Kids Art Camp – Night Out at the Gallery (April –June 2017)
by Fiona Silva
The Arnoldii Arts Club launched its first ever series of children’s art camps in April this year. Targeted at children between the ages of 8 -12 years, the overnight art camp introduced the kids to Gillman Barracks as a historical space with its military origins, that has transformed over almost a century into a charming and dynamic visual arts cluster. The kids then discovered the various public artworks on the “Locke Route” through engaging question and through stories.
We considered how we remember certain places, what made a place unforgettable and in what ways we can share stories of these places through various visual media. Entering then the “Story of Space” exhibition at Yeo Workshop, we took a look at how Indonesian artist, Maryanto, tells his stories through his artwork using a diverse range of artistic media, such as oil painting, acrylic, ink, charcoal and sculpture. Maryanto draws us into the visual narratives he has created about the social and environmental issues that affect his home country, as well as places far away.
It’s amazing what insights the kids draw from the stark dystopian landscapes that the artist offers in the main gallery. The idea of working towards a sustainable future and protecting our environment and resources is something that these kids are familiar with and have discussed in their respective local and international schools intensely. They are keenly aware that it is their future that is at stake and understand the necessity to change consumer behavior in order to mitigate the strain on resources globally. Through this exhibition we also talked about the social effects on traditional communities and ways of life.
But Maryanto also offers in this exhibition, visual narratives of hope and rejuvenation, of regrowth and resilience – all of which comfort him in the fact that there is a way forward for a better future. The children took the artist’s invitation to share their own ideas of a perfect world very seriously. In the Notebooks that form the interactive arena for this exhibition, the children wrote or drew their own visions of utopia. They were extremely excited to know that the artist received regular photo feeds from the gallery staff, updating him on the contents of the notebooks and that he had liked a few of their entries on Instagram!
Interacting with the artist, even if virtually was really exciting for them, especially since they were so in awe of the man who had single-handedly in one week, completed such a powerful wall mural that has left such a lasting impression on them. They were equally impressed with the artist’s scratched canvases – the idea that he painted everything black first and then scratched out the areas that reveal light was like thinking backwards for then. This however was a good starting point to introduce the relief printing method that we would do in our hands-on art workshop the following day.
After dinner and sharing several (several) rounds of jokes and riddles and ghost stories, the kids camped out in the gallery space and dreamed of places far and near.
The early risers got to do a pre-dawn stroll through the precinct and enjoyed listening nature’s creatures awake with their own unique sounds as the sky slowly brightened. Before breakfast we had a short, uplifting yoga session and then we began the art workshop. On soft linoleum blocks, the kids carved out their designs, which were often but not limited to, places or ideas that represented “utopia” to them. Their ideas were limitless and several of them who had tried relief printing at school before, were more adventurous with their designs. Even the most boisterous and impatient kids were so focused on maneuvering their cutting instruments that they sat concentrated for a remarkable amount of time, taking great pride in carving out their blocks.
The next part was inking and printing and we tried various combinations of coloured ink on coloured paper. It was lovely to see how proud they were when peeling of the paper to reveal their prints! And how proud they were that their works of art were then hung up at the gallery, right next to Maryanto’s works!
When their parents arrived to pick them up, they had one more task – the participants had to guide their parents through the public artworks on the Locke Route, and they were also encouraged to present the “Story of Space” exhibition to their families who hadn’t already seen it. The feedback we received from the parents was amazing! They were really impressed about how much their kids retained from all the information they received, and how enthusiastic they were about talking about the artwork and how they made their prints.
Gillman Barracks indeed has a lot to offer in terms of art, nature and adventure! I would like to thank all the parents, parent-volunteers, Audrey Yeo and her gallery staff for all their support in making this first round of art camps such a success! Do look out for more workshops and camps in the last quarter of 2017 … but for now, that’s a wrap!
In line with the latest group exhibition, Apertures, at Yeo Workshop, Jelly Bean Attic will be hosting a children art session to explore the works of Merryn Trevethan. The programe includes an introduction to the artist and her current works at the gallery. This will be followed by a craft activity that is inspired by the artist's use of depth and a tour of other artists' exhibits at Yeo Workshop as well as galleries nearby.
Merryn Trevethan is an Australian artist based in Singapore. She has exhibited widely in Australia and internationally. In 2015, Trevethan was commissioned to create large-scale mural artworks for the new Facebook Headquarters in Singapore and in 2016, completed an expansion of the project. She recently held her first solo exhibition in Singapore at the Australian High Commission in 2016.
The workshop will use a thematic lens through which children can engage in art-making. By facilitating rather than instructing, the workshop allows the little ones room to explore various materials and mediums to create.The workshop will focus on process art. It’s all about the creation process rather than the outcome.
19th August 2017, Saturday, 10am -11.30am
2nd September 2017, Saturday, 10am -11.30am
Suitable for ages 4-7 years old
$40 per child, drop off session
Each workshop is limited to 8 participants and will commence with a minimum of 3 children.
All materials provided and you get to take home your little one's creation!
Aprons will be provided. Do also bring a change of clothes, water bottle and a little snack for your child.
Play and art is an incredible experience for children, giving them room to be themselves and letting them explore the world around them through different colours and textures.
For more information on our upcoming August-September Kids Arts Camps, please contact our lovely organiser Fiona Sliva at
Jogyakarta is known and loved for its Borobudur Temple and cave diving activities, but what is truly interesting and underground about Jogyakarta is its art scene and the community that its artists have built around their studios and the galleries there. Some believe that this is because the Sultan is benevolent, and values culture as a major pillar of the city. Others say it's the proximity to the Merapi Volcano and therefore the spiritual gravitas nature lends as inspiration to artists, and yet others say it's because Jogyakarta is the heart of Indonesia, and the place where politics, nature and culture all intersect and dialogue. The art scene there thrives due to its vibrant community of artists.
Jogyakarta rises early. Sunrise is when the paddy fields come alive with work, roosters crow and the market vendors start setting up on the street.
8 - 9am: Printmaking workshops @ Grafis Minggiran
Learn to make Intaglio prints (Etching, Aquatint, Drypoint) and Alugraphy, as well as other relief and serigraphy techniques at this print studio with the seven master printmakers.
9:15 - 10am: Visit to artist Heri Dono’s Studio Kalahan
Formerly old Dutch police headquarters during the Second World War, the location is somewhat poignant for his work and his political agenda.
Photo: Kevin Koh
It’s interesting to visit in the day, but I find a little creepy in the evening with his large displays of his sculptures of despot dictators, Indonesian politicians and puppet theatre artworks all working kinetically.
There are several beautiful artist studios, including Jumaldi Alfi’s studio, that really looks like a lush resort. Lucky the artist who gets invited to do a residency at this space.
Photo: Kevin Koh
11am - 12pm: Affandi Museum
Visit the Affandi home and museum to peruse the expressive paintings of the renowned Indonesian modern master.
Shaped like the undergrowth of a banana tree, to look at this modern master’s work. The artist is well known to most and his works show up often at the regular auctions, so to see these masterpieces in his home and museum in this most eccentric of buildings, is an intimate way to get to know the artist. The museum showcases work across different periods of his life and is lovingly maintained by his family.
12 - 1 pm: Lunch at Bu Ageng Javanese specialties
Wonderful Javanese restaurant serving a large selection of food at unbelievable prices. A feast to share often costs no more than US $4-5 per person.
After Lunch: Visit to different styles of contemporary art galleries:
Sangkring Art Space, Ark Galerie and Cemeti Art House, with introduction to the exhibition and its programmes by the Gallery Manager.
In terms of galleries to actually do a bit of scouting for art for your collection, Sangkring Art Space is a commercial art gallery that showcases modern and contemporary art, featuring the best of Indonesian contemporary art alongside younger and more avant garde artists in its spacious exhibition area. What is spectacular about it is the modern building that sits defiantly amongst the rice paddy fields. Another excellent commercial art gallery is the Ark Galerie. Since 2008, Ark Galerie has been curated by Programme Director Alia Swastika, who was the director of Jogja Biennale 2015. Besides always putting on curatorially strong and challenging projects of the most exciting contemporary artists in Jogyakarta or visiting artists, it also has a very good photo opportunity. Cemeti Art House is also a must to visit to inspire. This space was founded 20 years ago by artist couple Mella Jaarsma & Nindyto who have with great dedication have published and put on fantastic programmes.
Insider Tip: There is a great photo opportunity by the steps outside of the Ark Galerie.
Across the street from Ark Galerie is the collection of Mr Deddy Irianto at Langgeng Art Foundation.
3 - 4 pm: Visit the energetic artist collective “Ace House”
Their 24-hour supermarket “Ace Mart” that sells contemporary art alongside daily groceries and necessities such as toothbrushes, tampons and cigarettes.
4 - 5 pm: Coffee at Kedai Kebun Forum
Kedai Kebun Forum is an artist-run space with a taste for strong Javanese coffee and snacks!
Alternatively, hop over to the next street to buy Monggo Chocolates for souvenirs, delicious treats which incorporate a Belgian technique of making chocolate with the best of Indonesian cocoa beans.
Dinner: We have taken some of our more adventurous guests to look for “Satay Klatak”, which means Satay skewered on the bicycle spokes. This is delicious, freshly slaughtered meat that is immediately barbequed above coal. As a Singaporean used to very clean street eats I was a little squeamish on the surrounding, but the food is definitely top on taste and authenticity.
Image courtesy of Kevin Koh of the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra
Do not miss the upcoming artist-run Art Fair! Art Jog runs from 19 May – 19 June 2017
The Arnoldii Arts Club is a high-end exclusive platform that is commissioned to conduct customised tours for specific groups, be it private banks, young collectors’ networks or specialised groups looking for art engagement activities. The tour guides selected for each group are handpicked for their professional and personable personalities, as well as their strong industry background in the event of any further requests. Most professionals have gallery, auction house or art historian backgrounds or significant work experience, and are able to answer any pertinent questions, aid in any art consultancy or acquisition requests.
A selection of Arnoldii’s recent tours include:
- 2–3 VIP tours for Art Stage Singapore 2012
- Prudential – UOB Private Bank “Investing in Art for the Future” Seminar followed by Tours of Gillman Barracks July 2016
- Visiting celebrity art tours through the district of Gillman Barracks – Ongoing
- YNG Tour to Jogyakarta October 2016
“My social circle since high-school was formed by art people - many of my friends back then in Bucharest are now artists, filmmakers, scriptwriters, etc., so starting to work in the arts was an extension of my social life. As a young community growing up in post-communist Romania, we were driven by a need to think, act differently, and make sense of that moment of transition where a vulnerable, recovering society from decades of communist suppression was greedily embracing the West. The Arts was our communal and binding language. When I was 20 years old, I got my first job in the Arts, I was the coordinator of the volunteer team for the 1st edition of the Biennale for Young Artists, Romania (2004), for which I continued to work the following years while completing my undergraduate studies.
I feel extremely grateful for having such friends during those formative years. We were trying to express ourselves through different means (for example writing, publishing, music, street art) push our thinking beyond the limits of a lethargic education system, but also explore, grasp and optimise that experience of (yet) fragile openness and permissiveness of post ’89 momentum. These experiences of transition from forms of authoritarianism, is something that I have similarly encountered in parts of Southeast Asia with artists engaging critically with the present while trying to find a language to understand a traumatic, recent past that often remains unaddressed in the light of rapid changes.
Since I moved to Singapore and started to work for NTU CCA Singapore, I felt extremely welcomed here by the arts community and our team as well. I always feel that I need to reciprocate this gesture of generosity and openness to the best of my possibilities and abilities. Working with people who motivate and inspire you is a driving force. I feel very lucky that in my experience, I had the opportunity to work and learn from amazing women curators. I also learnt how to lose power – this was a liberating discovery as it allowed me to keep myself grounded.”
Portrait shot by Natsuko Teruya
Makeup by Kelvin Khoo
“As a visual communication design student from The Indonesian Institute of the Arts Yogyakarta, I spent my university days in an environment highly concentrated with artist studios and art galleries. A favourite haunt for artists to hang out at, I began frequenting KKF (Kedai Kebun Forum) and much of my time spent there led me to meet notable figures in the Indonesian art scene, such as Farah Wardhani, Agung Kurniawan and his wife, Yustina Neni, who later became my mentors. These people whom I greatly respect, imparted their vast knowledge and management skills of Indonesia's art scene to me.
I landed my first gallery job as an assistant manager at an art gallery in Yogyakarta and after finishing my studies, I set out to work for an established artist duo, the indieguerillas. I was their project manager and merchandiser and we put together TV EYE, a touring exhibition involving artists of all forms, from art, design, music, street art, to fashion. Through the network of people from the Indonesian art scene I came to know Hermanto Soerjanto, gallery owner of Garis Art Space. After being introduced to Hermanto, I went on to manage the operations and programming for his gallery in Jakarta. I worked on several art projects during this time, including some side projects, the most notable one being when I assisted street artist Darbotz with a seven-storey high painting on the facade of Artotel in Jakarta. It was indeed an unforgettable moment as it was a first for Darbotz to create such a large-scale work and also the first time in Indonesia, for the art of a graffiti artist to be recognised on an official level.
In 2013 I met Mizuma-san for the first time at the various art fairs in both Hong Kong and Yogyakarta. Journeying through the art industry in my younger days, I had always known of Mizuma Art Gallery Tokyo and the respectable man behind all my well-loved Japanese artists. So when the chance came, I introduced Mizuma-san to the Indonesian artists I was working with, and I was eventually invited to organise an all-Indonesian exhibition in Mizuma Gallery Singapore, alongside Hermanto, who curated the show. The following year, I was offered a job here at Mizuma Gallery in Singapore and I moved.
Now as project manager for the gallery, I oversee exhibitions from the start such as liaising with the artists and gathering their proposed artworks, working alongside the curator to conceptualise the show, ensuring smooth packing and shipment of artworks, appropriate installation of artworks, till the very end when the show opens. Having the opportunity to work with artists I have idolised since I was younger, I continuously strive to promote them as our represented artists. Now my third year running with Mizuma Gallery in Singapore, I look back and am ever so grateful for the people who brought me much guidance and opportunities that brought me where I am today.”
Portrait shot by Natsuko Teruya
Makeup by Kelvin Khoo
“My grandmother is a painter and my mother is a watercolor artist, so I'd say the interest for visual arts runs in the family. I have no talent when it comes to producing art myself, but I have a great deal of respect for creative people. I wanted to be part of it, somehow. Artists need platforms to reach out to their audiences, so I thought working for an art gallery would make sense.
I had my first internship in a gallery in Paris in 2001, at Galerie Jerome de Noirmont. I was studying arts managements in Paris and spent two days a week learning the trade on the spot. At first, I was just running errands for the team, but eventually the gallery manager trusted me with new tasks and it became the foundation of my career. I learnt how to handle artworks, listened to what was happening in the office and contributed to the best of my young abilities to help run operations smoothly. I continued gathering experience through internships until I graduated in 2006, so the transition to a full time position was seamless. After my studies in Art History in France, travelled extensively, lived for a couple of years in New York and been living in Singapore for six years now. I think of this mobility as an asset.
My previous work experiences, including the plethora of students jobs I’ve had, from pasting posters on the streets to conducting surveys, working as a secretary for a car concession as well as waitressing – all of these taught me the different facets of the service industry and how to adapt quickly to any possible situation. I don't have preconception of what people know (or should know) when they look at art. I never assume anything and I ask a lot of questions! Your background shapes greatly the way you understand what surrounds you and everyone sees things differently. I'm pretty good at making analogies, which turns out is a very useful skill when you're trying to communicate a complicated concept to a young public!
Working in an art gallery, it is essential to be able to multi-task. It is very easy to overlook details when you handle multiple projects simultaneously. That's why its always a good idea to flatten out every piece of information and make sure you have a comprehensive understanding of what you are dealing with. I have an amazing visual memory but I am really bad with names and numbers. If I don't write things down, I'll forget it all within minutes. I have a self-regenerating collection of to do lists and notes on pieces of paper around me all the time!”
Portrait shot by Natsuko Teruya
Makeup by Kelvin Khoo
“I've always loved managing art exhibitions, ever since I was an art student at Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). From student-run exhibitions to big festival that took a year of preparation, it’s funny how I thought I was prepared to be an artist but ended up loving another role! After internships at several Bandung art spaces, I gained my professional experience as a Gallery Manager at ROH Projects, an art gallery in Jakarta. When I had to move to Singapore, it was only natural then that I began looking for an art gallery to work for. It’s didn’t happen immediately, so I worked in an art logistics company instead and I definitely do not regret that at all. The moment I heard Sullivan+Strumpf was opening a space in Singapore, I knew that that was the job I wanted! Ursula Sullivan and Joanna Strumpf, Directors of Sullivan+Strumpf, will remember how persistent I was in securing myself a role in their gallery.
Working in art gallery, every exhibition feels like another challenge and that's the fun part! We're talking about different artists, different artworks, different perceptions, and a myriad of ways to exhibit. I mostly deal with the production of exhibitions and art fairs – the timeline, shipment, layout, logistics, installation, visuals, and promotion including but not limited to press releases, website, and social media channels. Managing the sales process from start to finish is also part of my job at Sullivan+Strumpf.
Usually, before an exhibition opens, I give myself some time to develop a deeper understanding about the artist and their artworks, their concept as a whole, and I also to look for relevant facts that might lead to interesting discussions. Passion plays a huge role here. Other than exhibitions and art fairs, the gallery also manages the development of our represented artists, which is why we actively look for awards, prizes, and residencies that suit the various artists. I work closely with the Directors and the Sydney team to coordinate the promotion of our artists and to propose every development strategy that I have in mind.
Once a friend asked, what industry would you work in other than art? Honestly I couldn’t imagine anything else!”
Portrait shot by Natsuko Teruya
Makeup by Kelvin Khoo
“As a child, I used to beg my mother to send me for art classes because I wanted to learn how to draw and paint so badly. I studied art in school for a while but I always felt I was a better writer than I was ever an artist, so I played to my strengths that way.
I studied Linguistics in university, so that’s my expertise I guess. In my third year in university I decided to take an art history course and I was reminded of how alive art makes you feel – that was when I decided I wanted to breathe visual art again and share that with people. What drew me into working with Yeo Workshop was Audrey’s Arnoldii Arts Club. I love the idea because it’s a very interesting platform for people to learn about contemporary art and get up close and personal with it.
Visual art is one of those things that is everywhere, but for some reason it’s relatively inaccessible, exclusive, or something else, when it shouldn’t be. Knowledge about how people use language is important because it’s the one way to open up a field that is or comes across as technical, specialist, even exclusive to a select group, to make it more accessible to people who are unfamiliar with contemporary art. I mostly do marketing and communications for Yeo Workshop, so my skill set thankfully fits right in. The difficulty is actually balancing your audiences. We want to please and stimulate those who are well versed, but we also want to encourage more engagement and general interest in the arts!
As a writer, I think that the importance of perfection and pride in the information that gets pushed out (i.e. the final product), is essential because you owe it to your audience. Sometimes it can be really stressful, because I believe you can never attain perfection – you can only approximate it. This awareness both frustrates and motivates me, because I know the end result is never the best, and I can always do something to make it better (the fun part is figuring out what it is!). So to unwind, I sing. Not just in the shower but I’ve travelled for group competitions and festivals. To me it’s just normal because I’ve been singing since I was 9 but people are always surprised when they find out.”
Portrait shot by Natsuko Teruya
Makeup by Kelvin Khoo
“Since December 2015, I have been the Managing Director for Asia for Pearl Lam Galleries, working alongside Gallery Founder Pearl Lam to develop key frameworks of the galleries, including curatorial and programming, business development, and marketing, across the four major exhibition spaces in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai. After the past decade of being based and involved in the Chinese Art scene in China (and some parts of it in HK), I have returned and set foot back in Singapore to continue to facilitate the ecosystem of gallery work, which has entailed much of my art journey since moving to China from Bangkok, Thailand.
The 17 years in my art industry career has been filled with diverse curatorial projects, publishing essays and critiques, as well as art advisory and consultancy projects with various agencies, individual and institutions – I couldn’t be more fortunate to have laid my curiosities and experiences within Asia for its vast and richness of modern and contemporary art development and production. This is not to say that the road hasn’t been arduous: friends and enemies come and go, genres and trends disappear and re-appear, artists and cultural workers alive and dead - I have faced and confronted them all. As much as the density of visual art has been expanding unprecedentedly since the millennium, gaining much momentum in the past decade, I still constantly remind myself that each of us are just one red dot in the collectiveness of the art scene coming together, be it partaking in the market as an industry or perpetuating the discourse as a community; at the end of the day, there is no finer time to be a shrewd lover of art. Afterall, life depends hugely on it.
Having undertaken a role as a curator-gallerist more so than being a dealer-gallerist, I hope to serve better in the articulation of the presentation and execution of artists and their works through thoughtful exhibitions and projects. As much as artists depend on a good gallery system to support and navigate their ideas and concepts, galleries also have to challenge artists to bind together, not just to organize exhibitions for promotional purposes, but because together we are providing a platform for HISTORY in the making. I believe knowledge must be shared amongst the public so that values can be evaluated despite the notion that art is and should remain subjective and free for all.
Finally, having more time here in Singapore and Southeast Asia, it is very exciting for me to discover newness and re-discover the hidden in the region again. Most importantly, to re-connect once more the here and now of art-making, and the ideologies of the past concocting into the future. We need more arrivals in the visual art to be brutally honest and incisively vocal. For me, I am just glad to be back alive and kicking."
Portrait shot by Natsuko Teruya
Makeup by Kelvin Khoo
Newlyweds Kelsey Lee Offield of the Wrigley family and L.A. based multi-disciplinary contemporary artist, Cole Sternberg, share a passion for art – making art but also collecting art from various parts of the world. Kelsey sits on the boards of the Catalina Island Museum, Los Angeles Nomadic Division and LAXART, and is also an advisory member of VIA Art. She owns an art gallery, Gusford Gallery, in L.A. and has been featured in various publications, such as LA Confidential, C Magazine, ArtBlitz, Haute Living and Art Parasites. Amongst her favourite artists, is none other than her husband, Cole, whose works have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Whitewall Magazine, Issue Magazine, Autre Magazine, Hercules, Denver Post, Miami New Times, LA Weekly, Art Ltd., and the Huffington Post.
Before this charming couple took off for their honeymoon in Cambodia, they took the time to speak to SAC International about what kind of art they collect and why…
SAC: Kelsey, you come from an art collecting family, with strong philanthropic roots. Has this influenced the type of art that you collect personally?
Kelsey: No, not necessarily. My family collected art that reflected the worlds they loved and lived in…for example, my parents primarily collected California pleinair paintings, whilst my grandparents (who had strong ties to Arizona) collected southwestern art. But because I chose to study and work in the arts, I primarily collect contemporary art.
SAC: Who are your most favorite artists and why? You seem to collect mostly female artists. Is this coincidence or by choice?
Kelsey: I collect female artists by choice - but not exclusively. Ursula von Ryvinsgard is a favorite, Lorna Simpson, Tara Donovan, Christian Boltanski, and of course, Cole Sternberg!
SAC: What is the most interesting artwork you have bought recently?
Kelsey: Last year at Art Basel Miami Beach, I bought a work by Lorna Simpson. I am very excited about the piece, even though it is too large for my current house (it didn’t fit on any wall!) but we are designing a room in our new home that is inspired and influenced by the Lorna Simpson work. I can’t wait to see it installed! I also got a really cool “one-person tequila bar” by Alex Hubbard! It’s an installation made out of a museum crate about the size of two phone booths, stocked with alcohol, with a bar chair you can sit on and look at yourself in the mirror while you drink! It’s pretty radical!
Kelsey having her lone drink in Alex Hubbard’s “one-person tequila bar” that she purchased in Mexico recently.
SAC: Cole, you are an artist yourself and an art collector as well. Do you have the same taste in collecting as Kelsey?
Cole: Our tastes align in the vast majority of arenas, such as with artists like Dorothy Iannone, Lorna Simpson, Peter Dreher and Christian Boltanski. I’m also interested in certain conceptual artists like Bas Jan Ader and Bert Rodriguez, whose work is a bit different than what Kelsey tends to be driven to.
SAC: Who are some of your favourite artists and why?
Cole: There are simply too many to name. I love Ray Johnson, his collages, his mail art and his final performance especially, which is chronicled in the documentary ‘How to Draw a Bunny.’ I love Bas Jan Ader’s approach to life as performance, from his most famous work, ‘The Fall’ to his final work ‘In Search of the Miraculous’. Marcel Cosson’s paintings of the Parisian Ballet from the early 1900s I find beautiful in palette and composition. Dorothy Iannone’s merging of the figurative, abstract and text from the 1960s are equally stunning...
Artist Cole Sternberg in his studio in L.A. Cole’s elegant and poetic works deal extensively with socio-political issues, from human rights activism, legal and environmental issues, to media and concepts of content overload.
SAC: Kelsey, you’ve collected, as well as exhibited works of Singaporean artist Genevieve Chua in your gallery, Gusford, in LA. What is it about Gen’s work that attracts you to it?
Kelsey: The juxtaposition of simplicity layered with complexity. I first saw Gen’s work in Basel, Switzerland. It was a sculptural work that represents a complicated and imaginary game. It is a wooden table with steel legs, and 72 bronze “dice.” The dice are beautiful objects individually and as a whole, I loved the work for the complex history that Gen contrived in creating the work, whilst visually being so elegant and simple.
Kelsey with Singaporean artist, Genevieve Chua at GUSFORD Gallery, L.A.
Genevieve Chua’s original edition of “72”. A second edition of this work will be presented at Art Stage 2017. Photo credit: Genevieve Chua
SAC: Where do you go to look for interesting works of art? Do you collaborate when you’re looking to buy a new artwork or do you both buy according to your own tastes and see how the pieces interact with each other?
Kelsey: We travel a lot to artist studios, galleries and art fairs to find interesting work. Sometimes we collaborate, but if I think Cole will hate a piece that I love, then we don’t collaborate on those acquisitions.
Cole: I think we collaborate, but sometimes things appear that surprise me. For instance, a massive eight-foot high Caitlin Keogh of a woman with a snake coming from between her legs suddenly existed in our bedroom!
Rendering of forthcoming living room in the couple's new home with their newly acquired Lorna Simpson artwork as feature piece.
Design by FORM Design Studio, Designers: Rafael Kalichstein, Joshua Rose and Ophélie Renaudin
All photos unless otherwise stated are courtesy of Kelsey Lee Offield and Cole Sternberg
A Parisian of Philippine origin, Rose Anne de Pampelonne has been celebrating the skills of the artist and artisan in an understated sophistication that balances ethnic and Asian refinement with European know how for the last 20 years. Her commissions have ranged from opulent penthouses to private estates in Europe, a palace home in the Middle East and in her home country, she has ventured outside private projects to design commercial show flats and is involved in an on-going nature reserve resort hotel and marina. Projects have been featured in numerous architectural magazines, which in their words celebrate “an eclectic classicism” of which “the result is always elegant and ebullient and often a bit mischievous.” She was invited in 2012 to be one of the 14 designers in the prestigious AD Intérieurs exhibit in Paris. She has moved recently to Singapore and she spoke to SAC International about her ideas on art and design.
To begin, let us try to understand the force behind all art. Robert Hughes, the art critic in his book “The Shock of the New” wrote:
“The basic project of art is always to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory and its occasional nastiness, not through argument but through feeling, and then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you, and in this way pass from feeling to meaning. (…) It's done by individuals, each person mediating in some way between a sense of history and an experience of the world.”
All art is contemporary in its time, but the 21st century has become very different from the past. We have witnessed changes in the relationship between the artist and patrons or collectors. It belongs to a globalism where art is no longer viewed solely by its aesthetic values but within its geographical entity like a response to its culture, ideology and history. The last decades witnessed also the beginning of art as an investment, challenging us further to educate ourselves on the quality of art outside the context of its market value while artists began to use the tastes of the market rather than their own vision as their motivation. “The new job of art is to sit on the wall and get more expensive” is how Hughes acidly described it.
Passage area with marble sculpture "Pure" by Benito Tarabella, table by Mangiarotti and painting by Philippe Decrauzat. Photo credit: Richard Powers
Contemporary art reflects the art of our times and living with it depends on the purpose and vision you have for your home. A museum’s primary objective is to display its art, while a private residence is bound by many givens.
A home no matter how beautiful it is succeeds when it is comfortable – an ease that its function, its scale and proportions, its natural light and character as well as the owner’s needs and preferences are harmonious so it reflects the owner’s deepest feelings.
Dialogue is necessary whether between client and designer, between the art and the decoration surrounding it, between the historic character, the comfort and technological innovation used. Therefore, a successful interior is one where there is a flow of communication or sharing of ideas with a dash of risk, which I like to call “spontaneous error” so that its result is not too perfect which is inevitably cold and bland or at worse just an expensive show piece with no soul.
Dining room paintings commissioned to Russian painter, Valery Nikolaec Koshlyakov. Table by Eric Schmitt and rock crystal chandelier by Herve van der straeten. Photo credit: Massimo Listri
If I look back, almost all my clients were avid or important art collectors. We start these projects by creating a photo catalogue of their art with dimensions, provenance, price etc. so that as the interiors are being laid out, we have on file each of the artwork at hand so that discussions with client, architect or lighting designers are thoughtful of the art to highlight. You realise too that these works may need to be shifted around so it is indispensable to select which sets of paintings or sculptures have probabilities of being rotated per room, so a flexibility is required.
On designing this duplex penthouse in Paris with stunning views to the Eiffel Tower, the only pre-requisite art from the client was their commission to a wonderful Russian painter to create paintings for all walls of the dining room. It was exciting that a collaborator Florence Lopez showed me a Hiquilly chrome table and from there we decided to ask Eric Schmitt to create an asymmetrical table with five different table tops in different metal colours and marbles as the dining table. A few more paintings were brought by the client but all other paintings and sculptures were offered as my choice.
Tony Cragg “cast glances” bronze sculpture, mirrored bronze panel walls, van der straeten mirrors, Eric Schmitt consoles and Rapdeche carpet. In the sitting room armchairs by Gio Ponti, table by Mangiarotti, Willy Daro lamp, Katya Strunz painting. Photo credit: Richard Powers
The various challenges we faced were numerous as we gutted the duplex from a six bedroom flat to a reception, guest and utility floor below while upstairs as a private suite with its reception, office, bedroom, dressing, hammam and bathroom. It had a dark entrance that opened up into a terrace so we played with mirrored panel walls and a geometric carpet I designed to make this room connect towards the terrace. From the powerful Tony Cragg sculpture greeting you in the entrance, the dialogue of metal energy continues to the Katya Strunz painting situated in a “murky pastel” fabric walled room. Counterbalanced on the opposite side I hung Tracey Emin’s nervous and personal painting from the Venice Biennale with a sculpture of a “Longing Fox” by Pierre Voturiez.
To create a passage from the public to private area, I employed the clean palette of a Decrauzat painting with a Mangiarotti organic table with the Tarabella sculpture “Pure”, both in white marble, before leading to the upper salon with the Lanskoy and Yakovlev paintings dotted with Vienesse Secession small tables centered by a Giano green marble coffee table by Polidori with adjusting heights.
Pierre Voturiez’s “Longing Fox” looks up at Tracey Emin’s painting. Coffee table by Philippe Hiquilly. Photo credit: Richard Powers
This inevitably brings us to the small office but one my client and I adore. The bronze Mouflon desk by François-Xavier Lalanne balanced by an Ico Parisi chair, an Angelo Lelli floor lamp across – its roving eye animating the mat teal blue green walls and a delicate rug by Andre Sornay. The different layers make up the whole but the dialogue remains the same – try to look for the best in the budget, create a tension of textures but keep it coherent and always comfortable to function…the icing on the cake – the Mouflon desk bought in 2006 has now been valued by recent auctions seven times more.
Having moved back to Asia, the new challenge that I face is odd albeit one I am happy to face. I grew up in Manila apart from my early years at school in Europe, but I now sense ambivalence in my understanding contemporary architecture in Asia. I definitely love much from Asia and have used it to the point in France that it was described as “ethnic opulence”, so I understand that I like a past Oriental opulence which in Europe resounds as exotic. However, I realise this is not pertinent here so an Asian Exotic transforms into a Tropical Moderne. There is the omnipresent outdoor space entering inner spaces, so I have to take into consideration the colours: the yellow greens and vibrant jade greens of the surrounding as well as an architecture which is often not symmetrical nor proportioned to height and volume with tall windows, doors etc.
Mouflon desk by François-Xavier Lalanne, floor lamp Angelo Lelli. Photo credit: Richard Powers
I am currently helping a client in Manila decorate her 1950s house, which was built by an American architect at that time. It was renovated twenty years ago in a mixture of Balinese style with Southern California shabby chic furnishings and the house was then featured in Architectural Digest.
My client has an important collection of Philippine paintings especially of Anita Magsaysay Ho. She recently loaned one to the National Museum for the Reframing Modernism show with Pompidou last year. One of the rooms we are renovating is a library where the Taga-Nayon (Country Folk) painting by Magsaysay Ho dominates the room as does the leafy courtyard it looks out to. We clad the library shelves and the niche walls in zebrano wood and used a bi-coloured velvet sofa to create a fumoir like atmosphere – an evening room to receive in contrast to the main sitting room which is delicate, subtle and full of light.
Rendering and elevation plan of study with Anita Magsaysay Ho's 1949 oil on wood painting, "Taga-Nayon", in a client's study in Manila. Design by Rose Anne de Pampelonne.
So continues my quest to discover how to dialogue with Southeast Asian residential architecture – to seek a modern interpretation that balances layer upon layer, like the food we know in Asia which can combine the rich history of colonial-inspired influences adapted to the indigenous heritage so when combined with our contemporary “globalist” viewpoint, it does not become an east meets west that speaks cheap easy glamour but resonates with how a rice field can relate to a haystack so we glean inspiration by texture, proportion, scale, colour and definitely art so a genius loci or the deepest feelings are stirred, shaken, shared and savoured.
Rose Anne de Pampelonne
As a Friend of the Museums (FOM) docent I thoroughly enjoy guiding the History and Heritage tours at Gillman Barracks (GB). You’d think spending an hour outdoors amongst lush tropical foliage sharing knowledge about Singapore’s defining moments in its history would satisfy anyone’s desire for entertainment, but for me it goes beyond that. What is most heartwarming is witnessing the testimonials, old photographs and stories shared by visiting relatives of the ex-servicemen once based at Gillman Barracks.
Since 2014 the FOM has offered Art and History tours to the public, two years after Gillman Barracks was converted into Singapore’s Contemporary Arts hub. Eighteen months later saw the introduction of the History and Heritage tours as a test during SG50’s Singapore Heritage Festival. Weeks before the Festival, the National Heritage Board and Economic Development Board approached FOM about offering a history tour and thanks to the determination of two FOM docents, research was quickly compiled and put into a script for history docents to follow. All GB’s history research came from the Singapore Archives, the National Library, field work, online blogs, testimonials and photographs. Today FOM has more research on GB than the National Library Board or Singapore Archives put together!!
Motorcycle Police at Gillman Barracks in 1958. Photo credit: Yeeman Fan
A little about GB history. From 1935-1971, Gillman Barracks served as a British Army barracks and later as a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) camp until 1996 when it was converted into Gillman Village, a restaurant and retail hub. It was named after General Sir Webb Gillman commissioned by the London War Office to assess the defense capabilities of the new naval base in response to the Japanese threat in East Asia. Before the outbreak of WW2, Gillman Barracks served to accommodate the 1st Batallion Middlesex Regiment (1936-38) and 2nd Batallion Loyal Regiment (1938-1942), doubling the size of the infantry in Singapore. Two important milestones took place in the history of Gillman Barracks: firstly, GB was the last British post to fall before surrendering to the Japanese on February 15 1942. Secondly, in 1971 after the British withdrew from Singapore, they sold the barracks to Singapore’s new government for a token sum of $1, and then the SAF Combat Engineers moved in.
Gillman Barracks sits on top of the southern ridges overlooking Keppel Harbour – a site that was once a jungle swamp. At one time Gillman Barracks covered 118 acres spanning from the AYE in the North to Telok Blangah Road in the South, to Alexandra Road in the West and to Mount Faber Park in the East. Nine three-storey housing blocks, the size of Block 9, were built on the hills of Telok Blangah for the single men’s quarters and 48 clusters of married quarters were built along Railway Hill (now the Interlace Condo) and Preston Road. Other buildings functioned as mess halls, regimental institutes and transport depots. The Royal Engineers of Far East Land Forces also built tennis courts, badminton courts, a swimming pool and a cinema to keep the troops entertained during down time. Their fondest memories were of the swimming pool. Today the swimming pool has disappeared somewhere in the jungle and only 11 of the original 70+ colonial buildings remain in an area covering roughly a third of the original.
Visitors can discover more intriguing stories of Gillman Barracks’ past by registering for the one-hour History and Heritage tour on Eventbrite.sg. These tours are offered most Saturdays at 5pm and led by trained FOM docents but do not include visits to the art galleries or the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art (NTU CCA). The FOM also offers Art & History tours at 4pm on Saturdays and these cover some history but focus predominantly on the art galleries and the NTU CCA. If you have not yet visited Gillman, sign up for a tour and see why visitors and docents alike are enchanted by its stories from the past.
Photo credit: Glyn Wright
Excerpt from a testimonial from Glyn Wright sent via email of October 24, 2015:
“My wife and I just returned to our hotel after spending an afternoon at Gillman Barracks. It was an especially poignant visit for me as my maternal grandfather served in the 1st Battalion Middlesex Regiment. Together with my grandmother and mother (who was 12 at the time) he sailed with the battalion from their Egypt station and was among the first soldiers to arrive in 1936 to live there.
We took the History and Heritage tour and with the help of our guide Cassie, I was able to pinpoint the exact location of some photographs I have in my possession that were taken by my relatives in 1936/37. Among them are two photographs of the entrance to the Barracks in which Blocks 37 and 38 and the steps leading up the hill past the regimental badge can clearly be seen.”
In 2016, Singaporean artists actively participated in numerous international exhibitions, biennales, and in museums and galleries abroad. Last year alone, artist, writer, and curator Heman Chong had a solo exhibition at the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai and participated in the 20th Sydney Biennale. He ended the year with a solo exhibition at FOST Gallery in Gillman Barracks in Singapore. Apart from his local renown, Heman is also represented by London gallery Rossi & Rossi, who regularly brings his works to international art fairs such as Frieze New York.
Photo of Singaporean artist Heman Chong. His solo show, “Portals, Loopholes and Other Transgressions” ran from 28th October until 29th December 2016 at FOST Gallery. Photo credit: Nguan
Another globe-trotting artist is Ming Wong. Based in Berlin, Ming exhibited last year at the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Queensland and at the Passerelle Centre d’art Contemporain in Brest, and was commissioned by the Frieze Film Commission for a new film exhibited at Frieze London and broadcast on UK Channel 4’s Random Acts.
Established artists are not the only ones who are exhibiting abroad. Emerging artists in their twenties have already spread their wings and have been participating in biennales and galleries abroad. Artists Luke Heng and Hilmi Johandi, have exhibited both at home and in Paris, inspiring more young Singaporean artists to enter the European art scene. Sarah Choo Jing, a multidisciplinary artists, just 23 years of age, recently won the prestigious Prix de la Photographie Paris for fine art photography in November last year.
While we admire Singaporean artists for their global exposure, we wonder why and how Singaporean artists have become savvy in navigating the international art seas. For one thing, Singaporeans – both citizens and residents of this fair isle – are globe-trotting passport-toting travellers. So it’s no surprise that artists reflect the island’s jet setting habit. In addition to travelling abroad, it is increasingly common for Singaporean students to spend a chunk of time studying abroad. Singaporean artists are no exception. Jack Tan, who participated in last year’s SAC Public Arts Programme at Gillman and is currently exhibiting at the Singapore Biennale 2016, is one such example. In 1992, he moved to Yorkshire to read Law at the University of Hull. He then went on to study ceramics in London and is currently pursuing a PhD in the Department for Drama, Theatre and Performance at the University of Roehampton, London. Besides exhibiting and curating shows in London, Tan also lectures in Sculpture and Fine Art at various universities and art institutions in the U.K., further paving the way for Singaporean artists to establish themselves as experts in the field of contemporary art on a global scale.
However, the appeal of Singaporean artists in the international art scene runs deeper. Rather than simply a reflection of our travelling and study habits, the works of Singaporean artists transcend boundaries. Coming from a place of multiculturalism and world-class education system, Singaporean artists are equipped to deal with issues that are of concern not only in Singapore but also throughout the world. These artists are engaging themselves with philosophical enquiry and converging concepts from various disciplines such as music, as in the case of conceptual artist Ang Song-Ming, also based in Berlin; literature as seen in Stephanie Burt’s work; and even the legal profession, as in the case of Jack Tan. The works of these and other Singaporean artists adopt symbols and artistic language that translates well in the international art circuit.
Panoramic view of the Singapore Pavillion at the 56th Venice Biennale with Charles Lim’s multi-media installation “SEA STATE”
Image courtesy of National Arts Council
How then does Singapore represent itself – as an entity or as a subject – at international biennales? In the 56th Venice Biennale, in which Charles Lim represented Singapore with SEA STATE, and for the upcoming 57th Venice Biennale this May, when Zai Kuning will represent Singapore, a common thread between the two artists has surfaced – both artists investigate Singapore’s relationship with the sea and its maritime history. After all, Singapore is an island – we can’t escape the water! Yet, the sea does not play an active part in our everyday lives. Both Charles and Zai convey an aspect of Singapore’s history and identity that is complexly woven on the island state’s geographical nature and fluid identity.
A former Olympic athlete who represented Singapore in sailing, Charles is as comfortable on land as he is in water. SEA STATE, his work at the 56th Venice Biennale, explored the borders of Singapore, which is not delineated on land but are marked by buoys in the waters surrounding Singapore.
As for Zai’s work for the 57th Venice Biennale, while his presentation for Venice does include the surrounding waters and its commercial implications – part of his presentation includes his decade-long research and creation with and about the Orang Laut, the original inhabitants of the land and the sea of the surrounding areas in Singapore’s vicinity – his work touches on the forgotten history of the Malay culture in Singapore and Southeast Asia. For the past 700 years, the Malay culture has been inherently associated with Islam. This has resulted in the region’s collective amnesia on the Malay Archipelago’s pre-Islamic roots. Titled Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge, Zai’s installation in Venice will continue his exploration on his ship series, inspired by the ancient seafaring ships of the Srivijaya Kingdom.
Artist Zai Kuning's decade-long research into the maritime history of the region and the ancient shipbuilding traditions of the Srivijaya Kingdom has led to several renditions of the replica of an ancient sailing ship, built only with rattan, beeswax and strnig. For the Singapore Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale, the artist will be presenting his largest rendition of the work to date.
Image courtesy of the National Arts Council
In light of Singapore’s fluid identity, the creative population is not limited to solely Singaporean artists. As with other industries in Singapore, the artistic scene in Singapore is fuelled also by residents who have made Singapore their home. For years, artists have been coming to Singapore and have contributed to the art scene here.
A well-known example is the husband and wife artist couple Delia and Milenko Prvacki. They have been living in Singapore since 1990 and took up Singapore citizenship in 2002. Milenko was the recipient of the prestigious Cultural Medallion Award for the Visual Arts, the highest accolade awarded to Singaporean artists, in 2012. Both artists, now in their sixties, have been actively teaching and have influenced a couple of generations of young Singaporean artists.
Not all artists who live in Singapore take up citizenship or permanent residency, but their contributions are pertinent to the art landscape here. Artists Mike HJ Chang (from Taiwan and the US) and Merryn Trevethan (from Australia) now call Singapore home. Mike is not only actively exhibiting but also teaches art in Singapore, educating a younger generation of Singaporeans about art. Merryn too has been exhibiting, most recently at the Australian High Commission, demonstrating that art is not only a tool for education but also a form of diplomacy between Singapore and the rest of the world. Merryn was also commissioned for an artwork for the new Facebook offices at the South Beach Tower, which she recently completed in 2016.
Now, what about us – the art lovers? What can we do to support Singapore’s art scene? In 2016, there has been an increase in the number of visitors to art fairs and museums in Singapore. Singaporean art lovers are also increasingly travelling to Art Basel Hong Kong and Art Stage Jakarta in support of Singaporean artists. However, what artists need are not simply art lovers and art viewers but also art buyers. Ultimately, the best way one could support Singaporean artists is to buy works by Singaporean artists. Investing in the works of Singaporean artists and artists who call Singapore home provides them with financial support that artists need in order to support themselves.
If contemporary art is history in the making, then buying local contemporary art is an investment in the future of Singapore art and its cultural landscape.
"The written language is a way to understand human's biological and cultural growth through its gestures and marks... I make my "Shank" series to understand the sacredness of a scripture." - Fyerool Darma
Can one explore variations of the narrative of a country’s past or the writing of history through visual culture? The familiar narratives, often retold to generation after generation, are seldom questioned, perhaps less often than they should be.
Fyerool Darma is a young Singaporean artist, working primarily within the traditions of painting, to explore cultural identity and the residues of colonialism in his work. His research begins from his own identity, traversing the past and highlighting its presence in contemporary society as a proposal to the future. As an artist, Darma explores the imaginative by presenting alternative narratives to challenge the dominant account on the historical record of individuals and moments, where a colonial past still echoes into the present. He saunters through the past to highlight problems of the translation of a society’s history depicted, described and narrated within the current context of globalisation.
Tracing the relationship between the coloniser and the colonised through history, Darma’s Moyang is a series of portraitures and landscapes that have been partially obscured, to reflect a partiality of historical knowledge in a nation’s consciousness. This series of intriguing paintings are visual interpretations of regional literary and historical texts, each questioning the mainstream historical narrative through the exploration and investigation of peripheral narratives in history and culture. The latest painting in this series, Portrait No. 10 (The Boy Who Saved An Island in the Arms of His Mother), was recently presented in a group exhibition at Galeri Petronas in Malaysia titled SEMANGAT X: Visual Expressions of Southeast Asian Identity.
Portrait No. 10 (The Boy Who Saved An Island in the Arms of His Mother), Of Moyang Series, 2016, Acrylic on linen and burned wood, 78 x 64 x 5 cm
Image courtesy of the artist
Closer to home, Darma conceived an installation commissioned for the Singapore Biennale 2016: An Atlas of Mirrors, titled The Most Mild Mannered Men. Departing from his painting practice, he created sculptures of two key figures in Singapore’s history, to explore the tensions between memory and amnesia of historical narratives.
The Most Mild Mannered Men, 2016, Plaster, marble, appropriate replica bust and plinth, 180 x 55 x 55 cm (each)
Image courtesy of the artist
A young artist making his mark on the Singapore art landscape, Darma has a number of projects lined up for 2017, including a solo exhibition at Yeo Workshop in September. Curated for Singapore Art Week, Fantasy Islands was a group exhibition at OBJECTIFS exploring the concept of borders, both real and imagined, and how it shapes relationships between countries. Running during the same week was Ubi, Ubi!, a visual art exhibition presented by Darma and a group of artists who share a studio space. This artist-initiated project is an insight into the warm community which artist can thrive in through collaboration and more importantly, peer support and motivation.
Seng Yu Jin is a Senior Curator at the National Gallery Singapore. One of the five contributors to the Singapore Curators' Cut: Important Contemporary Art Exhibitions that was held at Yeo Workshop in 2014 and whose catalogue was recently published, Yu Jin is a scholar and industry expert in the history of artistic activities, exhibitions and artist collectives in Southeast Asia, as well as the modes of operation of various art world systems. In our inquiry into the question of territoriality and the boundaries of Singaporean contemporary art, we asked Yu Jin for his thoughts…
Singapore Arts Club: Yu Jin, our approach to Singapore contemporary art is that it defies territorialisation. Thus our theme for this magazine, “glocalisation” aims to highlight the global voice within the Singapore art scene, as well as contextualise the work of local artists in the global art market. But would you argue that this is not a new phenomenon of visual art production in Singapore at all?
Yu Jin: Artistic production in general has rarely been produced in a cultural vacuum. This implies that art making is usually directly or indirectly the result of cultural exchanges between the local and the global and regional. One example is the Nanyang artists such as Chen Wen Hsi, Cheong Soo Pieng, Georgette Chen, Liu Kang and Chen Chong Swee who hybridised painting pictorial traditions from Chinese ink painting in the hanging scroll and hand scroll formats, Western easel painting in the form of the School of Paris such as Cubism and Post-Impressionism, and local as well as regional subject matter into their artworks. Nanyang art is therefore the product of the “glocal” as these artists travelled from China to Singapore, while some like Liu Kang and Georgetten studied in Paris before the Second World War, others like Cheong Soo Pieng sojourned to the United Kingdom in the 1960s. As such, we can say that the “glocalisation” has been taking place in the history of modern art in Singapore and is therefore not a new phenomenon at all.
Singapore artists have always drawn from multiple cultural sources since the Nanyang artists, in part due to Singapore’s strategic geographical location between the East and the West. The movement of artists and ideas have circulated through Singapore, which has resulted in cultural production that has tended to look outwards, which could be partly due to Singapore itself as an island that has to look outwards due to its own physical limitations as a small city-state. Artists after the Nanyang artists continued this process of “glocalisation” when Singapore artists returning from their studies abroad in England, Paris and New York started to return in the 1960s and 1970s. They brought with them new ideas of abstract expressionism as an international style and also introduced conceptualism through artists like Cheo Chai Hiang and Tang Da Wu from the 1970s onwards.
SAC: Who would you say were the key players in the Singapore art industry historically and who do you see as the key players today?
YJ: The Singapore art world after the Second World War was dominated by art societies such as the Singapore Art Society, the Equator Art Society, the Singapore Water Colour Society, the Modern Art Society and others. These were ground-up artist initiatives will little government support to organise art exhibitions and activities like overseas artist exchanges, art journals, art competitions and even art classes. The establishment of the National Museum Art Gallery in 1976, followed by the Singapore Art Museum that opened in 1996, and now the National Gallery Singapore that opened in 2015 have seen the rapid institutional development of art museums dedicated to the research, preservation and presentation of Singapore and Southeast Asian art here.
Besides the museums, the art market has also grown over the years with auction houses, art galleries and more recently art fairs as well as the Gillman Barracks playing a major role in promoting Singapore artists internationally. Independent art spaces like the Substation, Plastic Kinetic Worms, Post-Museum, OBJECTIFS, Sculpture Square, LASALLE ICAS, NUS Museum and NTU CCA have greatly expanded the scope of art in an interdisciplinary manner across fields like visual art, music, literature, theatre and architecture.
The key players today are the art fairs and collectors who continue to support our artists by presenting their works overseas and collecting their works. It is also important that Singapore artists do not make works for the art market but maintain their critical integrity of their works. Museums do loom large and play an crucial role in translating curatorial research on art into programmes and exhibitions that reach out to the public without compromising on the intellectual engagement of these outreach activities. NAFA, LASALLE College of the Arts, and SOTA will continue to play an indispensable role in art education here. More recently, NUS has collaborated with the National Gallery Singapore to launch a minor in art history, which marks a bold step to re-introduce art history as a discipline to undergraduates. There are of course graduate programmes such as the MA Asian Art Histories programme at LASALLE and the Spaces of the Curatorial programme offered by NTU CCA. These programmes are critical for the long-term development of art history and curatorship here.
The Curating Lab programme run by NUS Museum in collaboration with NAC is also important in growing a pool of curators. NAC’s role in funding and supporting cultural practitioners is of course, indispensable. What is critical is for the entire art ecology, both private and public to find ways to collaborate and find points of intersection to support art that is critically engaged.
SAC: How is Singapore contemporary art connected with other art developments regionally and globally?
YJ: Singapore contemporary art has always been connected regionally and globally since the Nanyang artists. What has perhaps changed is the intensity, scope and depth of how Singapore artists draw cultural sources from not just the region of Southeast Asia but the world. This worlding of contemporary art today is what keeps contemporary art in Singapore critically engaged with global contemporary art. To stay connected globally, the importance of the local is amplified as it is local contexts and narratives that will eventually engage with the global on the position of cultural differences and diversity. How that is achieved conceptually and aesthetically is really up to the artist who has the possibilities of a whole plethora of technologies to draw from.
Have you ever wondered how you ended up someplace? Some people believe in Fate and Destiny, some people believe in Chance. Zhuang Wubin believes that our lived experience is not by design, stemming from a pondering over alternative histories. Starting from his own experience of being Chinese, Zhuang’s research on the ethnic Chinese communities in small towns and rural areas of Southeast Asia is inspired by his grandfather’s meandering journey from China ending in his settling in Singapore, as well as political scientist Mary Somers Heidhues’ caution that legitimacy of belonging is threatened by the lack of recorded history pertaining to such migrant Chinese communities in these parts of Southeast Asia. Taking her caution as a starting point, Zhuang collects and aestheticises the stories of rural Chinese communities to preserve them.
Small-Town Stories is a project started in 2010 intended to reflect the artistic medium of photography while contributing to fill a gap in recorded knowledge. Travelling to small towns and rural areas in Southeast Asia, Zhuang collects and visualises the stories of people belonging to various Chinese communities he encounters, documenting the lesser-known narratives of being Chinese in Southeast Asia to highlight the plurality of Chinese identity in the region. Exhibitions of his ongoing project include the portraits and depictions of the life of his sitters, captions providing a short biographic description of his sitters or description of the image, and reconstructed pages of his fieldnotes – their characteristic immediacy creating an intimacy between viewers, the artist, and his subject as they contain Zhuang’s reflections while on his journeys.
Selection of exhibition photographs. Medium: Archival D-Print on Hahnemühle Museum Etching Matt Fine Art Paper. Dimensions: 20 x 18 inches, unframed. Photos courtesy of the artist.
As an artist, his use of film photography results in the creation of photographs that have a timeless quality to serve the visualisation and aestheticisation of the histories of these Sinophone communities. Zhuang uses a 1950’s Rolleiflex Automat K4A – a camera that slows the artist’s work process, giving his sitters the opportunity to direct the photographic encounter as well. Zhuang revealed that two of his photographs were born of his desire for a family portrait, however his sitters, who were Muslim Chinese, requested that the familial relationships be photographed separately, in the process sealing a specific depiction of their beliefs and written into visual history. Thus, the photograph is an event; performative of a negotiation between the photographer and the subject, resulting in a product born of the desires and expectations of both the artist and the portrayed subject.
Zhuang’s work is interpretive in nature, because for him, it is less about establishing historical truth, and more about imagining the past.
At the heart of his recent exhibition at Yeo Workshop is a metal box, filled with photographs and artefacts collected on his travels through these regions. Referred to as a “portable museum”, it is a vessel for Zhuang’s project, illuminating the rich history of photography and Sinophone communities in Southeast Asia. The selection of contents in the box itself is eclectic, comprising several of his own photographs and their accompanying captions, old photographs from flea markets, wedding invitations, and other artefacts that contextualise his photography of ethnic Chinese in the small towns of Southeast Asia.
Wubin’s “portable museum” contains original photos as well as photos that the artist picked up at various rural flea markets along his travels. Ticket receipts, wedding invitation cards and visiting cards are also amongst the curious treasured finds in the box.
Examining the contents of the box reveals its intent as a contextual key to the thrust of Zhuang’s artistic practice and research – his “portable museum” is a material representation of the complexity and plurality of the narrative of Chinese identity in Southeast Asia. To this end, the artist chooses consciously to avoid reference to modern national boundaries in his description of locations, thus bringing forth the notion of fluidity across borders to highlight the diversity in migratory experiences and being Chinese in Southeast Asia.
The situation of Zhuang’s work in the contemporary is intentional, as the definition of contemporary describes the simultaneous existence of many things – in this context, experiences of being Chinese in Southeast Asia. Perceiving his work as contemporary art is a persuasive way to recognise the diversity of Chinese migratory experiences, and evoke a comparison between realities.
Beyond the exhibition, Zhuang’s work has important anthropological consequences. Given a choice, how would we identify ourselves? If local definitions of being “local” exclude being Chinese, the communities that Zhuang seeks may choose not to identify themselves as such. It is through local knowledge of which members of society have Chinese heritage that informs Zhuang’s fieldwork. Labels in their denotative and connotative nature have the ability to discriminate and obscure. They serve to signify and highlight certain aspects of identity, and imply whole social realities in their selective use.
Being Chinese himself, Zhuang recognises that had his grandfather migrated to Manila, or Surabaya, instead of Singapore, his reality of being Chinese would be very different, highlighted by the use of different labels, such as “Chinoy” in Manila, to mark Chinese identity in countries where they are not the majority.
Small-Town Stories is a growing body of Zhuang’s art and research, looking beyond what is familiar, expanding horizons, writing into history stories previously untold, and inviting us to ponder our own alternative histories.
2016 marked the 50th anniversary of Singapore-Japan Diplomatic Relations. Japanese artist and cultural ambassador Kubo Shu, was in Singapore last October to conduct a series of workshops on the traditional art of Japanese paper cutting. Known as Kirié, this is a very delicate art of paper cutting using an art knife. An exhibition of selected works by the artist was held at The Arts House to accompany these workshops.
Trained as an architect, Kubo discovered Kirié whilst at university and has over the years married various traditional and modern artistic techniques in order to develop his own unique Kirié style. He translates his skill in architectural rendering onto handmade traditional Japanese paper, called washi. Washi is made from raw plant materials and the inspiration to use washi came from his fascination with kata yuzen: the traditional method of dyeing kimonos. A dying art in itself, traditional kimono making entails several processes, each carried out by specialist craftsmen. One step is the carving out of intricate designs, often depicting nature and the change of seasons; cherry blossoms, autumn leaves or even abstract geometric patterns, onto stencils made of washi paper. Kubo carries with him one such stencil - a 300-year old washi stencil that was used to dye kimonos. He pulls out this little treasure at the beginning of each workshop and proudly displays it to his eager audience.
Japanese artist Kubo Shu with H.E. Ambassador Kenji Shinoda admiring the artist's intricate paper cutting of the Singapore skyline. The Japanese Ambassador graced the opening of Kubo Shu's inaugural Kirié exhibition at The Arts House.
At first glance, Kubo’s Kirié pieces visually resemble ukiyo-e woodblock printing because of the striking outlines, but upon closer inspection the layers of fine textured washi paper become evident. The design plan for each piece is paramount as Kubo cuts out each design from one piece of paper, ensuring that the outlines are all connected. Over the years, he has began exploring multimedia by incorporating other materials such as pastel paint, acrylic paint, fabric and sand into his work.
Supported by Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs since 2009, Kubo has travelled around the world giving lectures and conducting paper-cutting workshops in over 30 countries. His motivation to travel the globe visiting countries such as Spain, Portugal, Ukraine, Cuba, Georgia, Turkey, USA, China and the Philippines, and having to overcome communication barriers through the use of translators in order to teach these diverse audiences an art form he has dedicated his entire artistic practice to, stems from a very personal space.
In 1995 Kubo experienced the great Kobe Earthquake and witnessed first-hand the devastation of natural landscapes, irreplaceable historical spaces, as well as the tragic loss of so many lives. The sense of fragility and temporality of life struck him. A man very proud of his heritage and culture, he was aware that Japan, a land periled by natural disasters was constantly at risk of losing more of its built history. Through the art of Kirié then, he tries to capture the elegant beauty and vitality of his country. His artworks depict traditional country cottages, beautiful changing seasons and food culture. The medium then is also a fitting metaphor because the painstaking and time-consuming effort it takes to hand cut these delicate designs can be so easily destroyed in seconds, just as the Kobe Earthquake that lasted 20 seconds destroyed ancient homes, monuments and trees.
Kubo’s love for nature is evident; much of his artworks are inspired from the vibrant and diverse scenery of his hometown in the Yamaguchi Prefecture, but the mastery of his craft is best observed in his Kirié renderings of iconic architectural spaces. Ancient temples, historic monuments and traditional cottages allow him to revel in the simple beauty of a clean straight line. His architectural background allows him to observe the details of these buildings more keenly and make elaborate sketches, drawing out the perspectives and lines.
Participants engrossed in their paper cutting activity.
Going beyond merely exhibiting his works, teaching Kirié internationally allows Kubo to fulfil his role as cultural ambassador more intimately and effectively with diverse peoples. His true understanding of art as a tool of cultural diplomacy is demonstrated in his incorporating of the landscape and monuments of those countries into his artwork. As much as he is transmitting, he is also receiving and he sees this process essential to building and maintaining relationships between the various countries he visits and Japan.
During his visit in Singapore, Kubo Shu conducted four workshops with various members of the public. Members of the Japan Creative Centre (JCC) who attended the workshop at one of these sessions, were truly impressed with the skill and patience required to complete these delicate paper cuttings. Under Kubo’s careful supervision, the participants used prepared stencils with various images of flowers, mountain landscapes, the Merlion or auspicious words and cut these out carefully with the paper cutting knives provided. Most managed to complete two pieces of artwork in the allotted time, while several others were hard pressed to leave because they were keen to master the manoeuvring of the knife on paper and perfect their workshop pieces.
Merryn Trevethan’s swarths of colours and chromatic prisms invite us to enter space in her abstract paintings. Her inspiration stems from her contemplation of urbanity – a resident of Singapore and a native of Melbourne, Trevethan has also lived and worked in other globalised cities such as London and New York. Whenever she visits or resides in any city, she observes the geophysical and the geometric constituents of the urban landscape.
Her geometric abstract forms are made of fields of colour, carefully delineated with varying hues. Her lines emulate that of skyscrapers or landmarks. Fields of contrasting and complementary colours abut each other. Unlike a cityscape or a landscape painting, Trevethan’s paintings do not have a horizon or a vanishing point. Instead, lines and swatches of colours depict distance and depths.
In this exhibition, Merryn Trevethan presents a new series of works, based on observations of the city and recent geopolitical changes occurring across the world. The title of the exhibition, The Party’s Over, is a line from Leonard Cohen’s song A Street. In light of political circuses, election mania, Brexit, shootings in the U.S., the plight of refugees, and bomb explosions, how does a city – or even a country – define itself? Does it do so through its architectural landmarks or through its spatial configuration?
The works in this exhibition are Trevethan’s reaction to these questions as well as her investigation into the urban landscape. Landmarks and iconic scenes of various cities are distilled into her paintings. While specific buildings are not readily identifiable in the work, Trevethan captures the essence of each city scene with chromatic lines and varied hues. Each painting is not a portrait of any specific city but a convergence of urban cues.
Guests admiring a series of silk banners in The Party's Over... Artwork info: Built to Suit..., 2016, Digital Print on Silk with Aluminium Silk Rods and Wire, Dimensions (L-R): 104 x 102cm, 140 x 97cm, 104 x 102cm, 170 x 88cm
One series of works in this exhibition gets its inspiration from Trevethan’s observations of building construction in Singapore. In a city that is constantly in flux and is continuously re-inventing itself, the mechanical crane – a necessary machine for building high-rise apartment blocks and office skyscrapers – is a ubiquitous sight throughout Singapore. “Safety Starts With Me” consists of five panels. Placed side by side, the five panels form a landscape. The main subject of the painting, the crane, is represented throughout, albeit in a subtle manner. Lines that cross each other form ghosts of cranes. Angular forms in lighter hues look like cardinal arrows, as if a stand-in moral compass, questioning us city dwellers with what our obligations and duties to one another are. In a world in which its inhabitants are constantly bombarding each other with weapons and words, how would one treat one’s neighbour, or would one welcome a visitor?
The way in which Trevethan’s paintings collapse space is another indication of the way the residents of Singapore live one top of each other. In densely populated cities such as Singapore, Hong Kong and New York, where many live in high-rise blocks, the horizon disappears into a sea of buildings. In contrast are cities such as Los Angeles or Melbourne, whose landscapes are more of an urban sprawl, with open-air landscapes and a distinct horizon line.
Merryn Trevethan depicts landscape through colour. Colour is not used merely for aesthetic purposes; as a decoration or to beautify – the function of colour is to define space. In this particular series of paintings, she uses a combination of purple, maroon, and violet. The composition of the paintings suggests that the darker hues are closer to us, while the lighter colours suggest space that recedes further away. This spatial connectedness and associations with depth subverts the idea of positive and negative spaces. Spatial depth is not defined by a horizon line nor recedes along a vanishing line. Instead, by using varying hues, Trevethan manipulates space, coming from the ground or from the ceiling. The combination of colours and the ability to work with colour exhibits a high degree of control and expertise.
Merryn's colours and geometric shapes grace the entrance of the Facebook offices in Singapore at South Beach Tower.
Merryn Trevethan’s practice stems from the tradition of abstract painting coupled with influences from Cubism. Just as Cubism eschewed the horizon line and collapses space, Trevethan’s paintings collapse place and time. At the same time, Trevethan develops her own language of abstraction.
By collapsing the picture plane, her paintings bring people together, thereby utilizing art as a form of diplomacy. As an Australian who lives in Singapore, Trevethan is a product of peaceful diplomacy between two countries – Singapore and Australia. Indeed, Trevethan’s work is only one of Australia’s myriad contributions to the Singapore art scene today. In the global perspective of political sparring and ideological wars, Merryn Trevethan’s work is a reminder to us all that art indeed is a diplomatic means that collapses the distance between us.
Stephanie Burt’s solo show, curated by Romanian curator, Anca Rujoiu, at Yeo Workshop last year drew a varied crowd of visitors to the gallery. Drawing inspiration from film and texts, specifically 19th century American feminist novelist, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Burt’s installation teased with ideas of obsession and oppression through the use of different material. Now post-exhibition, Anca writes a letter to Stephanie, sharing her thoughts about working together with the artists and what, for the curator, mattered most about the show…
As with most exhibitions, the text (write-up) by curator-writer for press release, brochures or any other communication collateral precedes the show itself. In case of new artworks, the process of writing coincides with the production of work; they happen simultaneously, and ideally, they should constitute each other. However the writer is expected to produce a text that negates such temporal overlap. The text should describe, illustrate or reflect on the work. How is this possible if the work is yet to be produced and experienced at the moment of writing? Why do we attempt to represent rather than embrace the possibilities of language to imagine a work in the process of becoming? Poetic language is a pathway to escape the trap of representation and description. It allows us to ride on a slippery road of meaning-making, to be evasive and doubtful, and as Barthes advocated, to live according to nuances.
When asked to contribute a text before the exhibition opening of O Dear What Can the Matter Be, this was my rationale for writing. While you were still developing your work, I was imagining what a visitor would encounter in the gallery space. Drawing on our discussions, your sketches and reference texts, I speculated upon a seamless surface of yellow where your installation and space merge into one single entity and trap the visitor in, where the attitude of resistance shifts to acquiescence. I tried to generate an experience of your work that was yet to be experienced.
But isn’t this the possibility of writing we discussed about? Writing as process, as part of the work rather than its outcome or loyal reflection. I think I told you – I see the materials in your installations as words that are assembled, dislocated and re-assembled through a grammar of gestures: stretching, stitching, rubbing, scratching, tearing, cutting, splitting, etc. A grammar that does not follow a linear or rigid system of rules. On the contrary, the process of composition is driven by the sensorial, the decorative–textural encounters with materials that often lead to unexpected, impredictable connections. Metal poles, wire, wood joined with ribbon, lace, thread – soft materials – what I avoided to call feminine, but now I doubt my decision. As Irigaray wrote, to subvert an existing representation, we must first affirm it; to speak about women we must recuperate the image of the feminine within the theoretical machine that maintains its representation. Gilman’s character from the short story you referenced “The Yellow Wallpaper", internalises submission and restriction to a point of agony where the urge to express herself literally comes out of her body. She breaks silence.
You surrounded the main sculpture in the exhibition – a heteregenous mass of re-used materials – by a fence of rigid metal poles. The fragility of the sculpture, its experience of entrapment and solitude made me think a lot about our relation to writing. As with your sculpture, on the verge of collapse, its stability held by one nail, writing is as vulnerable when it goes out into public. It can be dismissed, misinterpreted, retransformed, re-circulated, it is raw material, pure plasticity, soft and malleable, it is always incomplete. While walking in the exhibition space, I often thought: what if your sculpture does collapse? Wouldn’t this act of self-destruction be part of the work itself? That possibility was already staged by the act of ripping the pages of your book standing by in close proximity to the sculpture. Encouraging the visitors to rip the pages of the book was a way through which to present a text as a body and enact through that gesture the experience of being and feeling torn apart, like matter.
Your work became matter as in material for thinking and writing; I carry with me the image of your installation as figure of thought. The exhibition might have felt quiet, but in my mind Cixous’s appeal was loudly gaining voice: “Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing”.
Until our next encounter,
Adrian Lochrin, Deputy High Commissioner at the Australian High Commission in Singapore launched an exhibition in the Australian High Commission by Singapore-based Australian artist Merryn Trevethan. In this interview he talks about Merryn's exhibition and the use of art in diplomacy.
Singapore Arts Club: How many art exhibitions does the High Commission in Singapore host every year?
Adrian Lochrin: It varies but over the last year we have had seven exhibitions, including Merryn’s. They are all different. Some feature individual Australian artists, and we are fortunate to be able to work with local gallerists to secure these, as we did with Yeo Workshop for Merryn. Others are more diverse. In July we hosted an exhibition of Australian Indigenous art with the help of Red Dot Gallery. Right now we are hosting an exhibition of art from fourteen international schools. More than 400 guests joined us for the launch of the InArt exhibition, which showcases the talents of local students. It’s impressive in its scale and quality.
SAC: What kind of themes/artists does the High Commission look out for?
AL: We mainly look for art that supports messages we want to promote in Singapore about Australia. Sometimes it is directly related to content. For instance, we wanted our Indigenous art exhibit to say something about the importance we place in the culture of Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. What we liked about Merryn’s work was that it sought to depict modern Singapore. We liked the idea of an Australian wanting to connect with the city she was living in. That desire to signal a connection to our host country, incidentally, was a big reason why in 2015 we brought street artists to Singapore to paint outdoor art in heartland hawker centres and HDB estates. We are flexible on medium but tend towards paintings and occasionally sculpture. One of the more impressive exhibitions we hosted was by Erub Arts, based in the Torres Strait Islands, which made impressive sculptures with discarded fishing line. After exhibiting with us Erub went on to Europe and Australia, and will be back to Singapore for a major exhibition in 2017.
SAC: Do you see the High Commission’s engagement with artists as a way of portraying a certain image of Australia overseas?
AL: We do. One of our objectives is to represent Australia, through art, as a creative, open and sophisticated society. Good art often leaves room for interpretation and that helps us relate exhibitions to specific policy objectives. Opening the student InArt exhibition, for instance, was an opportunity to register how artistic skills and sensibilities would help students in the creative industries of the future, even if they carve careers outside the arts sector, such as in the professions. That is not inconsistent with the importance both Australia and Singapore place on innovation and working together in this area.
SAC: At the opening of Merryn's exhibition you talked about art as a form of cultural diplomacy. Can you elaborate on this?
AL: We want to lead with the best of Australia in Singapore and high up on that list is art. Art provides a platform to promulgate messages about Australia and is a good means by which to connect with people – whether that is to whole communities, or for more focussed networking, which is central to our trade. The rare performance by the Australian World Orchestra at the Esplanade Theatre in October, and our pop-up street puppetry performances in the heartlands for SG50, show how the performing arts can be just as effective as painting and sculpture in connecting with a range of audiences. I also like the idea that artists and diplomats are both in the business of communication and can select from their toolbox, direct and indirect methods by which to communicate. A key difference is diplomats cannot afford to be misunderstood. Artists are a lot more generous and allow their audience to interpret the message as they wish!
SAC: Would you like to see more Singaporean artists featured in Australia?
AL: Singapore artists already enjoy exposure in Australia through existing relationships among commercial galleries and institutions. Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art has a long tradition of working with Singaporean artists through the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. The Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts, held in Melbourne next year, will also have Singapore connections. I should also highlight that one of Australia’s best known contemporary artists, Simryn Gill, was actually born in Singapore.
It would be terrific to see more Singaporean artists featured in Australia. As well as a strong cohort of established artists, Singapore has some impressive up-and-coming younger artists. I have met a number and they are talented and articulate, and have a bright future ahead. Given the chance, I’m sure Australian audiences would enjoy seeing their work and come away with a deeper appreciation of the vibrancy of Singapore.
It doesn’t take much prompting to get Mike Samson, one-half of Singapore’s prominent art collecting couples, to delve into the significance of the artwork hanging rather conspicuously behind his dining table.
The artwork is hard to miss: mounted in a grid from floor to high ceiling, a hundred cloth-wrapped objects in varied shapes appear to be both a bizarre and unsettling Christmas display or a Zen-like collection of curiosities, depending on whom you ask. The artwork, “Veiled Coordinates” by Filipino artist Jose Santos III, begs to be discussed – precisely how Mike and Lourdes like their art. They make no public statements, yet each piece is curious enough to pique your interest and spark a conversation.
The Samsons, originally from the Philippines, are the sort of art patrons who are quietly shaping Singapore’s art scene. Like many serious collectors, they cultivate relationships with artists and follow their careers, often accumulating multiple pieces of art from the same artist while volunteering with local art institutions. Lourdes is a member of the Friends of Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI) Executive Committee where she is actively involved with fundraising while Mike, a banker by profession, volunteers at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM).
The Samson Collection
Ask the Samsons anything but the investment value of their collection. “We think there is a great distinction between people who collect for the love of art and those for investment,” Mike states. In the decade since they began collecting contemporary art, they’ve only sold a few pieces to friends who’ve “pestered”. They haven’t quite considered the future of their collection, but hope their daughter may one day express an interest. “If not, we're open to bequeathing it,” says Lourdes.
With more art than wall space, the couple prefers to organise their collection thematically. They pick a broad cross-section of their collection to “create a conversation” between the works. When we visited, their current display exhibited a distinctly religious undertone.
“If you look at the themes in Southeast Asian art, there is a lot of religion - that is what is prevalent in the region. The Thais focus on Buddhism, Filipinos reference Catholicism; and there are strong issues around Islam coming out of Indonesia and Malaysia,” explained Lourdes. Politics is another recurring theme. “When you're trying to create a conversation between artworks, inevitably you arrive at some of the big issues,” she adds.
More than anything, their collection speaks of a shared passion, a strong connection to the present and their experience as expatriates in a foreign country.
Unmissable piece in their home, Agus Suwage’s “Ave Maryam 3#” standing 179cm high and mounted on the wall. The artwork, made of galvanised steel, is as much a self-portrait as an ode to the challenges of religious identity in Indonesia.
The Genesis of Collecting
There is something about collectors – be it art or otherwise – that distinguishes them from the layperson. For a start, they have an almost pathological need to accumulate objects. In Mike’s case, it was first sparked by comic books.
“I've been a collector since I was a child,” he agrees. Though the couples’ parents collected art, they were not “crazy”, explains Lourdes. “After the walls were full, they were finished.”
The Samsons started their art collection almost two decades ago. So why the shift to contemporary art in 2006?
“We wanted something that would speak of our time,” explained Lourdes.
“At the time [when we started], no one was buying those kinds of art,” Mike added. Of late, the couple has dabbled in new forms of media, including light boxes and video.
Lou talks about the artwork by Indonesian artist, Anki Purbandodo “The Sandals United” Dimensions 35 x 26 cm each (40 panels), 140 cm x 260 cm Scanography, Light Box, 2013.
When they started their contemporary art collection, it consisted solely of Filipino artists. “In those days you could go to a show, and you would get the pick [of the crop] because no one understood the artwork,” said Mike.
By 2009, the couple started looking further afield, breaking their Filipino-only rule with artwork by Indonesian artist Jumaldi Alfi. This watershed moment would mark the beginning of their journey to building a Southeast Asian collection. Since then, the Samsons have started to build a representative collection of the region.
Is Singapore the Hub for Southeast Asian Art?
But does a regional arts scene exist? Very few collectors cross their home market, except Singaporeans, Lourdes believes. The country itself has made it a point to be the regional hub for contemporary art. Being here, the couple said, presented an opportunity for them to branch out into different nationalities while also exploring new forms of media.
“If you look at other [regional] museums, they are very specific to their milieu… while for the National Gallery and SAM, the ethos is very Southeast Asian and not merely Singaporean,” said Mike. While cultural and economic factors bolster the creation of a regional arts hub, ultimately the market and collectors drive demand.
“Cultural or civic objectives and the market are not always in sync. It depends on whom you ask if you want to define success. [Creating an arts scene] takes time. When the Esplanade was first opened, great orchestras were coming, but no one went,” Mike added.
“Contemporary art will get there, but selfishly we hope it takes a while longer.”
Louis Ho is an art historian, critic and curator, and co-editor of an upcoming journal of Southeast Asian art history, Remote. He has contributed articles and reviews to various publications, including books, journals and magazines, and also teaches art history at a number of local institutions. His recent published writings include ‘The Non-Affirmative: Jason Wee, Photography, Scopophobia’ in Reflect/Refract (2013),‘Hauntings, Histories, Fragments, Citations’in The End of History (2013), ‘Loo Zihan and the Body Confessional’ in Embodying Singapore: Critical Perspectives on the Arts, Society and Politics (forthcoming), and ‘Yue Minjun: Iconographies of Repetition’ in Modern Chinese Language & Culture (forthcoming).
Fast food, unsurprisingly, provides an apt example of the case at hand. The latest offering on the McDonald’s menu here in Singapore is something dubbed the “kampung burger”: a confection of crispy chicken, pineapple and salsa, it touts itself as a tribute to “the friendly roar of the kampung spirit.” Here are two starkly divergent symbols collapsed into one hybrid treat: all-American fast food, the golden arches being almost synonymous with Uncle Sam’s cultural heft and economic might, meets the Southeast Asian kampong, that site par excellence of inimitably local ways of life, of nostalgia for supposedly vanished histories, identities and values.
Ol’ Ronald’s kampung burger represents the phenomenon of glocalization at its kitschiest, the global given a local twist – mostly for the purposes of commerce. Despite that market orientation (or precisely because of?), glocalization provides an apposite frame through which to view the more compelling strands of Southeast Asian art today. Take, for one, Thai artist Kamin Lertchaiprasert, featured in the upcoming edition of Art Stage Singapore. His Buddha statues crafted from shredded baht notes speak powerfully to the twinned poles of religion and consumerism in Thailand, the region’s second largest economy. For all their seeming incompatibility, spiritual transcendence and worldly materialism have settled into a rather blissful marriage in the land of a thousand smiles – as the numerous juxtapositions of gold- roofed wats and mega-malls throughout the country bear ample testament to. As a statement on the insinuation of economic realities into various spheres of life, Lertchaiprasert’s aesthetic engagement with money is simply one more entry in a lineage that began in earnest in the twentieth century with Roy Lichtenstein’s drawing of a Ten Dollar Bill in 1956, and crowned most recently by Hans-Peter Feldmann’s installation involving a hundred thousand dollar bills at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, on the occasion of his receipt of the Hugo Boss Prize in 2010. The Thai artist’s work, in other words, exemplifies the paradigm of specifically local concerns filtered through the visual language of contemporary art.
"Lord Buddha Said "If You See Dhamma You See Me" (2003), Kamin Lertchaiprasert. Shredded Thai currency. Image courtesy of the National Collection, Singapore.
Closer to home, the work of another Art Stage participant, Singaporean Robert Zhao, whose photographs of fauna and flora are premised on a slippage between the factual and fictive, utilizing both the camera’s instrumental neutrality and expressive potential, is likewise plugged into international circuits of contemporary art while speaking to issues of immediate interest to his countrymen. He notes: “I am influenced by the works of Mark Dion, which deals our concepts of nature, and also Walid Raad’s, which addresses the systems by we try to understand things, and of course Andreas Slominski’s series of trap installations addressing how art functions as a trap for the audience each time.” One of Zhao’s projects at Art Stage, in fact, consists of a life-size replica of a wild boar trap: in 2012, largely urban Singapore suffered a surprising infestation of the creatures, and the authorities decided to begin culling them after a child was attacked. Numerous holes are drilled into Zhao’s piece (which resembles a large box), resulting in a sea of lights illuminating its otherwise bedimmed interior. According to the artist, the ethical issues surrounding the culling of these animals, and the repercussions for the island’s already fragile eco-system, have not been fully explored; the holes in his boar trap represent a literal breath of life for them. Like Slominski’s installations, Zhao’s work hovers between aesthetics and utility, between its status as sculpture and its role as an implement.
The quieting and the alarming (2013), Robert Zhao. Wood, Rope, Acrylic. Image courtesy of the artist.
It is worth bearing in mind, however, that Southeast Asian artists have been incorporating Western visual modes in their work for far longer than zippy labels like “glocalization” would have us believe. The colonial interface produced many talented individuals from the region adept at the ways of the old masters, with Juan Luna from the Philippines and Indonesian Raden Saleh being simply the first names to leap to mind. In the mid-twentieth century, a new generation of painters achieved renown for synthesizing avant-garde techniques and local subject matter in bold new visions. The artists of the so-called Nanyang School of Singapore – Cheong Soo Pieng, Georgette Chen, Chen Chong Swee, among others – applied both the styles of various Modernist ‘-isms’ and traditional Chinese ink painting to their immediate visual environment, to the colours, customs, and contexts of a region just now beginning to shake off the yoke of colonialism. Cheong’s portrait of a Malay Woman, for one, rendered in the fragmented planes of Cubism, or Georgette’s famed still-lifes of tropical fruit, or Chong Swee’s landscapes of bucolic kampungs and undulating hills depicted in Chinese ink. (No less significant, though, is the fact that a small number of Filipino artists trained in the U.S. were painting canvases inspired by Abstract Expressionism around the same period, in the 1950s and ‘60s – a rather different variety of experimentation altogether). Nonetheless, the marriage of Western forms of representation, and a determinedly Southeast Asian sense of aesthetic identity, that these artists brought about in their work set the tone for generations of local artists who came after them.
They certainly beat McDonald’s to the punch, in any case.
Henry Lydiate has specialised in business and legal issues relating to international art business for over forty years. He advises on a range of issues surrounding art and cultural property law including artist-dealer agreements, commission, sale and consignment agreements, and authenticity of an artwork. He has written a regular column for Art Monthly since its first issue in 1976 and his collected articles are published as the Artlaw Archive by Artquest. He has lectured at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Southwestern University Law School Los Angeles, and the University of the Arts London where he is Visiting Professor in Art Law.
The aim of this article is to highlight key businesses and legal issues, in an international context, for consideration of contemporary artists and art market professionals.
The global art market traditionally categorises contemporary art as works made by artists born after 1945. Over the past ten years contemporary art sales have grown substantially. Public auction records show that around $90 million was paid in 2001, and $1.26 billion in 2011 (of which around 60% paid less than $5,000, but around 2,000 paid more than $100,000).
China is the global contemporary art market leader: with annual revenue of around $550 million in 2011 (USA around $300 million). New York remains the world’s premier contemporary art market city, followed by Beijing, then Hong Kong.
Art business is one of the least regulated global industries, operating mostly within laws of the State in which deals are done. Most States have no specific art business-related laws. Accordingly, art businesses mainly operate within a State’s general business legal framework. In this context, common contemporary art business scenarios will be considered: artist and gallery representations; contracts of sale & resale; public auctions; collecting works in non-traditional mediums; and artists’ intellectual property rights.
New Ways of Working
Marcel Duchamp delivered a lecture on The Creative Act at The American Federation of Arts at Houston, Texas in April 1957. He argued that the role and responsibility of the creative artist is to bring work to the spectator, who ‘adds his contribution to the creative act’, and concludes that ‘this becomes even more obvious when posterity gives a final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists.’
In 1957 Duchamp’s standing and influence were relatively minor, certainly compared with his current powerful influence and iconic status throughout the art world, and beyond. He removed traditional boundaries of creative practice and, in the decades since his death in 1968, inspired and continues to influence subsequent generations of artists to think in new ways and work in far more varied modes of practice than ever before.
Commercial Dimensions of Artistic Practice
Even though the vast majority of today’s contemporary artists are poor, they no longer operate as 19th century Bohemian romantics operating outside or on the fringes of society; instead, artists embrace the commercial dimensions of artistic practice. Most operate as solo practitioners: earning a living not only from sales of their works, but from other fee-earning activity that funds their practice; they exhibit and sell works directly themselves.
Those few artists who can afford to do so, pay studio/factory managers/administrators and assistants/apprentices to support production, exhibition, and direct selling; and/or engage personal business managers to take care of all business dealings, leaving the artist to focus on production.
Contemporary Art Market Professionals
The Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century gave birth to art market professionals: operating as a bridge/broker between artists and potential private patrons/collectors. Over subsequent centuries the art market has grown to become the multi-billion dollar global industry it is today; and so have the number of art market professionals and private patrons/collectors – especially in relation to contemporary art in recent times.
There are now countless numbers of ‘gallery-less’ agents, who find selling artists for buyers, or buyers for selling artists, and are paid a percentage of the price of the sale which their services have secured.
Some agents can afford to establish permanent gallery premises, initially in one location (more, if cost- effective). Such gallery dealers exhibit and sell works of artists with whom they have established a permanent business relationship: they are then paid a percentage of the price of sales their services have secured; and/or profit from reselling works they buy directly from their artists.
Many auction houses specialise in contemporary art sales, selling chiefly in the secondary market. In other words, most auction houses do not sell as agents for artists wishing to make a first/primary sale; but as agents for non-artist owners wishing to resell.
International Commercial Dimensions
There is no uniform model operating globally for managing the business relationship between artists and contemporary art market professionals.
In recently developed contemporary art markets (such as Central and Eastern Europe, Brazil, Russia, China, India) most artists are self-managing solo practitioners. Gallery-less agents and gallery dealers are small in number, and in any event are not preferred by artists who are unwilling to pay (what they consider to be) high agent/dealer commission fees or resale mark-up (e.g.30-50% of sales prices). Auction houses are often preferred by artists in such countries, for achieving their first/primary sales, because they are willing to pay (what they consider to be) acceptable commission fees (e.g. 5-10% of hammer prices).
In recently emerging contemporary art markets, artists and market professionals are still on their way towards suitable business models.
In long-established contemporary art markets (such as the US and Western Europe) greater numbers of artists and market professionals operate than those in developing and emerging markets; consequently, greater numbers of new works are produced, exhibited, sold and resold. Almost all artists in such countries are self-managing solo practitioners, who hardly ever consign their works to auction houses for primary sales (not wishing to risk low/no bids), and who prefer to control their primary sale prices – preferably using the services of an art market professional agent to find primary buyers. Working artists vastly out-number art market professionals agents, who therefore have more bargaining power to pick and choose which artists to champion and what works to trade. Gallery-less agents greatly outnumber gallery dealers. Though few are chosen, most artists in the West aspire to be represented by gallery dealers.
Western Artists and Gallery Representation
At its best, the artist/gallery framework developed over centuries in the West (US and Western Europe) is mutually beneficial: it is based on mutual trust, respect and transparency – without which the relationship (like a marriage or civil partnership) will fall apart. For most of the 20th century such artist/gallery relationships were rarely written and signed by the artist and gallery dealer. In recent times increasing numbers of young and emerging artists and gallery dealers have become more professionally business-like in their dealings. Written and signed artist/gallery contracts are becoming the norm.
Such written contracts are sensible: they support, but are no substitute for, mutual transparency and trust between artist and gallery dealer. Both parties understand that, as with a contract of employment, courts of law will not order someone to perform a contract for the delivery of personal services (they will only order financial compensation). Artists and galleries recognise that each party could (and should) disengage if their trusting business relationship breaks down.
At the heart of the artist/gallery agency deal is an agreement about the nature and extent of the representation, including: exclusivity or otherwise; which works (all or only 2D or 3D, and so on); promotion and advancement of the artist’s reputation and standing, and career development. Other key contractual terms include: the geographical extent of the representation (in one or more countries, or worldwide); the duration of the representation; sales and pricing of works; and a periodic cycle/minimum number of solo shows.
On the financial side, galleries guarantee to buy directly from artists a minimum number of new works (at a discount from the market price) over a specified period of time; and to take possession of other new works for exhibition and sale (at the market price agreed with the artist), which case the gallery would take a percentage of the sale price as a commission fee for their services.
Gallery commission rates vary according to the nature and extent of representation, and the standing of the artist’s works in the market place. For example: a young and unknown gallery starting up able offer only representation for a limited range of works in one country/region, might agree with a young unknown artist a commission rate of, say, 30% of agreed sale prices; whereas a long-established gallery is able to offer worldwide representation for a complete range of works might agree a commission rate of, say, 50% (possibly decreasing as sales prices significantly increase in the market over future years).
When galleries receive work from artists on consignment for exhibition and potential sale, they do not become owners of such works: they hold them in trust for artists; which means that, if the gallery becomes insolvent and folds, its assets must be sold to pay its business debts; but its assets do not include consigned works, and written artist/gallery deals should ideally make this explicitly clear. Likewise, artists’ percentage of money received by galleries from sales of consigned works is held in trust for artists, and ideally should be paid to them forthwith or held in escrow (separate bank account in artists’ names). Some States have passed laws that explicitly require such galleries to hold in trust consigned works or money due to artists from sales, in order to deal with the situation where the artist/gallery contract does not explicitly say so: for example, New York State’s 2006 Code for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
Where the artist is based in one State/country and the gallery in another, their contract should ideally include an agreement as to which State’s courts would be used if a legal dispute should arise in future. Such a ‘choice of law’ provision is normal good practice for all inter-State or international business transactions. It is also normal good practice to include a mediation agreement in business contracts, including art business contracts. Mediation requires the contracting parties to agree that, if any dispute arises in future, they will not take legal action; but will first attend a meeting/s with an agreed neutral third person to help them to resolve their differences. Mediation can and does avoid the parties’ incurring costly legal fees, time and stress; it is a very popular and successful method of so-called alternative dispute resolution.
Written and Verbal Contracts
Laws in most States/Countries require business contracts to be recorded and signed in writing, in order to be legally binding and enforceable. However, in many States/ countries verbal business are legally binding and enforceable. In the art business world, contracts of all kinds are frequently not documented properly, fully, or at all; in which case, parties risk not being able to use the law to achieve a remedy for violations of the deal (in States/countries requiring documentation) or not being able to prove their case (in States/countries not requiring documentation). Written and signed documentation for art business transactions is far from being universal business practice.
Sales and Resales
Written and signed sale contracts are ideal, and should contemplate possible future issues, including whether the seller is the owner of the work, or is using an agent (say they wish to remain anonymous); likewise, if the buyer is using an agent.
Digital technology can greatly strengthen description of the sold work, through the use of photography embedded within or attached to the written contract. In any event, literary description of the sold work should ideally adopt museum-standards (artist’s, title, year/s of making, mediums/materials, dimensions, editions/series numbering, and so on).
In recent times, art market professionals (buying for themselves or acting as agent for a seller) increasingly require a certificate of authenticity signed and dated by the artist/s, without which they will not trade with contemporary work. The purpose of such certificates is to reduce or avoid the possibility of legal claims that a forgery or fake or unauthorised edition of a work has been sold. Risk of such claims is increasingly real, because contemporary artists variously use digital and other new technology, found materials, external technicians and fabricators, and mixed mediums. Works made in these ways are more vulnerable to faking and forging and being passed off as originals, than works made in traditional materials where the personal ‘hand of artist’ is recognisable by connoisseurs and other experts. Authenticity certificates operate like passports: they travel with works as ownership is transferred from original artists, to secondary owners, and so on down the line.
International Public Auctions
Contemporary art market professionals compete with each for business: all seek buyers; all seek owners of works suitable for sale. Buyers become sellers, who become buyers, and so on. The two principal protagonists are, on the one hand, agents and dealers; on the other, auction houses: both compete for market share.
Agents and dealers make profits through buying, and reselling at a higher price; or acting as agent for a seller or buyer, and being paid a service fee for brokering sales.
Auction houses chiefly operate as agents, earning fees for their services: sellers negotiate a commission fee they will pay to the auction house as a percentage of the eventual hammer price; but buyers cannot negotiate the premium they agree to pay to the auction house (also a percentage of the eventual hammer price) when they register to make their bids.
In recent times there have been significant changes to the traditional roles of agents/dealers and auction houses. Some international auction houses now also operate as exhibiting and selling gallery dealers, either from their auction premises or in separate gallery premises. Gallery dealers collectively work together to form contemporary art fairs, operating for a week or so in one location at a specific time of the year, to potential buyers are attracted to attend the wide range of works available for sale. Often the dates of contemporary art fairs coincide or overlap with the dates of contemporary art auction sales at that location. For example, the dates for Frieze in London in October 2013 overlapped Sotheby’s and Christie’s contemporary art sales there: and the same potential buyers were being targeted.
Collecting Works in Non-Traditional Mediums
Over the past decade there has been revival of interest in Performance Art specifically from the 1960s/70s, and there has been a resurgence of performance-related artistic practices, and a growth in the market for collecting artistic performances. Film/video/photographic documentation of performances are distributed and sold as unique or limited-edition artworks at galleries/art fairs/auctions; and substantial prices.
Difficult challenges arise on an increasingly international scale for artists seeking appropriate business and legal frameworks to support creation, performance, dissemination, communication and recognition of their performance-related works. Such challenges are also faced by collectors and purchasers, curators and facilitators/producers of performances.
Performance-related practices are open-ended artistic actions, which defy established legal categorisation and border on many disciplines and practices dance, film, theatre, installation, or combinations of thereof. No coherent cultural definition of Performance Art has yet to be coalesced: virtually any action performed by an artist or by others instructed by an artist can be termed an artistic performance. For example, Berlin-based Tino Sehgal’s ‘constructed situations’ are enactments of choreographic instructions and scripted speech by performers – ‘interpreters’ – approved and trained by the artist, in real time and in interaction with an audience inside a museum or a gallery.
Lack of materiality inherent in open-ended and process-based approaches of performance-related art causes business and legal problems. This is partly because most laws recognise creative works through traditional/conventional categories, techniques, and forms that are rigid and alien to contemporary performance-related practices; and partly because national and international copyright laws require creative works to be fixed in a material form. However, two main areas of business law offer some recognition and possible solutions for artists, collectors/purchasers, curators and other facilitators/producers: contract, and intellectual property.
Contracts suit works disseminated as instructions for performance. As with buyers and borrowers of physical objects, contracts – preferably written – can ensure that the artist’s instructions and conditions for performing the work are respected and adhered to, and only those contractually authorised to perform the work may do so.
Tino Sehgal trusts in oral contracts to ensure that his specific performance requirements are followed. He sells a limited-edition ‘constructed situation’ on condition that ownership is tied to a specific exhibition, and that each time the work is re-performed in public one of his assistants attends and administers its performance.
But contracts have limitations. They only bind parties to them, and cannot prevent non-parties from recording or recreating a performance without the artist’s authorisation. In this respect intellectual property laws can be useful.
International Intellectual Property Rights
Most countries have signed and implemented international treaties governing intellectual property rights. Signatory countries agree to enact and enforce a bundle of legal rights, and to enforce the rights of artists from other countries that have signed the same treaty. This reciprocal enforcement of legal rights between nation states has created what is widely recognised as international intellectual property law.
The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works is the main international treaty for artists’ rights, copyright in particular.
Copyright is given by law to artists automatically, as soon as an original work is made, and generally lasts for the artist’s life plus 50 years after death (70 in the EU, US, and Singapore) when it becomes enforceable by artists’ estates or to whomsoever artists bequeath copyright.
Copyright ownership comprises a bundle of exclusive legal rights: to reproduce works or variations thereof mechanically or digitally, to communicate or disseminate or publish such reproductions, and to prevent others from doing such things.
However, copyright law automatically permits certain specific things to be done without permission of the artist/copyright owner, including: reproduction for private research/study; reproduction and publishing current news; non-commercial dealings for the purpose of criticism and review, teaching in educational institutions, public libraries and archives; advertising physical artwork for sale; and making two-dimensional reproductions of three-dimensional works permanently situated in the public environment.
Violations of copyright essentially require copyright owners to satisfy courts that their original works have been substantially appropriated and re-used by others without permission. In other words, whether the alleged infringing work has taken and re-used essential visual features of a copyright owner’s original work. Substantial derivation of quality, not quantity, is the heart of the matter.
In some countries, copyright law permits iconic works to be taken and re-used for the purposes of parody. This is because the law considers that works of widely-acknowledged status could not be damaged (economically or artistically or culturally) through a humorously exaggerated imitation.
International Performers’ Rights
Performers of works might not be, but usually are, also the creators/authors of performed works: they automatically acquire performers’ rights via international laws. Many countries enact and enforce performers’ rights, especially in the developed world. International reciprocal enforcement is widespread (but not as yet as widely as copyright enforcement).
As with copyright, performers are automatically given rights: to authorise live recording of their performance, and to make and distribute, rent and loan, copies of such recordings. Performers’ rights generally last for at least 50 years from the date the recording of the performance was first released.
It is normal practice for professional performers in conventional art forms (music, dance, film, theatre) to give prior authorisation of live recordings of their performances through written contracts with would-be producers. In this way performers negotiate and agree the nature and content of the recording itself, any performance fee and/or a share of economic rewards (royalties) that may be earned by future commercial showings or broadcasts or other commercial communication of those recordings. As discussed earlier, many performance-related artists do likewise.