Posts Tagged ‘Singapore culture’
Bruce Davidson‘s been on the mind lately.
Was revisiting his Subway book for a short project I’m currently working on with a friend (apropos of the SKL0 affair). The images are justifiably admired: graceful, single-minded, beguilingly insalubrious snapshots of a New York City I thought I was going to discover when I moved there in the early 2000s — only to find, of course, that that world of urban decay, of dirt and graffiti and muggings and CBGB and Bernhard Goetz, had long given way to what, by then, statistics proved was the safest large city in the country. (A fact corroborated by the number of Starbucks cafes and D’agostino’s supermarkets I found on every block. Both phenomena thanks in large part to Giuliani-driven gentrification.)
But that’s not the point here.
Another pal and I were having drinks at a rooftop bar a couple of nights ago: a cool, balmy evening, with a slight breeze and a couple of beers (and the high of seeing one’s name on a wall) and talk for some reason turned to our adolescent days — misspent adolescence, in my case.
Of playing hooky, of screwing up the ‘O’s, of hiding out in the bathrooms to smoke during P.E. lessons …
Fast-forward two decades later, and sometimes I’d dream of some amateur photog out there who’s amassed an unseen stash of images capturing the subculture of ’90s ‘kids’: the doc marts and Birkenstocks, the Guess berms, the Hunting World tees, the black JPG wallets and the Sonia Rykiel quilted bags, the tea dances at Fire and hanging out at the McDonald’s outlet at Centrepoint … You know, the way Carol Jerrems did for the Sharpie movement in Melbourne, or Gavin Watson’s punks and skinheads.
The pal and I soon moved on to other topics, but the exchange, however brief, dredged up out of the cold-freeze of consciousness a younger self I haven’t seen around in a while. A younger, hungrier, more starry-eyed self. And, oddly enough, he’s been missed.
The images here are from another iconic Bruce Davidson project, his Brooklyn Gang series, which preceded the work of Jerrems and Watson. According to one commentator, it “stands as one of the first in-depth photographic records of rebellious postwar youth culture”:
In 1959, there were about 1,000 gang members in New York City, mainly teenage males from ethnically-defined neighbourhoods in the outer boroughs. In the spring of that year, Bruce Davidson read a newspaper article about outbreaks of street fighting in Prospect Park and travelled across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan in search of a gang to photograph.
“I met a group of teenagers called the Jokers,” he wrote in the afterword to his seminal book of insider reportage, Brooklyn Gang. “I was 25 and they were about 16. I could easily have been taken for one of them.”
…… For several months Davidson followed the Jokers on their endless wanderings around their Brooklyn turf and beyond. He captured them hanging out in Prospect Park, where outdoor dances were held on weekend summer nights, and lounging on the beach at Coney Island. He snapped the young men as they killed time in a neighbourhood diner called Helen’s Candy Store. In his photographs, the Jokers look both tough and innocent, uncertain adolescent kids caught in that hinterland between childhood and – this being New York – premature adulthood.
(Read the full Guardian article here.)
More pictures from the series below. The opening image at the top of the post, though, pretty much encapsulates my sentiments about vanished selves and halycon springs: a seemingly perfect moment fixed in monochrome, a taxidermic impression of a street corner, reckless hijinks, an endless stretch of street, and the splintered corona of a late-afternoon sunbeam scintillating out of an open sky — the Peter Pan-nish promise of the eternal good vibe.
The mythology of memory ……
Here’s perhaps the perfect counterpoint (culled from one of the most famous novels of prodigal youth):
I don’t even know what I was running for — I guess I just felt like it. After I got across the road, I felt like I was sort of disappearing. It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like disappearing every time you crossed a road.
So apparently she got picked up by the cops yesterday.
Who ? The “Press until shiok” sticker lady. Don’t know who that is ? See this abbreviated ST article.
The guerrilla art scene in Singapore gets slapped in the face.
Image of the day: American painter Wayne Gonzales’ Seated Crowd, which depicts a movie audience. Gonzales, a native of New Orleans (one of my favourite places in the world, which is saying a lot), recently returned to the city of his birth to stage his first major solo exhibition in the country.
It’s a topical choice.
The following piece appeared in today’s edition of my paper - apparently the proliferation of CCTVs across public space in Singapore has now reached movie theatres as well, with anti-piracy measures being cited as the chief reason behind the move.
In other words, the watchers are now being watched, the subjects of the gaze simultaneously its objects.
Surveillance, in the Foucault-ian sense, has taken interesting new turns.
CCTVS TO KEEP TABS ON FILM PIRATES
By Tong Jia Han. Published: Apr 16, 2012.
Moviegoers, take note: Don’t be surprised to see an announcement flashed on the silver screen just before movies are screened, to inform you that you are being watched.
Cinema operators told my paper that they have begun installing closed-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras not just in the common spaces of their cineplexes, but in movie halls as well, citing security and movie piracy as reasons for doing so.
Over the last two years, film distributor and movie-theatre chain Shaw Theatres has installed CCTV cameras in all its newly established and renovated multiplexes, such as JCube and Lido.
Lido, located in Shaw House in Orchard Road, re-opened after renovation works in May last year while JCube, a mall in Jurong East where the Cineplex is located, opened on April 5.
Mr Terence ong,Hong, vice-president of media for Shaw Theatres, said that the CCTV cameras are meant mainly for anti-piracy purposes.
“However, we also realized that they allow us to trouble-shoot (in the event of) any disputes involving cinema operators or customers,” he said.
“Only authorised personnel have access to the CCTVs and their footage,” he added.
Mr Heng said there are plans to have CCTV cameras installed at all seven of Shaw’s multiplexes in due course.
The CCTV cameras have also helped in police investigations into one case so far, he said, without providing details.
A spokesman for leisure and entertainment group Cathay Organisation Holdings said that CCTV cameras are installed on their premises, especially at entrances, exits and in projection rooms.
The spokesman added that night-vision binoculars are also used to monitor piracy activities.
The Motion Picture Association (MPA) reported that about 90 per cent of newly released movies that are pirated can be traced to thieves who use digital recording devices in cinemas.
Mr Edward Neubronner, vice-president and regional operations officer of MPA Asia Pacific, said: “Despite measures to inform moviegoers that the use of recording devices is prohibited in cinemas, we still see cases involving students or foreign nationals caught using their mobile phones to record.
“It is of paramount importance to the local film industry that measures to deter illegal camcording remain a priority.”
Some cinema patrons are uneasy over the move.
School teacher Chue Weng Fai, 32, said: “It seems like an invasion of privacy and feels strange knowing that there are cameras watching your every move.”
Secretary Philicia Mok, 38, felt that the use of CCTV cameras to curb piracy would have limited success.
She said: “There are many ways to skin a cat. people will still find a way to steal content if they want to.”
Image from Shaw Online.
THE HUGO BOSS PRIZE 2010: Hans-Peter Feldmann at the Guggenheim Museum. Image from an article on freshome.
So a long-awaited review on local ministerial pay is finally out.
A couple of days ago, TODAYonline reported the following:
The committee set up to review ministerial salaries has submitted its report to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and the Government is now studying the recommendations.
Channel NewsAsia understands that the report is expected to be made public early next month.
It also understands from several Members of Parliament (MPs) that the report is expected to be debated in Parliament soon. Next month could see two sessions of Parliament- one on Jan 9 as announced by the Clerk of Parliament – and a second sitting on Jan 16.
However, committee chairman Gerard Ee had said earlier that, with regard to how and when the report will be made public, the committee will stand guided by the Prime Minister.
The report comes after nearly seven months of consultations with the public, politicians and human resource experts. The review was announced by Mr Lee at the swearing-in ceremony of the new Cabinet at the Istana on May 21 this year, following the General Election.
Political salaries are currently pegged to top private sector pay.
Analysts say the report will likely go through a first run with Cabinet ministers before details are released to People’s Action Party MPs, possibly at the party caucus on Jan 3. They will have to decide whether to accept the report, or if they would go even further than what have been recommended.
They may even consider whether the recommendations will set the tone for top public sector pay.
Once these issues have been discussed, the report will be made public and debated in Parliament.
Analysts say it is important that the report is clear on the rationale for its recommendations, and that the new formula is seen as fair and acceptable.
The new wages will be backdated to May 21.
(Read the original here.)
Image from freshome.
Just to put into perspective that claim about managerial … sorry, ministerial salaries being “pegged to top private sector pay”, this is what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:
In April 2007, the Prime Minister’s annual salary increased to S$3.1 million (US$2.05 million), about five times that of the then President of the United StatesGeorge W. Bush who earned US$400,000. The annual entry-level salary for ministers increased from $1.2 million to $1.6 million, and was projected to rise to 88% of the private sector benchmark by the end of 2008. Almost half of ministers’ pay packages was made up of an individual performance bonus decided by the Prime Minister, and a variable bonus component based on the country’s prevailing gross domestic product and capped at eight months of each minister’s annual salary. The pay increases were justified by the Government on the grounds that the salaries had to keep pace with those in the private sector to attract the best talent and to avoid corruption ……
In 2008, the annual salary for entry-level ministers was $1,924,300. In view of the worsening economic crisis in 2008–2009, as of January 2009 the Prime Minister’s salary was cut to $3.04 million, while the pay of ministerial-grade officers was reduced by 18% to $1.57 million. In November 2009 the Public Service Division announced that pay increments would be deferred for a second time in 2010 because of the uncertain economic recovery. A minister’s 2009 salary of $1,494,700 per year was therefore 22% lower than what he or she received in 2008.
(The relevant article here.)
The artist and his money. I mean, art. Image from T Magazine’s blog.
In anticipation of this momentous event (the findings of the report have yet to be made public), I’ve included pictures of Hans-Peter Feldmann’s installation last year at the Guggenheim, where he tacked a hundred thousand used dollar bills to the wall of a gallery. Feldmann had won the 2010 Hugo Boss Prize – and the prize money, unsurprisingly, was a hundred grand.
From a write-up on the Guggenheim’s site:
The installation, which uses money that has previously been in circulation, extends the artist’s lifelong obsession with collecting familiar material into simple groupings that reveal a nuanced play of similarity and difference. Throughout his practice, Feldmann has frequently divided an apparent whole into separate components; he has photographed every item in a woman’s wardrobe (All the clothes of a woman, 1973), presented individual images of the strawberries that make up a pound of fruit (One Pound Strawberries, 2005), and created a sequence of 100 portraits showing individuals of every age in a collective lifespan of a century (100 Years, 2001).
Feldmann also has a history of resisting the art world’s commercial structures, issuing his work in unsigned, unlimited editions and retiring from art making altogether for nearly a decade in the 1980s, at which point he gave away or destroyed the works remaining in his possession. Bank notes, like artworks, are objects that have no inherent worth beyond what society agrees to invest them with, and in using them as his medium, Feldmann raises questions about notions of value in art. But his primary interest in the serial display of currency lies less in its status as a symbol of capitalist excess than in its ubiquity as a mass-produced image and a material with which we come into contact every day. At its core, this formal experiment presents an opportunity to experience an abstract concept—a numerical figure and the economic possibilities it entails—as a visual object and an immersive physical environment.
All that green – and still but a fraction of what Singapore’s ministers earn.
When you take quantities out of its numerical abstraction and into the reified realm of money’s material reality, the immediacy of it can be … overwhelming.
Image from freshome.
Apropos of the Sub’s big milestone – which, as JW remarks, means that the institution has now reached official adulthood – this piece by former NMP and ex-artistic co-director of the Sub, Audrey Wong, has been popping up with clockwork-like regularity on my Facebook feed.
It’s worth the read. Some of it is perhaps a little too personal for me – or I just happen to disagree – but there’s a bit in there about how Singaporeans tend to “unconsciously shackle our own imaginations.’
Truer words were never spoken.
The personal angle does provide a nice counterpoint to Pete Schoppert’s ST piece though.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY SUBSTATION !
By Audrey Wong.
So I’ve finally read the article in The Straits Times about The Substation’s 21st anniversary (8 Sept 2011), and the headlines made me sigh – once more, yet another press article about whether The Substation is “relevant” today. The media keeps harping on that. I’m sure Adeline Chia (the reporter) did as much as she could, but I think that our national newspaper could do so much better and come up with more insightful editorial angles. Two other things struck me personally: one, Weng Choy was barely mentioned (not quoted even – perhaps he wasn’t available for an interview, but perhaps the national paper should really go for an in-depth perspective even if it took a little longer to get the story?); and two, my quote (taken from a 20-minute chat with Adeline) was about Timbre. Ha.
But back to the ‘relevance thing’. I’m not so interested in this – I’m really more interested in thinking about ‘what is the art that happens at The Substation and how and why this has connected with people all these years’. And thinking about that took me down the road of thinking about what’s now going on in Singapore’s arts development – not at the level of arts policy, but at the level of the everyday reality of the arts-goer and artists. One clear development that’s taken place since the 2000 Renaissance City Report and the opening of the Esplanade in 2002 was the increasing ‘mainstreaming’ of the arts in Singapore. Once the government said, ‘it’s a go!’ we steamed ahead, and in the top-down fashion of Singapore, it became a game of numbers and hype, in order to win approval – from policy-makers, influencers, the media, and ultimately the masses. The NAC, for instance, always issued a press release after the Singapore Arts Festival which focused on audience numbers and ticket sales, with hardly any discussion of the ‘artistic’ aspect of the festival. Such habits of thought and practice (of looking at numbers, and using numbers as a measure of how much an audience ‘took to’ the artistic work) have become second nature to many Singaporeans and affected how we accept, receive, and perceive the arts. The highly materialistic and results-focused society that’s Singapore has bred a consumerist mentality towards the arts. We’re susceptible to the next big spectacle, the next ‘new’ thing, hype. A lot of present-day culture, especially popular culture, is built on the ‘new’ and the newsworthy: just think of the emphasis in the movie industry and across all the media, of a movie’s opening weekend box office take. When one thinks about it rationally, what’s the actual purpose of this emphasis? It’s not really about whether a movie is good or not, or even whether it’s worth watching; it’s about driving even more ticket sales and grabbing media attention. It’s about pushing the sale of a commodity and driving consumption, and everyone’s bought into this game. But, as Weng Choy reminded us years ago, the ‘new’ had become normal business in contemporary arts in the 1990s. (“The Substation’s Place in Singapore Arts”, http://www.substation.org/about-us/artistic-mission). And sometimes, certain genres of art, artists, places, events, become media darlings because of the spectacle, the money it earns or other reasons, garner the lion’s share of media space and thus, the public mindshare.
What is it that drives people to seek out alternatives to mainstream entertainment? I think it’s something intangible that unfortunately, we don’t discuss a lot in the public sphere. Not in Singapore. But, artists and arts groups might see it through audience responses and feedback forms. What’s this intangible thing? At the risk of sounding overly romantic, it’s about any of these: it takes us out of our narrow banal everyday concerns and our selfish concerns; it provokes us to think about the world; and it just gets us beneath the surface of life and its glittering temptations. I was very moved when one of my students told me about what was recently, his first experience of ‘serious’ theatre in Singapore. He was someone who had always focused on bread-and-butter issues, but he attended the “Remembering William Teo” event at The Substation and subsequently went to see TheatreStrays’ performance, “What the Dog Knows”. He responded to the performance directly, emotionally and intellectually, and developed an interest in and admiration for William Teo and other practitioners who passionately dedicated themselves to the craft of theatre without consideration of material rewards. In short, it was a deeper experience of life.
“Unless artists are capable of grappling with the full and unmitigated force of the complications of history, the dilemmas of modernity, the complexities of life as it is lived collectively by men, women and children, they will never be capable of making great art … There can be no great art, no living culture, without great lives, at least lives lived not just expansively but also more deeply.”
Living deeply, perhaps, is what attracts us to the arts. And maybe we Singaporeans could do with a reminder about this, every so often. Earlier this week, during consultations for first-year BA Arts Management students at LASALLE, one student told me that she enjoyed reading an article about how the media’s depiction of women affects social norms and influences the self-image of young women and girls. She had not seriously thought about these issues before, she said, and she was glad to have gone beyond the surface, and glad that it showed her truly what it meant “not to judge a book by its cover”.
Another aspect of living meaningfully has to be about making connections with our deeper selves, humanity, and others. I think of the artists who continue to gravitate towards The Substation even after 20 years. Although Keng Sen said in the Straits Times article that The Substation hadn’t maintained its relationships with artists who were there at the start in the 1990s, there are actually artists from the old days who continue to do work with The Substation … Effendy being one of them, some others being Lee Wen (who was an Associate Artist in the first decade of the 2000s) and Amanda Heng (who presented “I Remember” in 2005 for SeptFest and presented another in her “Let’s Walk” series with The Substation in 2009). As for why some artists stopped being / working at The Substation, well, I can offer three reasons: not enough space to accommodate all; some artists getting bigger and better stages, or their very own space; and – something else which we might call an artistic director’s prerogative, or an artistic direction. More recent artists who are “still there” include Raka Maitra, Sherman Ong, Daniel Kok, Elizabeth de Roza …and hopefully the newest ‘additions’ like Bani Haykal continue the relationship.
I’d venture to say that one aspect of this ‘relationship thing’ is that it’s not merely transactional. Many artists do not go to The Substation just to get something back; if anything, the “getting back” has to do with the artists’ work … the work of constantly making, trying, failing, reflecting, persisting … There was a conversation among the programming team a couple of years ago about the selection criteria for Open Call, which concluded with the thought that the artist(s) selected should not look upon the programme as simply a chance to get exhibition space or get funding. It was about a deeper engagement, with the work, with The Substation as a space, with the ideas, with the public.
Another aspect of the relationship, and perhaps this has to do with the value of an alternative space, I can only explain this way: some years ago, a theatre artist I met talked about the image of stray dogs and why they matter and where there can be space for them. That struck me. You never know how a stray dog might turn out. It’s a life after all, and life should matter. There will always be those who, by choice or circumstance, are left out of mainstream culture and arts, and society has to make spaces where they can be heard, where they can gather. They’re not lesser because they are strays; they might be more interesting.
Maybe what bugs me most about our consumerist mentality, is that we Singaporeans often unconsciously shackle our own imaginations. I’ve begun to understand this a little better, as I’ve met young people who have been trained to conform to the certainty of fixed structures, and habituated to repeating what the teacher wants. Unfortunately, as we train young people not to stray from a prescribed frame, we also train them in self-limitation. This isn’t about censorship; it’s really the shackles we ourselves put on our imaginations out of habit, we don’t permit ourselves to reflect deeply or to play.
“Expectations, memories, nostalgia, frustrations, a potential in real limitations. Our resources are very limited. And to a large degree, our imagination – the Substation’s , everybody’s — has been kind of battered, with the loss of the garden, funding, cultural policies… In a way our imagination becomes restricted, reduced. The challenge now is to recognize the physical limitations and really see how small the space is, and at the same time find the potential of that space that has not been tapped yet.” – Noor Effendy Ibrahim.
Ultimately, the arts can’t be a hegemonic thing, prescribed to us by the powers-that-be or those who just happen to have money and social influence. It’s about the “more” in all of us, perhaps it’s the “more” that keeps me awake at 2am typing this out after a 12-hour workday and a late night trip to the supermarket – because this matters to me, and I want to share it with others. Out of these little “more” moments that we carve out of our lives, perhaps, we find “the potential” of the untapped, the chink in the shutters of our minds.
Remarkably, I see that I’ve managed to write about The Substation without quoting Kuo Pao Kun! Perhaps that’s what he’d have wanted – if The Substation can go on without him, that’s probably proof enough that it’s needed?
An announcement in The Straits Times on Saturday (30 July) brought news of the inevitable: the ArtScience Museum is lowering its admission fees. From the original one-time, no-readmission ticket price of 30 SGD, charges are now as low as 13 SGD, representing a reduction of more than half.
That’s still 13 dollars more than I’m willing to pay.
They can keep slashing prices all they like, it won’t change the fact that their shows REEK — big time. (Read an earlier review here.) Why would anyone want to pay more than, oh, say, a few pennies to look at replicas and reproductions of original works ? And we’re not talking a couple of those per show, these guys are bringing in entire exhibitions based on a shocking dearth of the real thing. Just google reviews of their current Van Gogh and Dali offerings …
I’ve said it before, but I’ll gladly say it again: ICK.
CHEAPER ENTRY TO MBS MUSEUM
Ticket prices to the ArtScience Museum are reduced. Singapore residents get discounts and re-admission is now allowed. By Chen Shanshan.
The ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands is slashing its admission prices from today.
Tickets for adults will start from $13 – less than half the original $30 charge. It is now also possible to gain re-entry to the museum, a reversal of the original no-readmission policy, despite the hefty entry fee.
The new tiered pricing also allows visitors more flexibility as they can choose to pay more to see all the exhibitions, or less if they pick what shows they prefer. Singapore residents also get a discounted rate. All tickets include entry to the museum’s permanent ArtScience exhibition.
Ms Lynda Moo, 46, who visited the museum last month with a friend for the Van Gogh Alive, Dali: Mind Of A Genius and Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures And Monsoon Winds exhibitions, welcomed the new ticket prices.
The managing director of a public relations company said: “It gives people a lot more flexibility and flexibility invites people to at least be able to enjoy exhibitions without feeling like they have paid for something they’re either not interested in or don’t have time to look at.”
The museum’s original ticket charges and no-readmission policy came under fire earlier this year from visitors unhappy about what they deemed high prices and the inconvenience about not being allowed to leave the museum for breaks.
Museum director Tom Zaller said the museum took into account such criticisms in restructuring their prices: “To enhance the visitor experience and allow more Singaporeans to enjoy ArtScience Museum and its world-class exhibitions, we’ve listened to feedback from the public, considered them seriously and come up with solutions to address their preferences.”
Ms Moo applauded the new pricing structure as “an incentive” and said that she may return to the museum with her two daughters.
The ArtScience Museum is currently hosting three travelling exhibitions – Van Gogh Alive, Dali: Mind Of A Genius and Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures And Monsoon Winds – as well as its permanent exhibition.
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.
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.
That’s Urban Sketchers Singapore.
For the unfamiliar, Urban Sketchers is a global collective of artists who are “dedicated to raising the artistic, storytelling and educational value of location drawing, promoting its practice and connecting people around the world who draw on location where they live and travel.” They “aim to show the world, one drawing at a time.” And, right now, several members of the local chapter have an exhibition of their work showing at the White Canvas Gallery, called Tiong Bahru Revisited. I haven’t had the chance to make it down there yet, but it’s going to happen.
The show ends on 17 July.
In the meantime, here’s a short notice from the July 2 edition of The Straits Times.
A sketch-exhibition of buildings in Tiong Bahru is back again after a successful run last year. By Magdalen Ng.
A Tiong Bahru-themed art exhibition did so well last year that it is returning to the retro-fabulous neighbourhood from tomorrow.
Tiong Bahru Revisited features more than 70 sketches of the Housing Board estate at the White Canvas Gallery, also located in the neighbourhood. The exhibition ends on July 17.
Inspired by the old-school architecture in the area, the works are mainly by four artists – Tia Boon Sim, Paul Wang, Don Low and Miel Prudencio.
The display follows Tiong Bahru Sketches: Outside-In, which ran at the same venue for two weeks around the same time last year.
Tia, 56, who teaches at Temasek Polytechnic’s School of Design, says: “The response last year was so good more than 90 per cent of the works were sold, and some residents even complained that the works they wanted were sold.”
The sketches on display are priced from $600 to $2,000. Works at last year’s exhibition sold for between $250 and $900. This year, four works are up for bids in a charity silent auction in aid of the Ability Centre in Tiong Bahru. The centre is run by the Society Of The Physically Disabled.
Most of the drawings were done on weekends. The four artists are part of Urban Sketchers, a global network of artists who draw the cities they live in or travel to. Started by Seattle journalist and illustrator Gabi Campanario in 2007, The Singapore Chapter, set up in 2009, has about 20 regulars now.
Miel, 47, a Straits Times senior executive artist, says the laidback vibe of the iconic area draws him back to it. But he does more than just draw there: “I would sit there, have kopi and read my book.
“It is almost provincial, yet just a bus ride away from the heart of the city,” adds Miel, who lives in Redhill, an MRT stop away from Tiong Bahru.
There are already plans for next year’s exhibition. For that, the artists hope to focus on the back alleys and rooftops of the area. The group is also considering expanding their sketch-exhibition to other heritage areas in Singapore, such as Joo Chiat.
“The more we draw the same buildings, the more we find interesting facets of them. I guess it is the interplay of light and shadows at various times of the day,” says Miel.
Freelance designer and illustrator Low, 40, says the area holds special significance for him. As a child, he lived in nearby Kim Tian Place for 12 years.
The part-time instructor at the Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design & Media says: “The more I sketch, the more I like this place, so I haven’t ventured out of it.”
Gallery manager and curator Gerald Tan says: “We plan to have street names at the exhibition and group the paintings according to that. It will be like a mini-Tiong Bahru in the gallery.”
TIONG BAHRU REVISITED
White Canvas Gallery, 78 Guan Chuan Street, 01-41
Till July 17. Tuesdays to Saturdays, noon to 8pm, Sundays, 10am to 6pm. Closed on Mondays and public holidays.