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Book Review: Not In Any Order: Writings on Singapore Art 2006 – 2010 by Lim Kok Boon


Photo courtesy of Ian Lin.

Photo courtesy of Ian Lin.

Not in Any Order by Lim Kok Boon starts off with an intriguing reference to George Orwell’s Why I Write (2004), underling four relevant motives for writing – sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse and political purpose. This is particularly relevant when trying to understand why we write about art.

Art writing is often perceived as a false art in itself, obfuscating the art work to the point of inaccessibility with sheer verbosity. However, writers like Lim perceive art writing as a means of increasing awareness and understanding about contemporary art amongst wider audiences. This genuine effort comes across in the publication – starting with the essay ‘Singapore Art Needs You’ as the writer implores the reader to be an active voyeur and/or participant in the local arts scene, and ending with an essay from the art student’s perspective, fresh from the discovery of a new world.

The reviews are categorised into four sections based on the following ideas – modernity, consumerism, realism and the new waves of contemporary art. However, the exhibitions cut across defined genres of contemporary and modern art, as well as emerging and established artists. This makes the reviews easy to read without following its order in the book.

The compilation of exhibition reviews is filled with personal insights and casual commentary.  For example, in the review on The Artists Village: 20 Years On, the writer is unafraid to incite discourse through a series of rhetorical questions as he openly ponders the documenting of art history in Singapore.

This sense of casual intimacy complements the minimalist layout and curation of the book.  However, a common art writer’s folly is to write about artists and art works as if the reader already knows about them. Admittedly, this engenders a sense of intimacy, making the reader feel like he/she is part of the arts scene. However, it is unfamiliar terrain for someone who is new to contemporary art. In spite of efforts to reference previous works and styles of artists, Not in Any Order does not serve as an introductory publication, but a good addition to the library of those who are interested in Singapore’s contemporary art.

Reena Devi is a freelance writer and editor. She has written essays for art exhibition catalogues and social commentary pieces for TODAY. She has previously worked at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and Singapore Contemporary Young Artists (SCYA). 

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