Monthly Archives: May 2010


Taking Stock

Inventory: New Art from Southeast Asia

Images with permission from Osage Singapore

The meaning of Inventory requires deeper thinking then I thought. Yes, there’s a list of artist exhibiting, but it is hardly a fraction of the gallery’s stable.

The title of the exhibition suggests taking stock of new commissioned works by Poklong Anading (Philippines), Cheo Chai-Hiang (Singapore), Ho Tzu Nyen (Singapore), Lee Kit (Hong Kong), Vincent Leong (Malaysia), Pratchaya Phinthong (Thailand), Wit Pimkanchanapong (Thailand), and Tintin Wulia (Indonesia). Osage as an enterprise supports contemporary art in more ways than small scale museums in South East Asia; Inventory will be more apt to refer to all the shows curated under the flag of Osage, and not just the selected 8. Inventory as a theme conjures the impression of grandiose Biennale-scale-type exhibition. But this is clearly not.

Therefore Inventory is better understood with reference to the individual artists’ works: taking stock of semiotic, social, political, economic, technological and emotional ‘systems’.

The exhibition then opens  up a plethora of critique of the society we inhabit and the space and place artists have as observers, evidence collectors and creators of unique systems of value. For example, Ho Tzu Nyen’s work questions conceptual video art – the self-referential, circular argument that surrounds a short video work. The choice of white as the prevalent colour of the video is intentional, signifying innocence and purity, and emptiness. The video is placed on ‘infinite’ loop, like a rhetoric played on loop so common in video art. Here, an impossible logic is looped, just like the story of an old man who climbed a cliff only to find an old man, who began to tell the story of an old man who climed a cliff…

osage singapore : 03.03.2010-25.04.2010

Resurrecting Paintings by Jeremy Hiah

tongue-in-cheek rebuttal to “the death of painting”

Resurrecting Paintings by Jeremy Hiah

Images with permission from the artist and post-museum

The “death of painting” was never given a proper autopsy, nor was the time of death properly pronounced. Some would have it dealt a deadly blow by photography in the 1830s as a maturing, newer technology that gave representation a new meaning and new challenge; some would add that it came when “video killed the radio star” and video art offered a new dimension to art expression.

The centre piece of the exhibition could arguably be a statement for art. Parading as a portrait for artists he admired or showed disdain for – “D. Hirst, F. Lijun, J. Koons”, it looks out of place with outlandish gold-coloured frames and hand-painted text. A soft toy is tied to the canvas and stoking the tail between its leg brings it to life, a restrained dance of sorts. Such is the humour of Jeremy Hiah, the artist of a new kind of action painting – those that move with simple toggles or switches from disassembled toys. These action paintings, like toys for the contemporary art connoisseur tackle the accusation that painting is static. Instead, they whirl, purr with blinking lights and tacky tones. It is kitsch in Jeff Koon’s sense, using Damien Hirst aesthetics ready-mades or animals in a “deconstructed” manner and as satirical and cynical like Fang Lijun’s illustrative canvases.

Unlike other bad boy painters that are all angst with little painterly consideration, Hiah’s work possess a certain lyricism and poetic charm. The titles match the mechanism, the twirls that fit the imagination of the artist. Derived from multiple popular culture and literary influences, the paintings have a certain consistency that challenges the status of the medium. Must it be realistic? Must it be static? Must it be serious, oh… please? The strongest element that creeps from the paintings are the use of animals – which we are reminded of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and 1984. The image of a holy cow, a sacred animal to Hinduisim graces 3 paintings like Madonna would to early Christian paintings – except the narrative here is totally dreamlike and personal to the artist.

The meaning of the paintings are as eclectic as Mother Goose’ stories. To decipher his paintings is as difficult as overcoming the fear of touching the paintings – another taboo of the painterly world. Price tag aside, the fear is also entrenched by good behaviour enforced by museums and strict viewer protocols. Hiah challenges these rules, like many good artists; Pablo Picasso, Jean-Michel Basquiat or Paul McCarthy had an axe to grind against the establishment.

The better works in the exhibition dealt with the space more thoroughly and thoughtfully. The sense of depth of these allowed the singular mechanism to work un-interrupted in the uncluttered composition. here, desirably, Less is more.

6 – 18 Apr 2010, Post-Museum

Dire Patterns by Antipas Delotavo

The Sheltered Lives in Dire Straits

Dire Patterns: Antipas Delotavo

Images used with the permission of NUS Museums

The modest solo exhibition consists of 5 works, in 2 spaces: the first, a darkened space with a projection of a watercolour portrait painting in progress; the second, 4 three metres wide canvases painted with hyper-realism. Antipas Delotavo’s work is relatively new to the Singapore audience. Skilled in representational painting and tagged by art critic Alice Guillermo as a Philippine social realist, these paintings are more universal in the climate of the green movement or global financial crisis in recent times. 3 out of 4 paintings are very theatrical, like a photographic moment frozen in time. Except here, the moment frozen is more  surrealistic, predictive of times to come. It might remind one of Rene Magritte’s work, challenging one’s perception of reality and forcing us to re-examine our assumptions of what we ‘see’. TV buffs might say they resemble “flash forwards” but they are more like omens than paths of destiny. The canvases act as dream catchers, distilling the artist’s premonitions.They seem to reflect the sheltered lives young Asians lead, sheltered against the external environment in dire straits.

The exhibition title can be interpreted as illustrating extremely serious or urgent trends in the apathy of our world to economic, natural, or terrorist-related disasters.

“The Nature of Beast” reminds us of a bullish stock market, indicative of a stock market recovery. But then again, it is a mere symbol, a static icon that creeps in as wallpaper patterns, The balanced black and white tiles remind one of a chess board, evoking the familiar expression “life is like chess”, suggesting there are greater beings in control of Man’s fate. It also brings to mind the saying “music soothes the savage beast”, suggesting the pianist might be playing a sonata ritual to ease the stock market. Or the bull might really be the pianist’s imagination, economy recovery an aspiration that may come to a naught.

“Pass De Deux” is another interior painting, featuring 2 ballerina’s oblivious to the explosion in the distant buildings. With threats of terrorism in the real world we inhabit, and civic unrest in South East Asia, the painting reminds me of the ambivalent position the visual arts take, or may contradict: On one hand, the aloofness of high art is rather resistant to depreciation and immune to adverse economy fluctuations; on the other, activist art has the power to stir the minds and body into action. Some art draws its inspiration from universal themes such as love, geometry or the human body, others stem from global events that rock the world. This painting sits on the fence, offering no resolution to the dilemma of high art and hard reality.

The title-less ‘work’ that features the projection, and a horizontal plasma panel screen offers two interesting scenarios. Firstly, the work presents a documentation of the process of painting a watercolour portrait. Secondly, it is a watercolour portrait painted from a projection. While the difference is subtle, it acknowledges artists’ dependence on technology to make art – much like Vermeer was often regarded to be aided by a camera obscura to create the most stunningly mathematically proportionate one-point-perspective paintings. ‘Dire Patterns’ here, could refer to the trend of relying on technology  such that it might over-take the humanistic processes involved in art – of observation and instinct.