(Re)Collect: The Making of Our Art Collection

If you're an art enthusiast and have been wondering whether there was anything symbolic to mark Singapore's history since our independence from British rule or after the World War 2, fret not; the National Gallery has it covered in their new exhibition; (Re)collect: The making of our art collection.

From the 11th of May 2018 till 19th of August, you'll be able to view the array of 130 work artworks from pioneering home-grown Singaporean artists such as Georgette Chen, Liu Kang and Cheong Soo Pieng. What's interesting in this slide of artworks, there will be newer acquisitions from local and regional artists like Kim Lim, Latiff Mohidin, and S.Sudjojono.

I'm thankful enough for the lads(Editors Note:Marcus/Keith! It was awesome to meet ya guys!) from National Gallery to invite me over for a media release, got to meet a few other interesting folks in the blogging fraternity, but the star of the evening was Ms Lisa Horikawa. She diligently and gracefully whisked us through the whole exhibit and was prepared to answer each and every of our questions. 

Exhibition Highlights

Chuah Thean Teng - 1950s

Chuah Thean Teng, Self-Portrait
c. 1950s
Batik
31 x 21 cm
Gift of the Loke Wan Tho Collection
Collection of National Gallery Singapore

Set against an intense red background, Chuah
Thean Teng gazes resolutely at the viewer, exuding steely confidence. In contrast to his later, more stylised works, Chuah experiments here with the effects of light and shadow, striving to create a balance between figuration and abstraction through the medium of batik.
Self-Portrait is the first artwork to have been accessioned into our art collection. The provenance of this work highlights the key role that private patrons have played in the formation of our collection. It was purchased by Dato Loke Wan Tho from art promotor,
Frank Sullivan, and subsequently donated to
Singapore.
Chuah is known for vibrant, richly coloured works depicting everyday life in Malaya. He pioneered the transformation of batik from a traditional textile medium into a form of fine art, and has influenced many artists.

Affandi - 1975

A senior artist kneels down and squeezes paint directly from a tube onto a large canvas in front of him. As his hand moves dynamically, almost violently, across the surface of the canvas, an image of his face emerges and fills the space with sprawling energy. This was the remarkable sight people encountered at Affandi’s solo exhibition at the National Museum in April 1975.
Largely self-taught, Affandi was one of the first artists from Indonesia to earn international acclaim. He once described an artist’s urge to paint as “the beast within the man.” Impelled by his desire to express the vital forces of life, Affandi developed a distinctive method of painting that involved applying the paint directly onto the canvas without a brush. His signature embodies the sun, which the artist saw as the source of all energy.

Affandi National Gallery Singapore

Affandi
Self-Portrait
1975
Oil on canvas
130 x 100.5 cm
Gift of the artist
Collection of National Gallery Singapore © Affandi Foundation

Cheo Chai Hiang - 1975

Cheo Chai Hiang National Gallery Singapore

Cheo Chai Hiang
And Miles to Go before I Sleep
1975
Wood, metal and ink
90 x 54 x 40 cm
Gift of the artist
Collection of National Gallery Singapore

And Miles to Go before I Sleep challenges established ideas of sculpture, as well as the form of the book and poem, and modes of viewing an artwork. Assembled from found objects, this work is simultaneously a
sculpture and a book. The book is composed of a wooden laundry board that requires viewers to open it to read it. Its closing refrain, stencilled in red as a fragmented text, is drawn from Robert Frost’s poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. The traditional plinth for sculpture is replaced with a log of
wood retrieved from a pile at the home of the artist’s grandfather.
This work was displayed in an exhibition at National Museum Art Gallery in 1976. After the exhibition, the work was left in the museum’s storage. It was re-discovered in the 1980s and Cheo Chai Hiang subsequently donated it to the National Collection.

Georgette Chen  - 1954

This work portrays the family of Chen Fah Shin, a long-time friend of Georgette Chen. The family’s intimacy with the artist is conveyed through their relaxed postures. Each family member took turns to pose for Chen as she sketched them in charcoal. She then painted them in oil, layering opaque brushstrokes in a range of pastel tones.
Chen is the only woman artist to have had a retrospective exhibition in the Ministry of Culture’s Pioneer Artists of Singapore series. Her artworks tended towards still lifes, landscapes and the human figure, always conveying her physical environment through a cosmopolitan modernist lens. A teacher at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts for many years, Chen inspired and nurtured many younger artists, including Thomas Yeo and Ng Eng Teng.
Our collection of Chen’s work was formed through donations by the artist, the artist’s estate and the Lee Foundation.

Georgette Chen National Gallery Singapore

Georgette Chen
Family Portrait
1954
Oil on canvas
161.5 x 130.2 cm
Gift of the artist’s estate
Collection of National Gallery Singapore

Chen Wen Hsi - 1970s to 1980s

Chen Wen Hsi National Gallery Singapore

Chen Wen Hsi
Black Mountain
c. 1970s – 1980s
Ink and colour on paper
118.5 x 97.4 cm
Collection of National Gallery Singapore

This work of art has been adopted by Lam Soon Cannery Pte Ltd.
Chen Wen Hsi believed that “In Chinese and Western painting, a good work does not entail prettiness, but there has to be a kind of archaic simplicity, whether in respect of colours, brushwork or lines.” This formidable landscape reflects Chen’s words. Broad strokes of black ink fill most of the composition, with just a swipe of bright yellow at the top and strokes of crimson and grey within it. Chen favoured black. Yet, a painting with too much black throughout would appear “spiritless”, hence colours were added to create the ideal balance of harmony and liveliness.
This work, like most of Chen’s paintings, is not dated. He thought dating his works was unnecessary as their sequence was irrelevant to him: what mattered most in a painting was its visual components and aesthetics. We can compare this work to two of Chen's landscape paintings in the DBS Singapore Gallery, Rocky Hill and Blue Mountain, and speculate that Black Mountain was created around the same time, between the late 1970s and 1980s, and may reference one of these mountains.

Lim Yew Kuan  - 1961

This painting captures the quiet rhythm of activity within the Tate Gallery, now known as Tate Britain. A bespectacled man sits on a sofa in the foreground. He watches a woman leaning in close to scrutinise a painting, while two other visitors stand captivated by a man sketching a painting on the right. This work was made by Lim Yew Kuan when he was a student at the Chelsea School of Art in London. He also made Blocks and Roses, displayed here, during this period. Lim's time overseas transformed his practice, exposing him to many experimental artistic approaches. Visiting London’s art galleries also gave him the opportunity to view and learn from European masters such as Paul Gauguin and Rembrandt.
A prominent artist and educator in Singapore, Lim received the Cultural Medallion in 2011. His diverse body of work includes drawing, oil painting, woodblock prints and sculpture. He was the founding president of the Equator Art Society in 1956 and was the second principal of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore’s first art school.

Lim Yew Kuan National Gallery Singapore

Lim Yew Kuan
London Tate Gallery
1961
70 x 90 cm
Collection of National Gallery Singapore

S. Sudjojono - 1969

S. Sudjojono National Gallery Singapore

S. Sudjojono
Draw & Paint sketchbook
1969
Ink and watercolour on paper
Gift of John Koh
Collection of National Gallery Singapore          © S Sudjojono Center

Draw & Paint comprises 18 drawings of everyday scenes that S. Sudjojono encountered in Jakarta and its surrounds. The artist’s fluid line work, nuanced tonal gradations of ink, and occasional use of soft colours imbue them with vivid life.
Echoing Sudjojono’s credo that the artist’s duty is to engage with reality, these drawings sensitively capture the essence of every subject and scene here. His subjects bear a sense of pathos and dignity, but are never devoid of humour.
Accompanying a drawing of his second wife, mezzo-soprano Rose Pandanwangi practicing, he writes:
Where does it lead to?
To perfection in beauty
And what is beauty?
That is something personal
This sketchbook reveals the artist’s thought process and observations following a defining period in his life.
1969 marked his 10th wedding anniversary with Rose and his subsequent withdrawal from political activity. Sudjojono quietly coped with these immense changes in his private and social circumstances amidst the turbulent political upheavals in Indonesia in the mid-1960s.
Draw & Paint was gifted by the artist to a Jakarta-based Japanese friend. The work later appeared at auction, where it was acquired by a previous owner, before joining the Gallery’s collection through donation.

Latiff Mohidin - 1983

Latiff Mohidin is hailed as Malaysia’s leading painter and poet. After studying art in Germany, Latiff travelled extensively throughout Southeast Asia. He began to engage with Southeast Asia as an interconnected region, drawing a vocabulary of
forms from its natural, cultural and historical
motifs.
Latiff’s sensitivity to colour and ability to distil symbolic forms from local cultural references is already apparent in Joget (Malay Dance), an early work painted in Singapore. Bunga Api (Fireworks), also from this period, suggests the young artist’s experimentation with a variety of expressive brushstrokes. The Mindscape series, begun in 1973, takes Latiff’s search for forms further. It references the colonial architecture of Penang shophouses.
From 1976, Latiff began to explore a synthesis of painting and sculpture through the use of three-dimensional plywood panels which he called “wall sculptures.” The Langkawi series combines his drive to find forms that reflected Langkawi’s ancient traditions, with an interest in the global modernist concern of pushing the material boundaries of painting.

Latiff Mohidin National Gallery Singapore

Latiff Mohidin
Mindscape 17
1983
Oil on canvas
82 x 64cm
Gift of BinjaiTree in memory of Chia Yew Kay and Tan Kim Siew
Collection of National Gallery Singapore

Rirkrit Tiravanija - 2014 to 2016

Rirkrit Tiravanija National Gallery Singapore

Rirkrit Tiravanija
Untitled 2014-2016 (curry for the soul of the forgotten)
2014-2016

This bronze cookpot, evocative of ancient sculpture, has been used to cook Thai curry near Rirkrit Tiravanija’s home in Chiang Mai. It is surrounded by three video projections presenting “documentation” of different instances of curry being cooked in the pot. In the video, the pot mysteriously moves across the platform while the curry is cooking. This creates a sense of anticipation that is left unresolved: we don’t see the meal being eaten; only the evidence of its production through the videos and the cookpot.
Untitled 2014-2016 (curry for the soul of the forgotten) is a development of Tiravanija’s renowned cooking performances, which he began in 1990. These works transformed the supposedly neutral “white cube” gallery into a kitchen serving rice and curry to guests. Many of Tiravanija’s installations create a stage for events to take place and viewers to participate. Here, however, the artist creates a distance between the meal and the audience. This distance evokes the violence inherent in institutions of art, where objects are displaced from their original contexts into a non-neutral space.

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