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Art for SG50 (The Straits Times)

by August 4, 2015 Government & Politics

Galleries showcase Singapore artists as well as specially curated works to mark the nation’s Golden Jubilee

These days, everything is coming up SG50 – including the visual arts scene.

Galleries are commissioning works and presenting specially curated shows to mark Singapore’s 50th anniversary.

Among these are two significant gallery shows: the return of the headline-grabbing Singapore Survey, known for its provocative themes and works, at Artspace at Helutrans; and Sundaram Tagore Gallery’s first group show of Singapore artists, Dear Painter.

Singapore Survey, the brainchild of gallerist Valentine Willie, was first held in August 2008, at the start of a global financial crisis. That inaugural show was themed around The Air Conditioned Recession, a riff on media academic and former journalist Cherian George’s book of essays on local politics, The Air-Conditioned Nation (2000).

This year’s show is the fourth. Mr Willie had presented the other editions before closing his eponymous gallery here in 2012.

The Paper, Some Paper (II) is made from classified ads in local newspapers and raffia string and held together in the shape of a pillar. PHOTO: CHUN KAI QUN

The best remembered show in the series is Beyond LKY in August 2010, in which local artists were asked to imagine a future without the late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew .

This year’s edition is inspired by a book of essays – Hard Choices, edited by journalist Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh and academic Donald Low, which examines the political conundrums in Singapore today.

Mr Willie, 60, says: “As with all good exhibitions, my aim is to start a conversation, starting with some of the insights shown in the survey .

“I am not asking artists to provide answers to the complex conundrums that are facing Singapore today, nor indeed to confront the contested political landscape.”

Instead, as with all previous surveys, the title merely provides a starting point, he adds.

“But a healthy dose of scepticism would not be amiss. This is not a survey of utopia or post-utopia, nor will any freedom prizes be awarded.”

Mr Willie now runs VW Special Projects. He decided to resurrect the Singapore Survey after fine art logistics firm Helutrans offered him its exhibition space free for the next five years and pledged to take care of logistics. This took care of the bulk of costs and freed him to focus on curating the show.

Helutrans chief executive Dick Chia says that, of all the exhibitions held at its Artspace in Tanjong Pagar Distripark, the Singapore Surveys were the most well attended – with more than 700 people on opening nights alone.

This year’s Survey features 18 artists – ranging from 79-year-old Lee Boon Wang to artists in their 20s such as Eugene Soh and twin brothers Chun Kaifeng and Kai Qun – and a mix of old and new works.

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Kai Qun’s work is a monumental newspaper and raffia string installation. Titled The Paper, Some Paper (II), the 2015 work comprises suspended sheets of classified advertisements from a local newspaper, threaded loosely with pink raffia and held together in the shape of a pillar.

The 32-year-old artist, who took part in the 2011 edition, says the Singapore Survey “has grown to become more than just an exhibition, but also a means of writing and presenting fragments of our local art history”, while addressing the concerns of making art here.

Meanwhile, international gallerist Sundaram Tagore has picked next month to open Dear Painter, for an extended art buzz after National Day.

Put together by independent curator June Yap, the exhibition at his gallery in Gillman Barracks will feature new works by the Chun brothers, Martin Constable, Jane Lee, Warren Khong, Francis Ng, Kai Lam, Shubigi Rao and Jeremy Sharma.

Mr Tagore, who has promoted local artists such as painter Jane Lee at his gallery, says he has had his eye on the Singapore arts landscape since 1993, when he started visiting the country.

“I have always wanted to do a curated show and represent the work of Singaporean artists as it has evolved significantly over the years,” says the 53-year-old.

“Dear Painter is mission-driven, it is not random or off-hand. For me, intercultural dialogue is important. We are always trying to intermix local culture with international culture to create a dialogue in our galleries.”


WHERE: Artspace at Helutrans, Tanjong Pagar Distripark

WHEN: Thursday to Sept 13, noon to 7pm (Thursday to Sunday), closed on public holiday. Over
the National Day weekend, it will be open on Friday and Saturday, closed on Sunday, and open onAug10.



WHERE: Sundaram Tagore Gallery, 01-05, 5 Lock Road, Gillman Barracks

WHEN: Sept 5 to Oct 25, 11am to7pm (Tuesday to Saturday), 11am to 6pm (Sun)


INFO: Call 6694-3378 or go to

He plans to take the group show to his New York gallery at a later date.

Ms Yap, 42, whose recent curatorial projects include the critically acclaimed Guggenheim Museum touring exhibition No Country: Contemporary Art For South And South-east Asia, calls the SG50 milestone year “a prime juncture for reflection”.

“Our art historical narrative is founded on a synthesis of painting methods – the Nanyang style. Thus, you could say an experimental approach is our heritage,” she says of the exhibition’s title, Dear Painter.

After all, she adds, an artist is shaped by the intersection of aesthetic, cultural, social and political pasts. The Nanyang style of painting, devised by pioneer artists here in the first half of the 20th century, combines Western and Asian techniques with tropical subject matter.

For Dear Painter, artist Jeremy Sharma is working on a polystyrene foam piece, based on real elevation data of an extraterrestrial landscape.

“I am glad to be in excellent company with curation by June Yap. I am sure it will be an exciting show,” he says.

The 37-year-old is preparing for a solo exhibition in Berlin in October with gallerist Michael Janssen, who also has a base at Gillman Barracks.

Sharma believes Dear Painter “will lend weight to the discussion of contemporary ideas from painting in Singapore and attract new interest from both collectors and institutions.”