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Celebrating The Speaking Artist May Help Singapore’s Newest and Largest Private Museum Find Its Own Voice

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Celebrating The Speaking Artist May Help Singapore’s Newest and Largest Private Museum Find Its Own Voice
“Swallowing the Shadow” (2007-2008) by Chun Sungmyung, fragment of the installation. Light and acrylic painting on FRP. Image courtesy of the author

‘The Artist’s Voice’ is a new international contemporary art exhibition currently on view at The Parkview Museum, Singapore. It features contemporary masters from China and South Korea along with stellar international artists.

The museum itself opened in March 2017 with a family-friendly travelling exhibition ‘On Sharks and Humanity’, a launch that arguably failed to make the splash one would expect from Singapore’s newest and largest private museum backed by one of the most astonishing corporate art collections in Asia  and boasting 1,500 sqm state of the art space in perhaps the most beautiful building in central Singapore. With the new show the museum, not unsuccessfully, attempts to find its place on Singapore’s art map, or its own distinct voice. ‘The Artist’s Voice’ is at last contemporary art exhibition proper. The show explores the complexity of human existence in our historical times through the narrative language of 34 contemporary artworks, mainly coming from The Parkview Museum Collection. 

The 4,000 -strong Parkview Group corporate collection has been amassed by Mr. George Wong, the Chairman of the Hong Kong based Parkview Group, and his family since 1980.

The collection is a part of the Hong Kong Parkview Group's corporate collection, whose focus is Chinese and Asian art from the pre-Neolithic time to the present and  international modern art, with an increasing share of international contemporary art that the company's Chairman George Wong is avidly collecting now. In Mr. Wong’s own words, “collecting art needs passion, courage, knowledge and strong vocation for hearing artists’s voices who are often speaking a language that most likely no one speaks as his own one“.

“Refugee I“ (2015) by Liu Xiaodong. Oil on canvas, 200 x 180 cm. Image courtesy of The Parkview Museum

‘The Artist’s Voice’ is a double joy of recognition and discovery. There are exceptional works by some of the most outstanding Chinese contemporary artists of their generation like Wang Luyan and Qiu Anziong, placed alongside impactful and relevant works of artists from North Asia such as Chun Sungmyung, and  international artists. One of the delights of this exhibition is a clever juxtaposition of artistic mediums as varied as photography, animation and crude oil, earth and delicate pencil, all narrating concrete human experience albeit in many different languages of contemporary art. “Our exhibition is simply about what the artist says. There is a strong message, there is something very much engaged in personal participation”, says the curator about the new show.  Exhibition narrating personal emotions and experiences  is something of a rarity in Singapore, where major shows by state-funded museums tend to focus on interrogating Southeast Asian cultural, social and political context. Perhaps the subtlety of curatorial interventions is unsurprising also given the figure of the curator: Lorand Hegyi is a renowned art historian, curator and critic who previously helmed the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain de Saint Étienne Métropole. Mr. Hegyi is also the artistic director of the Parkview Museum.

The exhibition narrates simple and clear personal messages, not overly mediated or interpreted by a curator

The tone is immediately set by the very first works confronting the visitor. Three large-scale artworks by the famous British artist duo Gilbert & George Airs, Khalifah and Pave the Way, all created in 2003 as part of the artists’ “Scapegoating Pictures” series, completely dominate the spacious entrance gallery. Distinctive graphic-style works form a colossal triptych, presenting uneasy coexistence of the artists alongside paranoia, fundamentalism and victimhood through symbolic images of sinister bomb-shaped canisters, scenes of terror and shattered forms of the artists themselves. Hallmark black grids, emulating stained glass seen at churches, lend the triptych a spiritual significance.

“Khalifah” (2003) by Gilbert & George. Mixed media, 377 x 635 cm. Image courtesy of the author

The next gallery greets the visitor a similarly oversized 3-meter tall diptych W Fire at Both Ends Automatic Revolver (2013) by Wang Luyan. Just like the famous artists’ duo in Britain, he has been a key figure in the development of contemporary Chinese art since the late 1970s. As if taking the painting’s title literally, two identical loaded revolvers stare at each other silently across the gallery space in a seeming anticipation of an act of ultimate self-destruction.

 

 “W Fire at Both Ends Automatic Revolver” (2013) by Wang Luyan. Painting, 300 x 360 cm. Image courtesy of The Parkview Museum

The prevalence of diptychs, triptychs, quadtychs and series of images at ‘The Artist’s Voice’ as the curator’s forms of choice is quite striking. This arrangement reflects the curator’s interest in negotiating spirituality and faith and interrogating concrete and realistic human conditions against the complexity of today’s world. This pursuit of spirituality is a recurrent theme of the exhibition, along with existential revelations about life and truth narrated by the artworks.

Although the impact of polyptychs and series as the forms of curator’s choice on perception of the works is quite powerful, it is not immediately obvious to an unsuspecting visitor.

This search for the meaning of life finds expression in the haunting installation Swallowing the Shadow (2007-2008) by South Korean artist Chun Sungmyung, where he recreates his inner world full of psychological violence, muted dialogues and painful revelations in a hope that acknowledged and exposed wounds would heal faster. The installation is populated by human souls with childlike bodies and the face of an adult man, the artist’s own face, confronting their traumas and fears in the quiet theatrical setting of the gallery.

"Swallowing the Shadow” (2007-2008) by Chun Sungmyung, installation fragment. Image courtesy of the author

Visually powerful and conveying accessible visual metaphors, the artworks engage the visitor in an honest and direct conversation about human existence, ethical values and anthropological constellations. Mr. Hegyi lets this conversation flow free and unscripted, with the artists’ narratives open for interpretations.

Lorand Hegyi allows artists’ voices to remain distinct by creating the right space for that dialogue between the artworks and the viewers, which is yet another delight of the exhibition.

For one, Mr. Hegyi simply gives large-scale artworks enough breathing space by taking advantage of the vast and reconfigurable museum space. Exceptionally high 6-meter ceilings allowed him to aptly highlight spiritual undertones of dramatic works like Marina Abramovic’s Pieta (2002) or Sejla Kameric’s Basics (2003) by installing them above the eye level, in a position that lends the pieces a distinctly religious interpretation. Similarly, the dynamic inverted position of Gianni Dessi’s Untitled (2017) and its visual continuation, painted by the 62-year old Italian artist on the wall during the artwork installation, are absolutely essential to this self-portrait as a powerful visual metaphor of the free “speaking artist”.

“Untitled” (2017) by Gianni Dessi. Image courtesy of the author

The few video works featured at the exhibition represent various sub-genres: performance, animation, pseudo-documentary.  A mesmerizing black and white animation video by the contemporary ink master and installation artist Qiu Anxiong Minguo Landscape (2007) unfolds evocative history through the artists’ hallmark combination of traditional ink painting motifs with modern digital technology.

“Minguo Landscape” (2007) by Qiu Anxiong. Single channel animation, 14:33 minutes. Image courtesy of the artist.

Even acknowledging the many criticisms and debates on ethical issues surrounding private museums globally, the arrival of the independent privately-owned Parkview Museum and its first contemporary art exhibition with its thoughtful curatorial interventions are welcomed developments. The museum is definitely capable of benefiting the local and the regional arts scene though sheer astounding scope and diversity of the collection, as well as through new curatorial perspectives that Mr. Hegyi can bring to the Singapore audience.

‘The Artist’s Voice’ is on view until March 18th 2018.  For more information please visit https://www.parkviewmuseum.com/


Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.


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