Posts Tagged ‘Straits Times’
Study of 3 Thermos Flasks (1991/2), Faizal Fadil. Included in Intersecting Histories. Image courtesy of Postcolonial Web.
The inaugural show at the newly revived Gallery of the School of Art, Design and Media at NTU is Intersecting Histories: Contemporary turns in Southeast Asian art.
An exhibition of postwar Southeast Asian art ? Okay, pretty interesting.
One curated by T. K. Sabapathy ? I’m there.
I’m still trying to make up my mind about the show, but in the meantime, the art reviewer for The Straits Times had a couple of pretty interesting opinions about it. In response, a pal – newly befriended, through sheer serendipity – had a response to her piece. Both review and rejoinder are reproduced below.
(Full disclosure: Letter-writer Yvonne Low, a PhD candidate in the Dept. of Art History & Theory at the Uni. of Sydney, is currently researching female artists of Singapore and Indonesia. She is also the author of various articles on SE Asian art, one of which is included in the catalogue for the present show.)
Review, Huang Lijie
History that is skimpy on details
(Huang Lijie, 9 October 2012)
NTU’s exhibition on the turning points in the region’s contemporary art offers little illumination on its choices
The Nanyang Technological University recently announced its ambition to be a major player in South-east Asia’s burgeoning arts scene at the re- opening of its gallery and launch of a new exhibition.
The renovated School of Art, Design and Media gallery was inaugurated with the show, Intersecting Histories. The exhibition sets out to spotlight works of art that mark turning points in the rise and development of contemporary art in the region. The curator is well-known art historian T.K. Sabapathy.
It features 28 artists and 37 works, spanning four decades to the present, from collections such as the Singapore Art Museum and National University of Singapore Museum.
The aspiration of the university and curator to participate in the writing of contemporary art history through the show befits their callings. The university will run the Centre for Contemporary Art, which opens next year at Gillman Barracks and aims to be a world- renowned centre for art residency, research and exhibition. Mr Sabapathy, meanwhile, is co-chair of the advisory committee for the programme at next year’s Singapore Biennale.
Such clarity of vision on ambition, however, is not always evident in the show.
It opens purposefully with works by five artists that date from the 1970s but exude a remarkable sense of the here-and-now in form and content.
It includes Cheo Chai Hiang’s assembly of a found piece of log and a hinged wooden washing board that swings open to reveal in red the repeated phrase, “and miles to go before I sleep”. There is also Redza Piyadasa’s tall coffin-shaped box painted with the Malaysian flag and mirrored on the floor, and Jim Supangkat’s bust of a legendary Javanese queen placed on a plinth with the drawing of a naked female torso and a lower body clad in unzipped jeans that exposes pubic hair.
The curator asserts in the wall text that the works, which also include a painting by Benedicto Cabrera and five photo-etchings by Sulaiman Esa, show qualities of nascent contemporary art practice in South-east Asia.
Yet the reason they qualify as icons and why they were picked can be gleaned only from two oblique sentences in the text. The absence of labels for individual works that explain why they are each pivotal in contemporary art history does the show no favour.
The diligent viewer, though, will be rewarded if he reads the curator’s 32-page essay in the show’s catalogue, which is being printed. The curator posits the works as hallmarks because they are by artists who either individually or as part of a collective, voiced early-on at crucial moments the need for art to stop being a purely aesthetic object defined by rigid artistic principles. The works were also made using alternative mediums and techniques, and they engaged critically with the milieu of the times, traits that distinguish it from previous art.
Works embodying these contemporary concerns are seen in a section focusing on the female body. Nindityo Adipurnomo’s wooden sculptures of traditional hair pieces worn by Javanese women as status symbols open up like jewellery boxes with mirrors under the lids to reveal an assemblage of icons that critique social obsession with sex, superstition and intoxication.
This invitation to peek and ponder is echoed in the mirrors of nearby works by Amanda Heng and Julie Lluch. The gaze that meets Lluch’s wearied, naked female sculpture, however, is introspective while Heng’s mirror on a table under a pair of red divination blocks and dish cover has a more gender-charged view.
This dynamic interplay between works continues in an open-ended segment, which the wall text proposes, explores various themes including the human figure as a symbol of a person’s pained inner psyche and global strife.
A more satisfying approach perhaps, might be to see the works as a myriad of responses to structures of power such as in politics, the art canon and personal desires. This would place Donna Ong’s sublime dioramas in serendipitous conversation with Bayu Utomo Radjikin’s fierce metal scrap warrior. In Ong’s piece, personal desires succumb to fantastical landscapes while Bayu’s sculpture stoicly resists the siege of Westernisation on indigenous identity.
Resonance persists in a standalone section of the gallery, which looks at how artists such as Niranjan Rajah and Ho Tzu Nyen become power brokers through narratives on art and history in their video works.
These intersecting discourses among the many works, which overcrowd the main gallery, highlight ideas in contemporary art. They also show how contemporary art, which is rooted in history, continually redefines itself in creative ways to respond to the present. But it offers little illumination on why themes raised, such as the female body, are pivotal to the development of contemporary art in the region and why the other works, besides those in the opening section, mark critical moments in contemporary art.
The scant wall texts are mum and the essay is not explicit. It states the significance of some works in the context of their creation, exhibition and reception but this still stops short of articulating why or how the works marked decisive changes in the history of contemporary art. The shortcoming is reinforced by the fact that at least seven works in this show have appeared in recent contemporary shows at the Singapore Art Museum such as Classic Contemporary, Negotiating Home, History And Nation, and Telah Terbit (Out Now), which examine themes in contemporary art and the history of the practice; this exhibition did not cast the works in a new light.
Response, Yvonne Low
A response to review, “History that is skimpy on details”
(Yvonne Low, 17 November 2012)
The following article is written in response to Huang Lijie’s review of the exhibition, Intersecting histories: Contemporary turns in Southeast Asian art, held at ADM Gallery, Nanyang Technological University, which was published on 9 October 2012 in the Life! Arts section, The Straits Times.
I read with genuine surprise at the author’s appraisal of the exhibition that opened at the School of Art, Design and Media gallery on 27 September 2012 and guest curated by art historian, T.K. Sabapathy. In her write-up, Huang provided a well-composed and critical description of the exhibition, including an interesting reading of selected works. Her main contention, however, was the lack of clarity in the exhibition’s curatorial design, specifically that there were inadequate content within the signposts – by way of wall-text and labels – to explain why the selected works “qualify as icons and why they were picked” and “why they are each pivotal in contemporary art history”. Though the author referred to the curatorial essay and subsequently proceeded to provide the reasons for the works’ selection as discerned from the text, she insisted that even the essay “is not explicit”:
It states the significance of some works in the context of their creation, exhibition and reception but this still stops short of articulating why and how the works marked decisive changes in the history of contemporary art. The shortcoming is reinforced by the fact that at least seven works in this show have appeared in recent contemporary shows at the Singapore Art Museum, such as Classic Contemporary, Negotiating Home, History and Nation, and Telah Terbit (Out Now), which examine themes in contemporary art and the history of the practice; this exhibition did not cast the works in a new light.
My encounter with the exhibition turned out to be quite different from the author’s – unsurprisingly, one might say, given my somewhat privileged position where I have not only contributed an essay to the exhibition catalogue discussing three of the works on display but also had several opportunities to speak with the curator when the exhibition was still being developed. That said, such “privileges” could hardly have robbed me of my ability to look at the exhibition in its entirety with all the works installed as they are now and to think for myself what to make of it all.
It is quite difficult to not consider the works in a new light given that no two exhibition can be the same; every show will be different in intent if not in configuration. It matters not if seven or seventeen of the works had in fact been shown elsewhere, but it is of how they have been exhibited in relation to other works and how they can be read in the given contexts that should matter.
Even on the outset, it is clear – without needing to read the exhibition catalogue – that this exhibition has a strong pedagogical tenor that undoubtedly sets it apart from all preceding exhibitions on Southeast Asian contemporary art. The exhibition is conceived as a project within an academic institution – a platform, far more conducive than the museum, to encourage if not foster deep and critical thinking on, especially those things that are “problematic”. The limitations of the recently renovated ADM gallery – to hold and show the scale and scope desired of a subject as expansive as Southeast Asian contemporary art – were plain to see. Huang was right about the overcrowded state of the main gallery; what she overlooked was the valiant effort that went in working with the limitations of the gallery and other institutional constraints (the works are afterall borrowed) to give to the audience as inclusive a selection as possible – or at least enough of a selection to generate some meaningful discussion and exploration of the theme and subject “intersecting histories”.
With the exception of two new site-specific creations by Koh Nguang How and Tang Da Wu (works that too were based on previous artworks), all the works on show have in some form or another been exhibited before in the last 40 years in Singapore or elsewhere in the region. Many of them acquired seminal status when they were collected by prominent institutions (and sometimes even before they were collected); these works have been rarified throughout history and in the course of their exhibition and re-exhibition. Yet, rarely have their consecration been subjected to study or examination in this manner.
The point here was precisely to explore the works’ significance and histories – this includes its exhibition history – in the context of Southeast Asian art and art historiography. The sub-themes (the explication of the human form as one example) – some of which Huang herself has shrewdly identified – reflect the investigative concerns that are deeply rooted in the discipline of art history. What the exhibition has shown is that by employing interpretive models (iconography, the study of technique and media, history etc), one may still arrive at multiple, intersecting and insightful perspectives of the contemporary.
Whether this opportunity can be fully appreciated by the Singaporean public is itself a separate issue altogether. If the exhibition has not cast new light to the works, then it would only be because the viewers have chosen to stay in the dark.
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
Image from The Substation site.
The facade of the Substation is currently swathed in a screen of black and white PVC slats. The installation is the brainchild of a local architect and a designer, Randy Chan and Grace Tan, titled Building as a Body. The work, as that moniker suggests, imagines architecture as anatomy. According to Tan:
The façade becomes bare and neutral, but powerful and dynamic beyond the surface. Subsequently, Randy and I started talking about the parallel between the body and architecture. Over the course of our dialogue, the notion of constructing a layer/skin to cover the façade came naturally to us.
By shrouding the façade, we are removing and masking the ‘face’ of the building, which is the most critical, visual, and symbolic physical representation of The Substation.
(See an interview with Tan here.)
The correlation between built structures and somatic structures is not a new one:
… Renaissance building owed its special qualities as an “architecture of humanism” to its analogies, in theory and physical presence, to the human body. A confessed Wolfflinian himself, Rowe would seem to agree with the ascription of a corporeal psychology to the experience of architecture, a response of the human body to a building that, for the building to be successful, would have, so to speak, to be matched and instigated by the building itself. We sense an echo of Wolfflin’s conclusion that “we judge every object by analogy with our own bodies.” Wolfflin wrote of the “creature”-like nature of the building, “with head and foot, back and front” ……
For Geoffrey Scott, the building’s “body” acted as a referent for “the body’s favorable state,” the “moods of the spirit … power and laughter, strength and terror and calm.” Translating the long tradition of Renaissance bodily analogy into psychological terms, Scott identified two complementary principles at work: the one, founded on the response we have to the appearance of stability or instability in a building, is our identification with the building itself: “we have transcribed ourselves into terms of architecture.” The other was founded on the fact that with this initial transcription we unconsciously invest the building itself with human movement and human moods: “we transcribe architecture into terms of ourselves.” Together, these two principles formed, he asserted, “the humanism of architecture.” … Thence Scott’s impassioned plea for the body in architecture: “architecture, to communicate the vital values of the spirit must appear organic, like the body.”
(Anthony Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny [1992, MIT Press].)
Comparisons to the large-scale outdoor projects of Christo and Jeanne-Claude aside, Building as a Body strikes one as an informed intervention in the urban streetscape: cloaking the physical presence of a well-established local institution in a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t play of shifting chromaticism, the work perhaps functions as an oblique comment on the Substation’s diminished influence in the arts scene hereabouts, a game of optical hide-and-seek to mirror its vicissitudinous wax and wane in the public eye …
A write-up in The Straits Times last week, reproduced below.
VEIL FOR SUBSTATION
Artists turn the arts centre into an art installation for its 20th anniversary.
By Denise Cheong. Published: 3 February 2012.
One of Singapore’s landmark arts centres has itself been turned into a work of art.
Take a stroll along Armenian Street and you will find The Substation shrouded in interwoven black and cream plastic strips.
The arts centre-turned-art-installation was commissioned by the National Heritage Board and the Singapore Art Museum.
Singapore artists Grace Tan, 32, and Randy Chan, 41, created it to celebrate The Substation’s 20th anniversary. Their work, quite an artistic and architectural feat, is titled Building As A Body.
It is a 15m-tall and 10m-wide matrix of 471 PVC strips, each between 5m and 9m in length and 3cm in width. These strips are connected to steel poles using square rings and conceals the entire facade of The Substation building.
The 80kg structure was completed on Jan 10 and is on display till March 28. It is supported by steel scaffolding clamped to the building’s pillars, and took three days and 10 construction workers to build.
On why the artists concealed the arts centre, Chan said he was disappointed that since the National Library and a well- known char kway teow stall (Armenian Street Char Kway Teow, now at Block 303, Anchorvale Link Coffeshop in Sengkang) were relocated, the area was now often deserted.
‘The idea was to personify the building. If you look at it one way, the veil represents a woman’s coming of age as a young bride. However, it can also stand for something more morbid, as a veil is also used to cover a corpse,’ he said.
Tan added: ‘This is why we chose the monochromatic colour scheme instead of something more striking. The polarity is very symbolic.
‘The image of a veil in itself is very elusive and mysterious. This can be paralleled to how The Substation means different things to different people.’
The Substation artistic director Noor Effendy Ibrahim, 38, said: ‘I hope the installation will activate a new imagination of The Substation, not only as a home for the arts but also as a platform for design and sculpture.’
He added: ‘The Substation already stands out in gentrified Armenian Street. This installation disrupts the clean lines of this neighbourhood. I like it and I think it’s an important statement.’
On the use of PVC strips, Chan said: ‘As this is a public art installation, we were very strategic about the materials used. Instead of just draping a big cloth over the building, which will eventually get wet and heavy, we went for this idea of weaving so that wind can flow through it.
‘PVC material is water-resistant and also very light, making the veil structurally sound.’
This is Chan and Tan’s first time collaborating on an art project of this scale.
He is an architect by profession, and she is an associate artist of The Substation’s research programme and the founder of kwodrent, an inter-disciplinary practice specialising in design and fabric works.
An interview with Eugene Tan – formerly of ICAS – in today’s Straits Times.
Local artist Ho Tzu Nyen is on record as saying: “In Singapore, where a habit of anti-intellectualism is unfortunately pervasive in the cultural sphere and judgment about art is often determined solely by the market, Eugene’s knowledge and integrity are extremely significant.”
By Adeline Chia. Published: 30 January 2012.
It is a blisteringly hot day at Gillman Barracks. The leafy area, which contains several old colonial-type buildings, is quiet and deserted but for several contractors.
Dr Eugene Tan is taking Life! on a short tour of the area, which he seems to know like the back of his hand.
We stop at Block 7 and inside, the temperature drops by a few degrees. The room has gigantic black beams running along the ceiling and windows that open up to a scene of tropical wilderness.
In about six months’ time, the space will be home to Kaikai Kiki, the art gallery owned by Japanese A-list artist Takashi Murakami of Louis Vuitton handbag fame.
In neighbouring buildings, other top international galleries will march proudly into this former British army barracks off Alexandra Road. They include Shanghai’s ShanghART Gallery, one of China’s most influential galleries carrying the work of top artist Zeng Fanzhi; Japan’s Ota Fine Arts, representing the work of Yayoi ‘polka dot’ Kusama; and New York’s Sundaram Tagore Gallery, which carries works by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz and abstract American painter Frank Stella.
Later in the year when these galleries open, the space will become a vibrant arts cluster, a place drawing collectors and interested browsers.
Well, that is the plan anyway. And the man executing this vision is none other than the soft-spoken, unassuming Dr Tan.
Although he operates under the radar, the 38-year-old is an influential player in Singapore’s art scene. His official position is programme director of the Lifestyle Programme Office at the Economic Development Board. His actual job? To spearhead the Gillman Barracks project.
That means he is helping to write the next chapter of Singapore’s cultural policy. The plans for Gillman, together with high-profile contemporary art fair Art Stage, are part of Singapore’s bid to be a centre for contemporary art in the region.
In his short career, Dr Tan, who has a PhD in art history and archaeology from the University of Manchester, has made an impact on the local contemporary art scene in several high-level jobs.
He was founding director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Lasalle College of the Arts, refreshing its dated programming to reflect cutting-edge trends; programme director for Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, where he set up the master’s programme for contemporary art; and exhibitions director for prominent Osage Gallery, which has branches in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai.
He was also co-curator of the inaugural Singapore Biennale in 2006 and curator for the Singapore Pavilion at the 2005 Venice Biennale.
He is one of the most well-liked people in the Singapore visual arts scene, both for his knowledge of contemporary art and his gentle, polite manner.
Singapore artist Ho Tzu Nyen, 35, who has known him for seven years, says the arts administrator is a ‘true soldier of contemporary art’. Dr Tan has included Ho’s works in several group shows and was the artist’s gallerist during his Osage stint.
Ho says: ‘In Singapore, where a habit of anti-intellectualism is unfortunately pervasive in the cultural sphere and judgment about art is often determined solely by the market, Eugene’s knowledge and integrity are extremely significant.’
He adds that because not everyone can understand contemporary art at first encounter, it is important to have ‘mediators who can ensure that these new ideas are diffused into the public sphere’.
‘Eugene has the perfect set of knowledge, skills and personality to fulfil this crucial task.’
Indeed, when Dr Tan curated Singapore conceptual artist Lim Tzay Chuen in 2005′s Venice Biennale, he handled all media queries on behalf of the artist.
Lim, known for his aggressively conceptual art, proposed to move the Merlion to Venice for the Singapore booth. The Singapore Tourism Board, which owned the 70-tonne half-lion, half-fish statue, declined to give permission. Lim’s exhibition ended up being a documentation of his failure to move the Singapore icon to the prestigious Italian art show.
It was a controversial and bold submission. The ‘Is this art?’ type of questions were lobbied around by the public and journalists, but Dr Tan took them in his stride.
He says: ‘Singapore is still very young in terms of its understanding and appreciation of contemporary art. I don’t think people here really understood why this was art, trying to move a big public monument all the way across to the other side of the world. In time, the work may be appreciated much more.’
Life! meets him for an interview at the Economic Development Board’s headquarters on the 28th floor of Raffles City Tower.
Dr Tan, in his black shirt, dark blue jeans and black sneakers, does not look like your typical bureaucrat. He admits that like many people working in art, he is ‘not a morning person’ and his mostly black wardrobe attests to that. ‘It’s out of convenience. I don’t have to decide what to wear. It simplifies things when everything’s the same colour.’
In master-planning Gillman Barracks, which is developed at a cost of less than $10 million, he adds that while many other art gallery clusters in the world develop organically, some degree of central planning in land-scarce Singapore is essential.
He says: ‘Every little bit of land in Singapore is accounted for. Where land is highly regulated, it’s very difficult for such a project to grow organically.’
There is some scepticism that the Gillman project would work – only one Singapore gallery, Fost, has taken up a space although many others have been approached. But he says things are slowly changing: ‘A lot of people don’t naturally see Singapore as an arts centre.’
An oft-cited observation that Singapore is losing its edge as an arts hub is that Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the two international auction houses, stopped holding auctions here in 2007 and in 2002 respectively, though both still have offices here.
Dr Tan says things are changing with the introduction of the Singapore Biennale and the high-end art fair Art Stage, as well as Singapore’s arts infrastructure in the development of the Singapore Freeport, a storage space for art, arts logistics firms and art insurance.
In fact, he drops a tantalising hint that he has had ‘some very productive meetings with big companies and organisations’ during Art Stage, which ended two weeks ago.
He adds that he met Mr Francois Curiel, president of Christie’s Asia, who was ‘impressed by the potential here’ – though he keeps mum about whether this means that Christie’s will start holding auctions in Singapore again.
Also, prominent Belgian conceptual artist Wim Delvoye, who moved to China after the Belgian authorities ruled that his pig tattoo art projects were illegal, is considering setting up shop here.
There is a lot of speculation about the amount of the Economic Development Board’s investment in Art Stage, which has received mixed reactions this year. Dr Tan refuses to be drawn into revealing a figure, ‘but I can say that it’s not a lot’.
He says Art Stage is ‘totally Lorenzo’s project’, referring to the fair director and Swiss national Lorenzo Rudolf.
He is happier talking about how he began his love affair with art. His father worked in financial services – he last was a management consultant in a financial firm – and his mother was a nurse. They sent their children, Eugene, then 13, and his older sister, 14, to England to attend Concord College, a well-known boarding school.
In 1989, he enrolled at Queen Mary College in the University of London to pursue a degree in Economics and Politics, a safe choice because he was unsure of what he wanted to do in the future.
It was in the British capital that he encountered art in museums and galleries. He was hooked. He took art electives in university, read up on art history and even took painting lessons.
‘But I soon realised that I was better at writing and thinking about art than I was in making it,’ he says.
He also met his Taiwanese wife there in 1991. She was studying fashion design and a friend of his sister. They eventually got married in Singapore in 2003.
He and his wife Heather, formerly a specialist in modern Chinese art in Taipei’s Sotheby’s and now a housewife, have one daughter aged seven. He declined to reveal his wife’s age.
He did his master’s in post-war and contemporary art, and later, a PhD in art history and archaelogy at the University of Manchester.
His tastes lay firmly in conceptual art, in which an artist’s ideas take precedence over what was traditionally considered aesthetic, such as the ability to paint realistically or sculpt beautiful forms.
He juggled his studies with arts writing and curating, but decided at the end of 2003 to return to Singapore. ‘Life was getting hard in London. Things were really expensive there. It was very crowded, the weather was very bad and the food was very bad. I was ready to explore something new.’
He applied successfully for the job of director of Lasalle’s Earl Lu Gallery and returned to Singapore. One of the first things he did was to rename the gallery the Institute of Contemporary Arts to reflect its new programming slant.
In 2008, he hopped over to Sotheby’s Institute of Art when it opened its Singapore campus. He helped set up its contemporary art master’s programme, with Western and Asian canons in its syllabus.
He was there for about a year before he joined Osage as exhibitions director in 2009 and had to move to its headquarters in Hong Kong.
That was when his wife decided to move to Taipei with their daughter as she did not want to live in crowded Hong Kong, but Taipei was still close enough.
She and their daughter will both move back to Singapore later this year.
Tan lives with his retired parents in a condominium in Tanjong Rhu when his family is away and he flies to Taipei often to visit them.
He speaks fondly of his daughter, Nathalie, who is getting an artistic upbringing, following her father to art openings and dabbling in drawing.
He relates a funny story of how, in kindergarten, she had to say what she wanted to be when she grew up. She first said ‘princess’ but after some years, her answer has become ‘curator’.
In a sense, he hopes that the Gillman project – despite its glitz, the money thrown at it and its place in Singapore’s high-stakes bid to be an arts destination – will be an educational space which inspires the young to see that there is a future in the arts.
He says: ‘As a child, there was not much art for me to see. It’s not something my generation was easily exposed to.
‘That’s what I really want to change in Singapore, which I think will happen at Gillman. Not only is there a lot of art to see, it’s also something that could become an alternative for families to going to shopping malls on the weekends.
‘With young children becoming used to going to art galleries, hopefully, the next generation would consider the idea of being in the arts, whether as an artist or as an arts professional.’
What does the art connoisseur have in his collection? He says he has only about 40 to 50 pieces and buys when there is ‘something I really like and can afford’. He has the work of some British artists as well as Singaporean ones such as Jane Lee, Donna Ong and Robert Zhao.
His most recent purchase was at Art Stage, a drawing by noted German artist Carsten Nicolai, who is sort of an artist’s artist, exhibited in major shows and in important collections, but a name which is still under the mainstream radar.
It is clear that Dr Tan lives and breathes art. Even during his personal travels, he visits museums and galleries to the point where ‘I don’t know whether it’s work or pleasure’.
So, he has made a resolution to go on ‘real holidays’ with his family. He says: ‘We will go to places with very little art… maybe a deserted island.’
my life so far
‘That was my decision, because of the problems around Old School that we were facing. When Osage first opened there, it was told that it was a gallery cluster, similar to what we are doing in Gillman. But it turns out that Osage was the only gallery there, the rest were creative business offices. There was a lot of uncertainty about the lease, which meant that we could not plan and make improvement to the spaces’
On why he closed Osage Singapore when he was exhibitions director at the gallery
‘If you look at art districts such as Beijing’s 798 or Chelsea in New York, which have grown organically, the artists start moving in there, the galleries come, the restaurants, cafes and eventually the fashion designers come. The galleries all get priced out. So we want to safeguard and ringfence the space at Gillman for galleries’
On why there is a need for masterplanning an art district at Gillman Barracks instead of leaving it to develop naturally
‘I know there has been some speculation in The Straits Times, but no’
On whether he has been approached to be director of The National Art Gallery
‘We have very good artists in Singapore. I don’t think there have been enough galleries here that know how to develop them and promote them internationally. Which is why Ming Wong, one of our most well-known artists, is living in Berlin and not in Singapore’
On why the top galleries in Gillman will force local galleries to up their game
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.
It all starts today.
The biggest art fair hereabouts, Art Stage Singapore, is back for a second year – and bigger and better than ever (by all accounts). Sneak previews tomorrow (Jan 11th), and general admission the day after (12th).
There’s a whole bunch of other shows happening though. A whole bunch. An article in The Straits Times yesterday lists a couple – all of which open tonight – and For Art’s Sake, on the ball as usual, provides another lengthy rundown. The ST piece reproduced at the end of the post; Mayo Martin’s, abbreviated, below.
By: Mayo Martin. Published: Jan 9, 2012.
Milk And Honey
After his frequent forays into theatre, Brian Gothong Tan goes visual arts once more with this, his tenth multi-media installation combining film, sculpture and photography to explore the idea of utopias. Jan 12 to 22, 10am to 8pm, Goodman Arts Centre Gallery, Block B #01-08, 90 Goodman Road.
Art Is A Lie
The 14th annual show of artist tenants at Telok Kurau Studios. Until Feb 3, 11am to 6.30pm, The TKS Art Gallery, 91 Lorong J, Telok Kurau.
The Singapore Show: Future Proof
A survey show featuring 25 of the country’s emerging contemporary artists. Jan 14 to April 15, Singapore Art Museum, SAM at 8Q, The Substation, 222 Queen Street.
The Collectors Show: Chimera
A collection of some impressive works by private collectors, including those by Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama, Yasmin Sison, Donna Ong and Lee Yong Baek. Jan 14 to March 25, Singapore Art Museum
Ten Thousand Waves / Monumental Southeast Asia
The first is a photographic exhibition based on the nine-screen video installation featuring Maggie Cheung, Zhao Tao, Yang Fudong and poems by Wang Ping as commissioned by artist Isaac Julien. The second is a showcase of specially commissioned huge works by some of the region’s most important artists. Jan 11 to Feb 26, 11am to 7pm, Valentine Willie Fine Art Singapore, Artspace@Helutrans, 39 Keppel Road, Tanjong Pagar Distripark, #02-04. Until 3pm on Sundays. Closed on Mondays and public holidays.
Sovereign Asian Art Prize Singapore 2012
An exhibition of the 30 finalist works for this year’s edition as well as an additional 20 pieces by Singaporean artists. With a gala auction of the latter works on Jan 14. Jan 11 to 14, 10am to 8pm, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, Level 1 Atrium, 10 Bayfront Avenue
The Malaysian artist Chan Kok Hooi’s first solo show in Singapore tackles the idea of “No Beauty” and the relationship between art and money. Jan 15 to Feb 12, 11am to 7pm, Art Seasons, Kaki Bukit Road 1, Eunos Technolink block 7, #02-12. From 1pm to 6pm on Sundays and closed on Mondays.
An new version of the recent National Museum of Singapore exhibition by Michael Lee and Bob Matthews. Jan 11 to 15, noon to 6pm, Give Art Space, 65 Spottiswoode Park Road
In House Adoption
The first solo show in Singapore by Indian artist Mithu Sen aims to transform the gallery space into a small enclosure with her new works on paper and canvas. Jan 11 to Feb 25, noon to 7pm, Galerie Steph, ARTSPACE@Helutrans, 39 Tanjong Pagar Distripark, #01-05. Closed on Mondays.
An exhibition by Chinese artist Sui Jianguo, which transforms the space into a darkened room with a steel box. Jan 15 to Feb 29, 11am to 7pm, MoCA Loewen, 27A Loewen Road
An extension of Vue Privee’s exhibit at Art Stage Singapore over at their own gallery, alongside commissioned works by Aiman and Burton Machen. Jan 13 to Feb 29, 12 to 8pm on Saturdays and Sundays, Vue Privée, 20 Cairnhill Road. By appointment on weekdays at 6339 6271.
East is West: Three Women Artists
An exhibition looking at three women artists — Mariana Vassileva (Bulgaria), Almagul Menlibaeva (Kazakhstan) and Nezaket Ekici (Turkey) – from outside of Western Europe who have taken up residence in Berlin. Jan 14 to Feb 15, 10am to 6pm, Earl Lu Gallery, LASALLE College of the Arts, 1 McNally Street. Closed on Mondays and public holidays.
The Family Tree Project
A visual documentation by Anderson & Low on photographer Edwin Low’s global family. Jan 12 to April 8, 10am to 7.30pm, NUS Museum, University Cultural Centre, 50 Kent Ridge Crescent, National University of Singapore. 10am to 6pm on Sundays. Closed on Mondays and public holidays.
Performance in Frames: Video Mobiles
An exhibition of performance art specifically made for film, featuring nine Singapore and Singapore-based performance artists. Jan 13 to 26, noon to 9pm, The Substation Gallery, 45 Armenian Street.
All The World’s A Stage
An exhibition of 12 latest works by Chinese artist Liu Yan drawing on the iconography of Peking opera. Jan 14 to Feb 18, Mulan Gallery, 36 Armenian Street #01-07
Glorious Legend Of Chinese Pi Xiu
A solo exhibit by Wang Xiao Qing focusing on a mythical winged animal in Chinese culture symbolizing wealth and power. Jan 12 to Feb 12 at Element Art Space, MICA Building #01-10/11/12, 140 Hill Street
Past and Present
A showcase featuring seven contemporary Tibetan artists in collaboration with the Tibetan Association of Fine Arts. Jan 13 to April 15, 11am to 7pm, The Luxe Art Museum, 6 Handy Road #02-01
Picasso & The School Of Paris
Pretty much a “mini blockbuster” in a small gallery with prints, drawings and sculptures by Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Dali, Brassai, Capa, Cocteau, among others. Jan 12 to Feb 20 at Art Trove, 51 Waterloo St, #02-01. Call 6336 0915 to make an appointment.
Singapore Contemporary Young Artists present this multi-media exhibition exploring family issues featuring the works of nine young artists. Jan 13 to Jan 27 at SCYA Space, Goodman Arts Centre, Blk B #03-08, 90 Goodman Road.
Taksu’s annual exhibition of regional art is now on its eighth year and will feature 15 established and emerging artists. Jan 14 to Feb 4, 10am to 7pm, Taksu Singapore, 43 Jalan Merah Saga, #01-72 Workloft@Chip Bee. Closed on Mondays. From noon to 6pm on Sundays.
Dancing With Dad
An exhibition by Michael Tan revolving around his father’s fight with a neurodegenerative disease is the final show at Light Editions (owner/photographer Chris Yap will be taking a break). Until Jan 19, 10.30 am to 6pm, Light Editions Gallery, Tanjong Pagar Distripack, #02-02B, 39 Keppel Road. Call 6223 1102 for an appointment.
CATCH THESE ART SHOWS OPENING TOMORROW
By Deepika Shetty. Published: Jan 9, 2012.
There are just two days to the VIP preview and vernissage of the high-end contemporary art fair called Art Stage, which opens for general viewing on Thursday.
But there are plenty of other visual arts events to check out besides the fair.
Galleries, art schools and private museums are opening their first shows of the year tomorrow night. With multiple exhibition openings, Tuesday is looking like one of the busiest days in Singapore’s 2012 visual arts calendar.
Take your pick from these exhibitions.
What: Curated by Singapore-based Italian curator Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani, Cut Thru: A View On 21st Century Thai Art features work by nine emerging art practitioners from Thailand, including a work by Preeyachanok Ketsuwan, who experiments with photography, video and performance art to look at the role of women and gender play in Thai society.
Where: Institute of Contemporary Art, B1-06, Lasalle College of the Arts, 1 McNally Street
When: Tomorrow to Feb 7, 10 am to 6 pm. Closed on Mondays and public holidays
RICHARD KOH FINE ART & ARNDT PRESENTS
What: Singapore’s Richard Koh Fine Art collaborates with Berlin’s ARNDT Contemporary Art to present works by six contemporary Western artists including Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn, who did an elaborate installation for the Swiss Pavilion at the Venice Biennale last year. Using crystals as a motif, he explored everything from love to philosophy to politics and aesthetics. He is presenting seven drawings on paper and a layered collage on woodwork titled Ohne Titel (above).
Where: Richard Koh Fine Art, 71 Duxton Road, tel: 6221-1209
When: Tomorrow to Jan 31, 11.30 am to 7 pm (Tuesdays to Fridays), noon to 6 pm (Saturdays). Mondays by appointment only
THE NEW CATHEDRAL
What: Local artist Boo Sze Yang, former head of fine art at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, presents his 10th solo exhibition, The New Cathedral. Featuring over recent paintings from his House of God and The Mall series, it has paintings of cathedrals which are placed alongside paintings of malls, interpreting the mall as a sanctuary for modern men and women.
Marrying religious imagery with traditional oil painting techniques, he reflects on how the shopping mall is similar to the cathedral in today’s consumerist society.
Where: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Galleries 1 and 2, 80 Bencoolen Street
When: Tomorrow to Jan 18, 11 am to 7 pm.
MONUMENTAL SOUTH-EAST ASIA
What: See contemporary artworks of epic proportions by some of South-east Asia’s most important artists such as Indonesia’s Agus Suwage, Thailand’s Montien Boonma and Malaysia ‘s Ahmad Zakii Anwar.
Where: 02-04 Artspace@Helutrans, Tanjong Pagar Distripark, 39 Keppel Road
When: Tomorrow to Feb 26, 11am to 7pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays), 11am to 3pm (Sundays). Closed on Mondays and public holidays
Info: Go to http://www.vwfa.net or call 8133-1760
LEHMANN MAUPIN GALLERY AT STPI
What: New York-based gallery Lehmann Maupin ties up with the Singapore Tyler Print Institute to present works by Korean contemporary artist Do Ho Suh and Americans Teresita Fernandez and Ashley Bickerton.
Where: Singapore Tyler Print Institute, 41 Robertson Quay
When: Tomorrow to Feb 11, 10 am to 6pm (Tuesday to Saturday). Viewing on Mondays by appointment only. Closed on Sundays and public holidays
Info: Go to http://www.stpi.com.sg or call 6336-3663
INKING A REUNION
What: The Private Museum opens officially tomorrow evening with a showcase of artworks by the late Singapore artists, Chua Ek Kay. In 2005, he had done four Chinese ink paintings depicting his alma mater, the former Catholic High School campus, now an arts Centre where The Private Museum is located. These will be among several works featured in the exhibition titled Old Campus Revisited: A Chua Ek Kay Collection Of The Catholic High School.
Where: The Private Museum, 51 Waterloo Street
When: Tomorrow to March 11, 10 am to 7pm (Mondays to Fridays), 11am to 5 pm (Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays)
Info: Go to http://www.theprivatemuseum.org or call 6738-2872
MORIMURA YASUMASA: REQUIEM FOR THE XX CENTURY – SELF-PORTRAITS IN MOTION
What: The Japanese artist is known for his photographic reconstructions of historic events and great paintings such as those by Dutch painter Vermeer and Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. He recreates the background and wears make-up before assuming the pose of the subjects. This show features new video works.
Where: Ikkan Art Gallery, 01-05 Artspace@Helutrans. Tanjong Pagar Distripark, 39 Keppel Road
When: Tomorrow to Feb 25, 11am to 7pm (Mondays to Saturdays), 1 to 5pm (Sundays and public holidays)
Info: Go to http://www.ikkan-art.com or call 9088-7056
A French poster for Days of Being Wild. Image from Not Just Movies.
Its yesterday once more, once more.
A while ago I held forth on the phenomenon of nostalgia for the recent past.
More recently, while doing research for another piece, I chanced upon a Straits Times article I remembered reading years ago — 1992, to be precise.
Days of Being Wild is an all-time fav. This brought me right back …
If you represent Richard Carpenter or his sister’s estate, don’t sue me.
YESTERDAY ONCE MORE, BEFORE 1997
Many Hongkong movies have a sepia hue these days. Jittery citizens of the British colony want a last look back at the good old days as the return to mainland Chinese rule draws near. WONG KIM HOH reports.
Crumbling mansions with secret chambers. Love duets sung on balconies. Masked female crusaders. All these cinematic clichés from the 60s are parodied in the comedy, ’92 The Legendary La Rose Noire, directed by Joseph Chan.
Another Hongkong director, Lawrence Ah Mon, also reconstructs the British colony of yore in Arrest the Restless. In this big-time crime story, homage is paid to a famous law enforcer and the “teddy” boys and girls who painted the streets of Hongkong red, more than three decades ago.
Now showing here, these movies were directed by just two of a growing number of film-makers who wax nostalgic about the colony’s past.
In the past two years, the Hollywood of the East has produced at least a dozen movies where the guys sport sideburns and wear drainpipe trousers, while the girls have beehive hairdos and carry Grace Kelly handbags.
These include Wong Kar Wai’s critically-acclaimed Days of Being Wild and Poon Man Kit’s To Be Number One. Also in this sepia genre are Wu Ma’s Story Of Kennedy Town and Wong Ching’s Casino Tycoon.
Why are so many harking back to the past?
The answer apparently points to 1997, when the British colony reverts to Chinese rule.
To Hongkongers, the year signifies the end of a chapter in history.
They fear that their capitalist legacy, which has shaped their identity, will eb erased once the Communists take over in 1997.
Movies which reconstruct the past are a means of helping Hongkongers preserve this vital history.
Reliving the past also helps them forget the uncertainties of the future.
Director Wong Kar Wai explains why he made Days of Being Wild, about the lives of six Hongkong youths, in an interview: “1960 was a good year, the beginning of a decade, the prelude to the 60s.
“Back in those days, the sun was brighter, the air was fresher. The sound of wireless sets flowed down the streets from a distance … it felt so good.
“It was like a dream. Of course, it could easily have been a dream. With memories, one simply cannot avoid the rosy tinge setting in. bad memories will fade out. What we want to remember will be remembered lovingly.”
Wong’s sentimentality and nostalgia show in the loving attention he pays to details. Days of Being Wild remembers Hongkong’s past by aestheticising it. Other movies which express the same whimsy include Anthony Chan’s A Fishy Story and Stanley Kwan’s Rouge, one of the first nostalgic trips on celluloid.
A more strident and political tone is adopted by John Woo in Bullet In The Head. The film deals with the trials and tribulations of three childhood buddies in Saigon.
Using the Vietnam War as a backdrop, his movie makes a point about the present and future of Hongkong. It also expresses his distrust of the Chinese government, especially after the bloodbath in Tiananmen.
He tells The Sunday Times: “We had so many beautiful things in the 60s but we have lost them. I want them back. I want people to rediscover lost values like friendship, warmth and compassion.
“I want to remind them that violence and war only distort humanity and turn the Chinese into wandering people. That’s why in the film, I talked time and again about going home, going back to Hongkong.”
Indeed the date June 4, 1989, has left many of the colony’s residents with a deep sense of misgiving. Like Woo, they suspect ruthlessness, lawlessness and corruption will reign supreme.
That perhaps explains the sudden popularity of “big-timer” movies. These are movies which deal with the lives of famous crooks and corrupt law enforcers. All these movies share several characteristics: their heroes are “real people” and they are set in the post-war Hongkong of the 50s and 60s.
The progenitor of such movies, of course, is the very successful To Be Number One, the story of drug kingpin Limpy Ho. He apparently amassed a personal fortune worth hundreds of millions in Hongkong dollars by being one of the colony’s most notorious drug dealers.
Other glorified film accounts of big-timers followed. These include Lawrence Ah Mon’s Lee Rock (based on the life of Lui Lok, probably the colony’s most celebrated corrupt policeman) and Wong Ching’s Casino Tycoon. The last is reportedly based on the life of Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho, nicknamed Macau Inc.
Hongkong film critic Li Cheuk-to, who is also the programme co-ordinator for the Hongkong International Film Festival, explains the appeal of these big-timer films: “They endow the ruthless with historical significance and play up their myth and stature.
“In doing so, they legitimise the naked utilitarianism that is so prevalent in Hongkong, in this post-June 4 era. Values which do not serve utilitarian purposes are no match for a harsh reality.”
Mr Li, in his 30s, also adds, however, that the average Hongkong movie-goer has always been partial to celluloid exploits revolving around fame and fortune. He cites the popularity of gambling films. Both genres are products of the spirit of the times.
“As time is running out, to “get rich quick” is the psychology many Hongkong people subscribe to. That’s why these movies are popular,” he says.
It does not matter that fact is liberally fictionalised in most of these movies.
“Hongkong audiences are not simplistic. They know when to suspend disbelief.”
However, the big-timer movies will probably wane, because they are showing signs of repetition.
Instead, film-makers are feeding the Hongkong movie-goers’ penchant for nostalgia by reviving the film genres that filled up cinema halls a few decades ago.
Watch out for the return of flying swordsmen, “tornado” palms (a pugilistic move), masked crime-fighters, sacred manuals and court intrigues. Ah, the stuff of nostalgia.
The longlist for the second APB prize is out.
A number of Singaporeans were nominated, including the ever awe-inspiring Jane Lee and the Puck-ish Heman Chong. The competition this year has been expanded to include almost all of Asia, and, accordingly, the prize money for the big winner has been upped to a cool forty-five grand SGD.
I wish they’d stop using the term ‘Asia-Pacific’ though; countries like Nepal and Bangladesh (which feature on this year’s list) don’t really fit in there. More importantly, doesn’t a pan-Asian prize in general just sound so much more … impressive, than simply one for the Asia-Pacific region ?
ST write-up below. Longlist of nominees and other pertinent information available over at the SAM’s website.
BREWERY’S ART PRIZE GOES REGIONAL
Prize funding also doubles with more than three times the entries from previous run. By Deepika Shetty.
The triennial Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) Foundation Signature Art Prize is getting bigger. The second edition this year will include nominations from the whole Asia-Pacific region.
The competition will see 130 works from 24 countries vying for the $45,000 grand prize, more than three times the number of entries for its inaugural run in 2008 which featured 34 works from 12 countries.
The APB Foundation has also doubled its prize funding from $2.25 million for five editions to $4.45 million.
As a media briefing held yesterday at SAM at 8Q, Ms Sarah Koh, APB’s general manager for corporate communications, said they were encouraged by the enthusiastic response to the inaugural edition.
She said the foundation decided to expand the focus from South-east Asia to the Asia-Pacific to create opportunities for a wider pool of talented artists from the region.
The prize is aimed at recognising artworks created in the preceding three years and encouraging the development of contemporary art across the region.
Apart from the grand prize, there will there will also be three Juror’s Choice Awards worth $10,000 each and a $10,000 People’s Choice Award.
All artworks have been nominated by art experts in each country and they are being judged by an international jury panel. The jury comprises Fumio Nanjo, director of the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; Gregor Muir, executive director at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London; Hendro Wijanto, South-east Asian writer, critic and curator; Ranjit Hoskote, Indian critic and curator; and Tan Boon Hui, director of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), which is organising the competition and will be exhibiting the winning artworks ranging from paintings and sculptures to new media and installation works.
The jury will shortlist 15 finalists, whose names will be announced by Oct 1, and an exhibition of their works will open at SAM on Nov 11. The winner will be announced on Nov 18.
Museum director Tan, 41, said: “The expanded reach of this year’s prize enables us to validate and profile even more artists and their practice.”
Seven local artists have been nominated by for the competition by Ms Joanna Lee, an art consultant and independent curator, and Ms Audrey Wong, programme director of the MA Arts and Cultural Programme at Lasalle College of the Arts.
These include several instantly recognisable names such as artist Jane Lee, who made a splash with her massive painting Raw Canvas at the Singapore Biennale in 2008, and award-winning photographer and film-maker Sherman Ong, who won the first Icon de Martell Cordon Bleu award for photography last year. (See side story.)
Also on the nominated list are several big contemporary art names such as leading Pakistani artist Rashid Rani. His work Desperately Seeking Paradise, a conglomeration of numerous miniscule details, was recently on show at the Musee Guimet, France’s national museum of Asian art.
Japanese artist Kohei Nawa’s PixCell-Deer#17, which explores how people interact with virtual reality, has also been nominated. The artist sources taxidermied objects from online auction sites and layers them with transparent glass beads. The veil of differently sized glass beads on the surface of the taxidermied animal magnifies it in some areas and distorts it in others. this piece was exhibited in Trans-Cool Tokyo, a show held at SAM at 8Q last November.
Adding to the range and the contest are artists such as Qiu Anxion from China, Sopheap Pich from Cambodia, Eko Nugroho from Indonesia and Tracey Moffatt from Australia.
Said Mr Tan: “The range as well as the quality of the art shows that we are at the heart of the most dynamic region and this award will help us uncover ground-breaking artworks of lasting significance.”
FROM SINGAPORE: SEVEN ARTWORKS
RECONSTRUCTING SENTOL, 2008 – 2010, Khairuddin Hori. Digital print on paper, 14 pieces. Appropriating ideas and images from Mat Sentol films of the 1960s, the artist creates new pictures, giving each one of them a contemporary and often idiosyncratic touch. He juxtaposes real and imagined landscapes with characters from the films.
THE GARDEN OF FORKING PATHS, 2010, by art collective Vertical Submarine. Installation. Inspired by Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges’ 1941 short story of the same name about a maze, this tongue-in-cheek installation was shown by artist jason Wee’s art space, Grey Projects, in Zion Road. The constructed labyrinths led to rooms that alluded to central characters in Borges’ story.
SECOND-HAND CITY, 2010, by Michael Lee. Digital print on archival paper, set of 10. Melding science fiction with cultural studies, the series Second-Hand City (2010 – 2011) weaves several themes in contemporary life and art in the city. These range from the demolition or collapse of structures to their physical disappearance and destruction by war or natural processes, and statuses of being abandoned, not built and forgotten. this leads a refreshing exploration of the lifecycles of buildings and cities.
TOGETHER AGAIN (WOOD: CUT) PART I NATURAL HISTORY & TOGETHER AGAIN (WOOD: CUT) PART II MAGIC, 2009, by Lucy Davis. Woodcut, woodprint collage and woodprint. Breathing new life into the term “dead wood”, visual artist Davis collected discarded wooden objects from the streets around Little India. She then transferred their woodgrains onto rice paper. this was eventually used to form tree-shaped collages and the work beautifully blended ecology with everyday stories.
A SHORT STORY ABOUT GEOMETRY, 2009, by Heman Chong. Performance involving the oral transmission of a 499-word story written by the artist via physical face-to-face encounter between two people. Focusing on a more intimate and concentrated exchange, the work is a private memory class. A participant with the help of a teacher is required to memorise a 499=word short story. The short story will not be published or adapted into any other form.
BANJIR KEMARAU (FLOODING IN THE TIME OF DROUGHT), 2009, by Sherman Ong. Video in two separate rooms, 92 minutes each. Some time in the near future, when 40 per cent of Singapore’s population is made of foreigners, the tap runs dry. Ong’s actors speak in Mandarin, Tagalog, Thai, Indonesian, Hindi, Korean, Japanese, Italian and some German. Through their fears, he reveals what a water crisis can mean for ordinary people living here.
STATUS, 2009, by Jane Lee. Mixed media. Lee continues her artistic exploration through layers of paint. Like her earlier painting, Raw Canvas, which was featured at the Singapore Biennale in 2008, this work is also created with her trademark squiggles of paint and parts of it look like a loosely woven piece of fabric.
Welcome to Singapore, where history is reusable, state-sanctioned, and micro-managed.
Even the history of avant-garde art.
The Artists Village was the first artist’s colony hereabouts, founded in 1988 by Tang Da Wu in a then remote part of the island up north. A good number of artists associated with the village went on to wider renown in the ’90s and beyond: Tang himself, Vincent Leow, Lee Wen, Amanda Heng (recipient of this year’s Cultural Medallion), Zai Kuning, Koh Nguang How. Over the years, the idea of an avant-garde collective operating at the margins of artistic praxis and official approbation has become emplotted as a seminal moment in the narrative of local art history; it was also the subject of a retrospective at the SAM in 2008.
And now it’s being brought back to life, according to an article in The Straits Times today (below).
I suppose any sort of support for artists in Singapore is a good thing, but why the return to an older ideal ? The ’80s were more than two decades ago, and things have changed — vastly. An enlarged arts scene, with international galleries setting up shop here as well as a major new museum on the way; our very own biennale; ever-increasing awareness of the visual arts among the populace at large.
But I guess the ‘kampung spirit’ is an indigenous paradigm that’s hard to beat for commodified appeal.
THIS VILLAGE NEEDS MORE ARTISTS
Local artists will get a place to call their own with The Artists Village programme on Pulau Ubin. By Melissa Sim.
It takes a village to raise a child, goes the saying, and in Singapore, it takes a village … to nurture artists.
Well, not any old village, but an actual village that, back in the 1980s and 1990s, was a space in Ulu Sembawang for artists to work and exchange ideas, known as The Artists Village.
That village has long gone though it survives as a society created in 1992 called The Artists Village (TAV).
Now, the village concept is back, but this time on Pulau Ubin as a new village that, unlike the previous focus on local artists, will offer an international residency programme supported by the National Arts Council (NAC).
The “village” programme starts next month and will last for 11 months. TAV, which is spearheading it and has received an NAC grant of about $80,000, is calling for artists to apply for the residency. Veteran artists Tang Da Wu, who founded the original village, and Lee Wen will sit on an advisory panel for the project.
Local and international artists from any medium, whether sound, visual or performance, can sign up for a residency lasting one to three months. They will receive an allowance of $1,200 a month.
But it will still be a back-to-basics experience – the “village”, in the island’s south-west, has no electricity. Power comes from a generator turned on in the evenings.
It mostly consists of a wooden shack rented out by an Ubin resident of more than 50 years who goes by the name of Ah Kok.
More back-to-basics: Artists will share their toilet with him.
Tha shack has two bedrooms, a kitchen, a studio area, a bathroom and an open concept living area and can house two to three artists at a time.
Still, co-artistic director of the residency programme, artist Kai Lam, notes that TAV has put aside $10,000 to renovate the place. The other co-director is artist Jeremy Hiah.
Lam says it feels like TAV is “coming full circle” because for years it did not have a space of its own, and used public spaces and galleries for exhibitions or events.
Project manager and sound artist Arif Ayab, who goes by the name Reef, says: “It’s calming here, easier to get inspiration than in the city.”
Adds Lam who has sued the space for a five-day stretch: “Here you can just clear your mind and think of your work.”
Reef and his band, Under The Velvet Sky, have worked in the shack before and benefited from the laid-back environment. Recently, they produced a soundtrack for a 30-minute movie in under two hours.