Friday, March 29, 2013

From the private collections: Weight of History

Xu Bing's The Living Word.

This is the art show that I have been waiting for, The Collectors Show: Weight of History. It is essentially an art exhibition that presents contemporary artworks from private collections in Asia. Thanks to this exhibition, members of the public like myself could have the opportunity to view and experience the artworks owned by private collectors.

This exhibition has an interesting title: Weight of History. Earlier this year, during an Artist Presentations session, I learnt that this exhibition examines through the eyes of contemporary artists how the past has shaped present day societies. This show also presents how the artists engage with and evaluate their local traditions and culture in the context of a globalized world.

I visited The Collectors Show: Weight of History for the second time. Interestingly, some of the works resonated more strongly with me during my second visit than my earlier first visit.

I learnt that joining a guided tour is one of the best ways to enjoy this art show even when we do not know the historical context behind the art works. Thanks to the well-trained guides who have done the research, visitors like ourselves can have an easier viewing experience by simply responding to the artworks.

Just be awed
The first artwork that has gotten me to look with awe was Xu Bing's The Living Word (2001). See how the Chinese character 'bird' pictorially represent this winged animal and witness how this Chinese character transform!

Xu Bing's The Living Word.

The conceptualisation behind Xu Bing's The Living Word.

When I walked past Montien Boonma's Nature's Breath: Arokhayasala (1995), I could not help but to experience a sense of reverence. The aromatic scent from this work somehow woke up my olfactory and visual senses. The title of this work, Arokhayasala, symbolizes a place where sickness does not exist. How blessed we would be to live in a world where health is a given.

Montien Boonma's Nature's Breath: Arokhayasala.
Disaphol Chansiri Collection.

Look beyond the superficial beauty
In this art show, many of the artworks seem to urge its viewers to look beyond the apparent beauty. Aisha Khalid's Appear As You Are, Be As You Appear (2010) appeared to be a beautifully weaved piece of jacket made of velvet and silk. However, once we were to look beyond the surface, we would see that the inside of the jacket is lined with the steel needles. These needles remind us of the painstaking efforts that are required to produce these fabric.

A close-up photograph of Aisha Khalid's Appear As You Are, Be As You Appear.
Mimi Brown Collection.

Of Okinawan origin, Yuken Teruya redesigns the patterns of the bingata kimono, an Okinawan style of kimono, and the end result is his Bingata Dye on Linen (2002). This kimono looks beautiful on first glance. With a closer look, one is reminded of the history of Okinawa.

Yuken Teruya's Bingata Dye on Linen.
Tatsumi Sato Collection.

Similarly, Kawayan de Guia's Horse which comprises 700 celluloid trumpets is not the docile horse sculpture that it appears to be. Go and find out more about what this artwork seeks to communicate.

Kawayan de Guia's Horse.
Michelangelo and Lourdes Samson Collection,

Together we ponder about cultural identities
A few of the artworks in this art show explore the theme of cultural identities. Tony Albert's A Collected History (2002 - 2010) resonated with me perhaps due to my curiosity with the culture of the indigenous Australians. My personal response to this work is that I could not help but feel sad to reflect how the Aboriginal Australians have been alienated by colonialism.

Tony Albert's A Collected History.
Installation made up of hundreds of reworked objects, sculptures and paintings; original paintings and drawings;
and three unique artworks by Vernon Ah Kee, Shane Cotton and Arthur Pambegan, Jr.
Peggy Scott and David Teplitzky Collection.

Gonkar Gyasto's Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky (2011) seemed to be exploring the struggle for cultural identity that the artist has to grapple with. The artist is of a Tibetan heritage. Yet he was brought up in a Chinese socialist society with a fair level of exposure to globalization. In Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky, we see a Buddha figure adorned with thousands of colour stickers that symbolizes the contemporary popular culture.

Gonkar Gyasto's Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky.
Peggy Scott and David Teplitzky Collection.

There is a place for humour 
History can be amusing and humourous. There are some works in this art show with a witty sense of humour. One of these is Vertical Submarine's Sun Tzu's Art of War (Armchair Philosophy) (2010) from Tay Yu Jin's Collection. This work critique the people who claim to be knowledgeable but do not have direct experience. This work consists of an armchair with its back being shot with 64 arrows. Did you feel the impact of this work? Whatever it is, please know that art can be entertaining while being enlightening.

Vertical Submarine's Sun Tzu's Art of War (Armchair Philosophy).
Tay Yu Jin Collection.

Evoking our memories of the past
It was difficult to miss Tu Wei-Cheng's The Emperor's Treasure Chest I (2011). The musical sounds from this work immediately caught my attention when I walked into the Singapore Art Museum. When I took a glimpse of it, this artwork seemed to be a valuable antique. On closer inspection, this work is created using both original and counterfeit antique objects which were assembled together. The shadow-play section reminded me of Wayang Kulit (shadow puppets) shows.

Tu Wei-Cheng's The Emperor's Treasure Chest I.

There are many other noteworthy artworks on display in this art show. If you have only one hour to spend at this art show, I would recommend that you time your visit so that you can join one of the guided tours.

This is the art show to get a glimpse of the kind of contemporary artworks that private collectors would be keen to collect. One of the motivations to attend this art show is that, unless I know the private collectors themselves, it may be my limited chance to see these works in public ever again in my lifetime.

Credit Suisse: Innovation In Art Series
The Collectors Show: Weight of History
25 Jan - 5 May 2013
Singapore Art Museum 
71 Bras Basah Road Singapore 189555

Nearby MRT stations: Bras Basah, City Hall, Dhoby Ghaut.

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