázquez.
Many of these parallels are perhaps oblique visual references, and less by way of outright similarities, but the fact remains that Huang seems to have been greatly taken with the work of the Spanish master:
When I [Oei] saw Huang’s paintings with these bizarre motifs that present the back-of-canvas, I could only think of Las Meninas. And true enough, Huang was inspired by that painting. I don’t know exactly what inspired him, but he made at least 30 drawings and paintings around this iconic work …… Michel Foucault, the French theorist, suggested that Las Meninas was the first history painting to recognize and embody the idea of representation. The world that exists within paintings (and texts) is not the same as reality. Representation organizes signs and information within different systems.
(From the interview.)
Oei is of course referring to Foucault’s famous disquisition on the painting – far too detailed and extensive to reproduce in its entirety here – which concludes along these lines:
Perhaps there exists, in this painting by Velázquez, the representation as it were, of Classical representation, and the definition of the space it opens up to us. And, indeed, representation undertakes to represent itself here in all its elements … indicated compellingly from every side: the necessary disappearance of that which is its foundation – of the person it resembles and the person in whose eyes it is only a resemblance. This very subject – which is the same – has been elided. And representation, freed finally from the relation that was impeding it, can offer itself as representation in its pure form.
(See the chapter “Las Meninas” in Foucault, The Order of Things.)
You’ll have to read the essay for that to make sense, but the bottomline is this: Las Meninas is a representation of representation, a painting in which the praxis of two-dimensional depiction, in all its strategic methods, manipulations and craft, is depicted two-dimensionally – the gaps in the narrative, such as it were, foregrounding the artifice of an aesthetic construction.
And it is that sense of the performative, of a painter painting a deliberately painterly painting, an art historical art, which leaps out at the viewer. The nexus of cross-gazes and semantic lacunae which Foucault identifies in Las Meninas is missing here, but Huang’s work remains imbricated in various layers of citational self-reflexivity, of discursive canniness, of teasing, ambiguous hints and half-truths, of occluded, private spheres of meaning. What, in other words, does one make of the tiger’s head in Girl with the tiger, the feline motif also recurring in The boy with the tiger (c. 1960; below) ? The latter seems to be a self-portrait of a young Huang, if the photographs uncovered by Oei, and included in the show (below), are anything to go by; the juxtaposition of boy and tiger may be an expression of personal preference, or it may be personal in another way altogether (1914, the purported year of the artist’s birth, being a Year of the Tiger). As a creature slaughtered and skinned, lying at the feet of a winsome, comely young thing, does it assume yet another channel of significance we are not privy to ? (A lost love maybe ?) And the allusion to Friedrich ? Rocky Reef is not one of the German painter’s better-known works – what of its inclusion not once, but twice, in two different paintings ? In Boy with glacier, the work has been enlarged almost to the point of taking on the character of a realistic backdrop; the choice of a work sans Friedrich’s trademark Rückenfigur may or may not be of import. Is the boy then to be read as a reversal, of the absent “back figure” (literally) contemplating the sublimity of a romantic topography – here conspicuously turned to face the viewer, acutely aware of the “burning gaze” (as Oei puts it) of the reality beyond the canvas ? And the reduction of Friedrich’s painting to its original dimensions, firmly embedded within a domestic interior, in Girl with tiger ? The wildness of the landscape, in this case a murkily visible presence contained in a frame, a controlled sublimity; the ostensible ferocity of the tiger’s head, in actuality no more than a rug beneath the subject’s feet; even the flowers, resembling rather a naturally-blooming branch, is as carefully cultivated as a pot of bonsai, as aesthetically appealing as a still-life (the geometric angularity of the pot measured against the biomorphic shapes of the plant, the profusion of foliage and flora tapering into a slender stem) – the disparity between the tamed nature which characterizes the girl’s domestic milieu, and the deliberate verisimilitude of Rocky Reef as a backdrop for the boy, seems to gesture at some form of gendered asymmetry at work. Finally, how does one imagine the relationship between the tiger girl and the boy beneath the arch, if indeed the depicted canvas unites the pair ? And the boy with the glacier ? What is his relationship to his fellows ? How does one account for the triangulated iconography suturing the three works ?
As with so much concerning Huang Wei, answers – or even leads – seem to be in short supply at this stage.
Another reiterated motif in Huang’s oeuvre is that of the maimed child: often missing an arm, sometimes an eye. And – again, in the absence of the displaced artist, who cannot or will not speak out of the silence to which history has relegated him – we have only Oei’s word to go on: Alan Oei, who willy-nilly seems to have become a posthumous alter-ego of sorts for Huang, speaking for, or channeling, if you will, in the manner of a conjuration or a possession*, the dead man, the ghostly overtones of that process evoking the no less eerie, spectral entities of Huang’s paintings, haunting the present moment like so many anomalous apparitions. In any case, here is Oei on the topic of Huang’s malformed children:
Huang lost his family – his two children and his wife – at the start of the Second World War when the bombs fell. I don’t know if he was specifically trying to express or sublimate that trauma onto the canvas, but it certainly feels that way. It’s hard not to relate this to the violence of war. However, I do think there is much more than that. Perhaps it’s also the futility of making paintings in a time of photography, of new ways of looking at the world.
(See his interview.)
* Although it has to pointed out, perhaps, that in this case the line between the roles of possessor and possessed are far from clear.
It may be a little difficult perhaps to make a case for Huang’s aesthetics of negation and transformation vis-à-vis photographic technology – the “the futility of making paintings in a time of photography, of new ways of looking at the world” – almost a century after the advent of Impressionism, which emerged in part at least as a response to the new scopic regime of the photograph. Most of his paintings on display here date to the 1950s and 1960s, only a short while, one notes, before the relationship between the autographic and photographic arts was reconfigured again by the photorealist movement, which took flight in the late ‘60s. If anything, Huang’s work seems deliberately anachronistic: harking back to an earlier era of the studio photograph-portrait, adopting a citational idiom teased out from the work of the Baroque masters – at a time when his peers, like the Nanyang school folk, were still indebted to the visual vocabulary of the various Modernist -isms.
Yet, at the same time, Huang also strikes the one as being more … oddly contemporary than many of his contemporaries. (Though ‘contemporary’ in this case may be something of a relative term.) Take The boy with the golden collar (above), the figure quite visibly wanting a left limb. Despite the conventions of portrait painting which informs so much of Huang’s vision, the point at which the human body is disrupted here – the boundary between broken arm and exteriority – is rendered destabilized, ambivalent, heteroclitic. The departure from the nominally naturalistic idiom of the painting is striking: the child’s coat-sleeve has seemingly vanished along with his phantom limb, leaving in its place an abstract mess of thread-like skeins resembling splinters of ripped-off fabric – or, more significantly, brushstrokes that never quite cohered into a recognizable form. The phenomenon becomes even more pronounced in The boy with the emerald sleeve (above): where the rest of the figure’s right arm should be is instead a kaleidoscopic complex of painterly gestures in bejeweled hues, a complex of dripping, bleeding runnels of surreal chromaticism. The motif of the fractured body, then, of the breakdown of bodily integrity, dovetails, at both visual and conceptual levels, with an inflected, irregular mode of mimesis, a grammar of naturalism interrupted by hints of the sort of Pollock-ian painterliness that came to dominate the Ab Ex school – as if, at the very point where the mimetically-depicted human body surrendered its fleshly unity, the means of representation itself relinquished any claims to verisimilitude, assuming instead the abstraction of process-oriented actionism, with the conceptual shift occurring spatially at the site of a corporeal distortion.
Untitled (unknown date), Huang Wei. Oil on linen (and video projection).
Perhaps no other work in the show encapsulates, or crystallizes, the issues concerning the Huang Wei myth better than the untitled piece (above), a seemingly unfinished, undated/undateable canvas featuring a troika of figures including two unidentified personages – although one of those bears a rather uncanny likeness to Singapore’s eminent Minister Mentor – as well as a reproduction of Caravaggio’s version of David with the Head of Goliath in the Borghese gallery. The curator – I think – decided to augment the piece, such as it were: Oei projected video footage of the head of Goliath, said to be a self-portrait of Caravaggio, over its painted counterpart, a projection which assumed the angular contours of a four-sided canvas, thus imposing onto the real canvas a meta-painting of flickering light, with the subject matter of both – Goliath’s, or the artist’s head – meeting in a precisely calibrated position. One, an actual, three-dimensional object, a work sedimented in numerous layers of contextual, iconographic and semantic uncertainties; the other, a thing of light and shadow, insubstantial as the evacuated meanings behind the first. One, an obscure artist unknown in his time and now dead; the other, a curator-archeologist whose personal presence at the site of the first seems in equal parts excavation and intervention.
It’s all almost delectably confused.
The cab ride there, which included two spins down the length of Jalan Cempaka and a couple of mini-tours of the surrounding housing estates, cost me 30 RM. Matching up addresses and topographical reality can be a hazardous business in Kuala Lumpur.
Well worth it though, all things considered.
The House of Matahati, which evolved out of the Matahati collective founded by a group of young Malaysian artists in the late ’80s, is definitely one of the highlights on the KL art circuit (the latter, unfortunately, a rather nondescript one). Its current offering, Drawing a Distance: Drawings from 3 cities, boasts quite a few gems: works from Filipino Victor Balanon’s Dream of the Nameless Hundred series; Indonesian Maryanto’s etchings on photographic paper; Nurrachmat Widyasena’s Each One Was a Hero; Malaysian Lim Keh Soon’s whimsical, macabre little figures, in the spirit of Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies perhaps.
Pictures below; enjoy.
Works by Poodien. [left] Brave Old World: Raya Untuk Ravana (2012), charcoal, acrylic & ink on canvas. [right] Brave Old World: Langkapuri Yang Lain, Melarut ufuk, Berpasak Alih (2012), shadow puppet & charcoal on paper.
Local art concern, Artesan Gallery + Studio, has gleaming, pristine new digs at the Raffles Hotel.
And I do mean gleaming.
Not that their Bukit Timah home was lacking — if anything, the space was both charming and cozy — but in a sense the present move really marks an arrival of sorts.
The inaugural show is a solo presentation of Filipino artist Roldan “Manok” Ventura‘s latest work.
Worth a check-out: Valentine Willie’s latest show, Wawasan 2020: The Malaysian Dream.
Wawasan takes as its jumping-off point Mahathir’s programmatic vision of Malaysia in the year 2020: a progressive, affluent, unified utopia, no longer “developing” but “developed” – to use an often ill-adjudicated prescription. The show presents a fairly diverse congregation of the country’s emerging generation of artists, a cross-section of imaginaries conjuring “their own future through the lens of the past, present and beyond, taking Malaysia’s plans for modernity as outlined in Wawasan 2020 (Vision 2020) … The premise being that by 2020 Malaysia would be a self sufficient industrialised nation that encompasses economic prosperity, social well being, world class education and political stability .” It “seeks to uncover how do [sic] artists feel about where Malaysia is going given the current socio-political landscape of the country. What are the concerns, anxieties, optimisms, and hopes for the future of Malaysia Boleh?”
The de-suturing, in other words, of faultlines running beneath the level of uncritically affirmative public discourse in Malaysia – the political, religious and racial fractures exposed by even the slightest social judders, so close to the surface of the everyday do they operate – constitutes the chief thematic thrust. Immediacy of expression seems to be key to the most compelling articulations here: Jalaini Abu Hassan’s imbrication of various gestures, materialities and referential orbits in The Prince and the Pauper; the excavation of social invisibility sedimented in squatter sub-culture by Eiffel Chong; Gan Chin Lee’s disrupted tableau limning the contours of various alterities; Anurendra Jegadeva’s iconographic mash-up of personal narratives and marginalized historical and political motifs; Sharon Chin’s installation dealing with outlawed texts, which invites the viewer’s participation and subsequently emits a flashing light and screeching noise, the resultant sensorial trauma evoking in a very visceral way the public histrionics attending the censored object and its perceived transgressions.
Other works seemed less cogent – or remained inadequately contextualized – but the show’s inspiration is laudable.
Wawasan 2020 runs at Valentine Willie Fine Art till 22 April.
The Gillman Barracks opens in September.
For those who can’t wait, a detailed write-up in The Straits Times today.
The final price tag ? – ten million big ones. Gotta love Singapore.
ENGINEERED FOR THE ARTS
Will the planning of Gillman Barracks arts hub by the government stifle or help the arts in Singapore?
By Adeline Chia. Published February 16, 2012.
The vision for the Gillman Barracks is a brave and ambitious one: a cluster of top art galleries from around the world, housed in quaint historical buildings nestled in leafy surrounds.
The art on show is a mixture of the cutting edge and the established, including A-list artists such as Takeshi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara and Annie Leibovitz.
It aims to draw visitors from the jetsetting art collector to the window- shopping man on the street. In other words: ‘an iconic international destination for contemporary art in Asia’, according to the official literature.
Gillman Barracks is the bold new step in Singapore’s continuous march to become a global arts city – by building an arts district akin to Beijing’s 798 Art District, South Korea’s Heyri Art Village or New York’s Chelsea.
The difference is that these art districts abroad have sprung up naturally while Gillman is a government-led project. Its development is planned by the Economic Development Board, Jurong Town Corporation and the National Arts Council at a cost of about $10 million.
In the past few years, Singapore has grown pretty serious about contemporary visual art.
Two international art fairs, the high-end Art Stage Singapore and the mid-priced Affordable Art Fair, have taken off. International galleries have also started moving in, such as Art Plural Gallery opened by Swiss art dealer Frederic De Senarclens.
In terms of arts infrastructure, things are buoyed by the development of the $80-million Singapore Freeport, a storage space for art, with international auction house Christie’s as the main tenant.
In 2015, there is another biggie: the much-anticipated opening of The National Art Gallery, a 60,000 sq m gallery that will be housed in the City Hall and the former Supreme Court buildings. The institution will focus on South-east Asian art and its renovations will cost an estimated $530 million.
With Gillman Barracks, scheduled to open with a bang in September with all the galleries ready for business, Singapore’s art race goes into turbo mode. But even before the cluster throws open its doors, sceptics are asking if it is possible to engineer an arts hub, Singapore-style, by using a committee to choose a winning combination of tenants.
Thirteen galleries form the first wave of tenants in the former colonial army barracks located off Alexandra Road.
They include Ota Fine Arts, representing Japanese superstar artist Yayoi ‘polka dot’ Kusama; Sundaram Tagore Gallery, carrying the works of Leibovitz and American abstract painter Frank Stella; and ShanghART Gallery, representing top Chinese painter Zeng Fanzhi.
The galleries are supposed to pay commercial rates and those approached by Life! said they have not been given discounts or other monetary incentives to set up shop here. In a call for applicants released by the Economic Development Board last year, rental rates were cited as between $31.50 and $35.50 a sq m a month.
Most arts observers welcome the list of galleries in Gillman. Mr Wang Zineng, 30, a South-east Asian specialist at Christie’s, calls it ‘an exciting mix that promotes inter-Asian interactions and conversations’.
But he is worried about the ‘long-term sustainability of the project’. ‘In any such project, there is seed money. After that money is spent, what happens? The commercial viability remains a question.’
A challenge is overcoming the ‘saturation of the art market in Asia’, including Hong Kong’s buzzing commercial art scene and the India Art Fair. ‘There are a lot of art fairs and auctions around. How do you sustain the interest of collectors?’ he adds.
Prominent Malaysian gallerist Valentine Willie, 57, is blunt in his assessment: ‘In a sense, Gillman has already failed.’
He owns four galleries in South-east Asia under the Valentine Willie Fine Art name.
‘Places such as Chelsea and 798 grew as a result of a need or a demand. Here, the Government is manufacturing the demand,’ he says.
He points to Hong Kong, where rents are exorbitant and yet the city attracts top-shelf international galleries such as London’s White Cube, whose roster includes well-known British contemporary artists Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, and Gagosian Gallery, a supergallery chain owned by influential American dealer Larry Gagosian.
Mr Willie says: ‘No government was there to give you some nice old buildings. Hong Kong is just where the action is. You can’t manufacture that. EDB of all agencies should understand basic economics: you can’t manufacture demand.’
He adds that the Economic Development Board should instead help existing arts clusters such as Artspace@Helutrans in Tanjong Pagar Distripark, a 70,000 sq ft warehouse space owned by Helutrans, an arts handling firm.
The Singapore branch of Mr Willie’s gallery is situated there, together with three other galleries: Galerie Steph, Ikkan Art International and ReDot Fine Art Gallery.
He says: ‘Instead of trying to harness the energy of an existing hub and helping it, they are trying to kill it. It’s unfair competition.’
Another Artspace@Helutrans tenant has a different view. Japanese art dealer and gallerist Ikkan Sanada, 61, who moved his long-standing New York base to Singapore, says: ‘I don’t believe in government intervention, especially in art.’
But he says that sometimes some initial help can ‘kick off arts activity’.
He opened his gallery in May last year and shows works by top names such as photographer Cindy Sherman, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and British ‘bad boy’ Damien Hirst.
He says: ‘I welcome the Gillman Barracks. It provides a diversity of galleries, which is good for the arts community.’
He says that the next two to three years will be crucial in testing the commercial viability of the cluster.
‘While the market can be influenced and improved by initial investment, you can’t control or force the public to start buying art. If the buyers don’t come and sales don’t materialise, then some galleries may have to leave. We have to wait and see.’
An EDB spokeman says that the Gillman Barracks was chosen as a venue because, according to industry feedback, ‘a successful arts cluster should have unique architectural and/or historical characteristics’.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority then proposed the Gillman site because of its 14 low-rise military-style buildings and lush green surroundings. The entire development will yield 9,000 sq m of space for lease, with a tenancy term of three years with an option to extend for another three years.
Dr Eugene Tan, 38, programme director of EDB’s Lifestyle Programme Office who is overseeing the Gillman Barracks’ development, says that it was necessary for the Government to step in to ‘address the failures of the open market’ to develop a successful arts cluster.
‘Many arts clusters which have been left to develop freely by private developers have succumbed to short-term pressures to lease spaces to the highest bidder,’ he says.
As a result, art businesses are priced out by high-end bars and restaurants.
‘This issue is particularly pressing in land-scarce Singapore. As many commercial tenants compete aggressively on price, there are limited options for emerging clusters of art businesses to grow organically over the long term.’
He adds that Gillman Barracks is not modelled after any particular arts cluster abroad.
The Gillman galleries certainly buy into his dream. Many of them say that they have chosen Singapore to be closer to their South-east Asian clients, and because Singapore is an emerging centre for the thriving art market in Asia.
Mr Ota Hidenori, 52, whose Tokyo- based Ota Fine Arts is opening its first 108 sq m outpost in Singapore, says: ‘Singapore is just starting out and I want to be one of the first players here.’
His gallery carries the work of artists such as Kusama and video artist Hiraki Sawa.
He says Singapore is a good base to tap into the booming art market in Asia, given its multi-cultural identity and the quality of its public museums and arts professionals.
New York-based gallerist Sundaram Tagore, who owns an eponymous chain of galleries in New York, Beverly Hills and Hong Kong, also believes in Singapore as an emerging arts hub. Its central location in Asia leaves it well-poised to tap into his collector base from Dubai to Australia. His gallery space in Gillman is about 4,500 sq ft.
The 52-year-old says that his gallery was not given any financial incentive, but the power of EDB ‘collectively marketing’ the Gillman Barracks as a serious arts cluster with a strong roster of galleries is attractive to him.
As for the place being master planned, he says: ‘Singapore doesn’t have the benefit of history, unlike the great centres of art such as New York, London, Berlin, Tokyo. When you are trying to create things speedily, you need a stimulus. Here it happens to be the Government. If you wait for organic development, you could be waiting forever.’
ShanghART’s Swiss director Lorenz Helbling, who is in his 50s, says that he decided to come into Singapore because it is an ‘emerging, interesting place’.
‘So many cultures come together here. As a market, I don’t know how bright it is. Who knows? But most of the time, we don’t do things for commercial interest. It’s difficult to know what collectors want. We just do our bit and hope that collectors follow.’
ShanghART is one of the most influential galleries in China devoted to contemporary art, and it was chosen as one of the top 75 galleries of the 20th century by Taschen, the German art and design publisher.
Singapore is its first gallery outside Shanghai and its repertoire features some of the biggest names in Chinese art such as Zeng, Chen Xiaoyun and Ding Yi. Its space in Gillman is just over 100 sq m.
Mr Helbling did not consider Hong Kong as an option because ‘there’s too much shopping’.
‘In Singapore, I feel that you can develop an artistic kind of feeling, it doesn’t feel too commercial.’
Most arts observers say that it is early days yet, but agree that this is a high-stakes game that requires careful management.
Curator and art consultant Lindy Poh, 41, acknowledges that government agencies face a ‘double bind’ when engineering arts clusters.
She says that art clusters such as Soho and 798 had a strong indie vibe (‘an X factor’) at certain points of their development, which ran counter to state intervention, which suggests bureaucracy and surveillance.
She says: ‘Our art market is very small and benefits from certain boosts, and government agencies have their own pressures to deliver on key performance indicators.
‘But if agencies are perceived as engineering the creative sector excessively, they are also seen as stripping it of its aura of independence.’
Dr Tan has a delicate task ahead, but he has grand plans for Gillman Barracks. He says: ‘Apart from making it an international destination and marketplace for contemporary art in Asia, I want it to be the place where you can see and experience the best and most innovative art of your times.’
Is this a beautiful dream or the prophecy for a brave, new chapter in Singapore’s arts development? Only time can tell. But Mr Jasdeep Sandhu, 45, owner of Gajah Gallery, says that government support gives the Gillman galleries ‘a bit of a tail wind’.
He adds: ‘It’s a business decision that these guys are making to come here. They are sharp business people who see its potential. It means they have confidence in Singapore as a spot for art.’
‘Places such as Chelsea and 798 grew as a result of a need or a demand. Here, the Government is manufacturing the demand. Instead of trying to harness the energy of an existing hub and helping it, they are trying to kill it’
Malaysian gallerist Valentine Willie
‘Singapore doesn’t have the benefit of history, unlike the great centres of art such as New York, Tokyo. When you are trying to create things speedily, you need a stimulus… If you wait for organic development, you could be waiting forever’
New York-based gallerist Sundaram Tagore
Galleries at Gillman
EQUATOR ART PROJECTS (Indonesia)
Gallery directors: Deddy Irianto and Tony Godfrey
Artists: Agus Suwage, Arahmaiani, Ay Tjoe Christine
FOST GALLERY (Singapore)
Gallery director: Stephanie Fong
Artists: Chun Kai Feng, Chun Kai Qun, Tang Ling Nah, Namiko Chan Takahashi
KAIKAI KIKI GALLERY (Japan)
Gallery director: Takashi Murakami
Artists: Takashi Murakami, Anri Sala, Aya Takano, Mr.
FUTURE PERFECT (Australia)
Gallery directors: David Teh and Jasper Knight
Artists: Adam Cullen, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Ho Tzu Nyen
MIZUMA GALLERY (Japan)
Gallery director: Mizuma Sueo
Artists: Makoto Aida, Konoike Tomoko, Ikeda Manabu
OTA FINE ARTS (Japan)
Gallery director: Ota Hidenori
Artists: Yayoi Kusama, Hiraki Sawa and Tomoko Kashiki
PEARL LAM GALLERIES (China)
Gallery director: Pearl Lam
Artists: Zhang Huan, Zhu Jinshi, Li Tianbing
SHANGHART GALLERY (China)
Gallery director: Lorenz Helbling
Artists: Zeng Fanzhi, Chen Xiaoyun, Ding Yi
SILVERLENS (The Philippines)
Gallery directors: Isa Lorenzo and Neli Go
Artists: Patricia Eustaquio, Frank Callaghan, Wawi Navarroza
SPACE COTTONSEED (Korea)
Gallery director: Janice Kim
Artists: Moon Kyungwon, Lee Seahyun, Choi Hochul
SUNDARAM TAGORE GALLERY (US)
Gallery director: Sundaram Tagore
Artists: Annie Leibovitz, Robert Polidori, Frank Stella
THE DRAWING ROOM (The Philippines)
Gallery director: Cesar Villalon Jr
Artists: Jose Legaspi, Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, Kawayan De Guia
TOMIO KOYAMA GALLERY (Japan)
Gallery director: Tomio Koyama
Artists: Yoshitomo Nara, Franz Ackermann, Mika Ninagawa
Currently on view at MOCA Loewen: Sui Jianguo’s Imprisonment and Power, curated by legendary Chinese critic Li Xianting.
The show though is really just Sui’s latest commissioned piece, Restrained Power (below): an iron ball, some 2 meters in diameter, rolls back and forth in an industrial crate – creating the most god almighty racket while doing it. Even in the open, it would have sounded like metallic peals of thunder; in an enclosed space, where the uproar had the privilege of er, reverberation, it sounded like the world was coming to an ear-splitting end. (See the clip below.)
The official write-up:
Sui Jianguo’s large scale installation Restrained Power hefts eight tons and consisted of a metal container – 15 meters in length, 2.5 meters in height, and 2.5 meters in width – and an iron ball (5mm thickness and 2 meters in diameter) as well as related power devices. On display, the huge and covered metal container occupies considerable space in the museum. The ball, driven by some power source, rolls inside and collides with the container to make a deafening sound. The audiences can only see a huge metal container from the outside without being able to see what and how the sounds come about: They can hear the continuous rattle and every 27 second [sic] a deafening sound comes out of the metal container.
The metal container creates an impression of iron curtain [sic] or black box – strong and cold. The container, the ball and the power source inside the container form a relationship of constrain [sic] and collision. Restrained Power thus is a metaphorical installation about imprisonment and struggle. It is Sui Jianguo’s expression of his inner feelings and certainly could also be read as an implied meaning of the living environment.
Image (bottom) from CAFA’s site.
Sui Jianguo’s Restrained Power. (It’s too dark to discern much, but turn the sound up.)
The sheer visceral impact of the piece is worth schlepping out to the Dempsey area for. If one doesn’t appreciate the sensorial terror, then perhaps Restrained Power can be viewed as an exercise in nerve: the ball comes straight at the peephole, and the viewer. It would take a spine of steel to keep one’s eye there while it was barrelling thunderously towards you – like the wrath of god.
Maybe Sui took a cue from the Indy Jones flick with the giant ball in the temple.
It really is.
Especially when it involves big names.
A piece by Addy Chia in today’s Life! section: apparently local/Malaysian gallery owner and power player in the art scene hereabouts, Valentine Willie, got into a bit of a spat with Elena Rudolf – wife of the redoubtable Lorenzo Rudolf, late of Art Basel, and who’s now helming Art Stage Singapore.
(Ms. Chia, by the way, for those of you who may not have kept up, is a bit of a straight talker. Her editorial on the K-pop phenomenon, which compared the legions of local fans to a herd of hypnotized cultists, resulted in death threats via Twitter. For a while back there, Addy was public enemy numero uno among a certain demographic. I’m sure she still is.)
She’s penned a couple of other pieces on the Art Stage event this year, but this one really had me all agog.
You know, the hyper-commercialization of contemporary art has its perks: entertainment value. Nothing like arty types behaving badly (rather than boozing and schmoozing and spending obscene amounts of money the rest of us plebs can’t afford on a single painting, which we all knew they did anyways).
ROW OVER TORN GUESTBOOK
By Adeline Chia. Published: 21 January 2012.
A spat has broken out in the visual arts community after prominent gallerist Valentine Willie posted an irate Facebook post about the behaviour of one of the organisers of Art Stage.
Art Stage is the premier contemporary art fair held in Singapore that concluded last Sunday.
Mr Willie, 57, who owns a string of art galleries under the Valentine Willie Fine Art name in South-east Asia, wrote for his status update on Facebook on Wednesday: ‘Today, i (sic) had the most unpleasant experience in my 18 years in the art world.’
He then referred to an incident at Sangkring Art Space in Yogyakarta involving Mrs Maria Elena Rudolf, the wife of Art Stage director Lorenzo Rudolf, who is in charge of VIP relations for the four-day fair.
Mr Willie wrote that she was leading a group of VIP art collectors from Art Stage on a tour of Sangkring Art Space, a five-year-old gallery owned by Balinese painter Putu Sutawijaya. The collectors had signed in the gallery’s guestbook and left their contact details.
He said that Mrs Rudolf tore the page of contact details out of the guestbook while she muttered: ‘I don’t want you people stealing this list.’
He wrote in the post: ‘How awful and insulting is that?’
In response, Art Stage released a statement yesterday saying that Mrs Rudolf had removed the page ‘out of necessity’ and to ‘protect the collectors’ privacy’. She said that Mr Willie was copying the contact information into his mobile phone.
The statement said that the trip to Indonesia, which started on Sunday, was exclusively limited to members of Art Stage Singapore Collectors Club and admission to the events on the itinerary was by invitation only.
It said that Mr Willie, whom it described as ‘the only leading gallery based in Singapore who declined to support Art Stage Singapore 2012 and to exhibit at the fair’, had from the start of the trip, tried repeatedly to ‘insinuate’ himself into the collectors’ group.
Mrs Rudolf, 54, said that the group was surprised to see Mr Willie at the gallery and when she found him copying the contact details in the guest book, she asked him to respect the group’s privacy. Later, she removed the page ‘out of necessity” and after informing the gallery.
Mr Willie denied that he had tried to find out about the group’s itinerary. He said that Sutawijaya had invited him to the gallery to help with the hanging of his works and to give the collectors a briefing.
He said he already knew some of the collectors before the trip and had their name cards. He took only one new card at Sangkring and another collector gave him her contact details.
As for copying from the guestbook, he said: ‘I don’t copy.’
Ms Jenni Vi, co-owner of Sangkring Art Gallery and Sutawijaya’s wife, told Life! over the telephone from Yogyakarta that the experience was a ‘nightmare’ and ‘that woman really insulted us’.
She added: ‘I should have said, ‘Get out of here!”
Mrs Vi, 39, said that Mrs Rudolf was ‘angry’ to find that Sangkring was an art gallery and not an artist studio, and was displeased to see Mr Willie at the gallery.
‘But Willie is my business partner. His office is here. How can I chase him away?’ Mrs Vi said. Mr Willie programmes the exhibitions at Sangkring and holds eight exhibitions a year at the space. He is also Sutawijaya’s dealer in Malaysia.
Ms Vi added that Mrs Rudolf told her not to ask the collectors to leave their contact details.
She said that when she showed the collectors her husband’s artworks, Mrs Rudolf accused her of ‘shaming my husband because I wanted to sell the paintings’. She said that Mrs Rudolf did tell her that she wanted to remove the page of contacts. ‘I had lost so much face. I said, ‘If you want to tear, just tear. Please go quickly.”
Mr Willie’s Facebook post about Mrs Rudolf’s behaviour has gone viral in the arts community. He told Life! on the telephone from Jakarta: ‘Pity I was too well brought up, I would have slapped her.’
Most art galleries Life! spoke to said they keep the details of their clientele confidential and do not share them with third parties. But they said that they have never come across anyone tearing a page out of a guestbook.
Art-2 Gallery owner Vera Ong, 54, who is vice-president of the Art Galleries Association in Singapore, said that galleries keep their client database confidential to respect the privacy of their collectors and to protect their own businesses.
Ms Ong, whose gallery is in Mica Building, did not take part in Art Stage.
Mr Gary Sng, 44, director of Collectors Contemporary, said client mailing lists are never shared. ‘We don’t ask galleries and galleries don’t ask us.’
Commenting on Mrs Rudolf’s actions, he said: ‘The collectors signed the book, so they have given permission to give their contacts away. And you can’t just tear up people’s property.’
Collectors Contemporary, a local gallery which deals in Western contemporary art, took part in Art Stage last year. It did not have a booth this year.
Other galleries have a more open-minded approach in sharing customers.
MAD Museum of Art & Design’s owner Jasmine Tay, 45, said she sometimes takes her customers to other dealers. ‘I act as a consultant and tell them what’s good. If you let other people earn, how much will you lose?’
She added that most dealers represent different artists anyway. ‘And if you are a professional dealer, people know your abilities and will come to you.’
Her gallery in Mandarin Gallery took part in Art Stage last year but not this year. She said Mrs Rudolf’s actions were ‘unprofessional’. ‘People left their names so they wanted the gallery to send them information. She had no right to damage the guestbook.’
Mr Richard Koh, 47, of Richard Koh Fine Art, said: ‘In South-east Asia and in Singapore especially, everybody knows everybody. I don’t know why people are so secretive over their clientele.’
He has two galleries in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore and specialises in Southeast Asian art.
The Malaysian gallerist, who took part in both editions of Art Stage, said that he takes his international clients to other galleries. ‘An art collector collects art. Not just art from a certain gallery. You can’t build a collection from one gallery alone.’
The latest name in contemporary art hereabouts: the Gillman Barracks.
Apparently the shortlist of galleries to be featured at Gillman has some up in arms – the latest expression of a post-colonial hangover that simply refuses to die. Or, as an earlier piece by fellow blogger 23princessroad on TNAGS’ search for a new director dubs it, the Pinkerton Syndrome.
A letter in today’s Life! section of The Straits Times sums up that position (below).
MAKE SPACE FOR LOCAL ART
I refer to Adeline Chia’s story Art’s Big Names Fall In At Gillman (Life!, Jan 13).
After the list of commercial galleries awarded the privilege of holding court at Gillman Barracks for the next three years was officially announced, many in the arts community were disappointed, myself included.
First, there is a grand total of one Singapore gallery.
Tight curatorial control may have been exercised over the selection of the galleries but I find it inconceivable that only one local gallery made the cut.
Some prominent local gallerists who applied were turned down.
Other galleries which were apparently encouraged to apply simply did not in the end.
So much for elevating the status of local visual arts endeavours.
This only reinforces the notion prevalent among many in the arts community that locals are being bypassed in the Government’s bid to become world-class.
Second, the mix of galleries is lopsided as four out of the 13 galleries are from Japan.
I adore contemporary Japanese art but having four Japanese galleries is definitely an overkill, especially considering there is no gallery from the Middle East, Indochina, South America and Europe.
Considering that there is so much emphasis on Singapore being a hub for South-east Asian art, the paucity of galleries from the region is also disconcerting.
As about 20 galleries in total have been planned for the enclave, I hope that the imbalance will be addressed so that when the Gillman Barracks finally becomes fully operational, we will be proud to call it our own.
Aren’t these just f*cking amazing ?
These drawings are the latest from Filipino artist Victor Balanon.
Balanon had a solo show at the Artesan Gallery (run by the charming Roberta Dans) in Singapore last year, which is where I met him. His practice is informed by a keen interest in film – clearly – and the Italians in particular. (We bonded over a mutual love for Antonioni.)