The inaugural edition of Singapore’s newest Art Fair, Singapore Contemporary was held from 21 to 24 January at the Suntec City Convention & Exhibition Centre. With the theme A World of Art the art show presented more than 3000 works of art from 65 exhibitors and installation art by 14 artists. These works were from galleries all over the world – Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Italy and Russia.
The use of paintings as a medium is a crucial development in contemporary art today yet it is often the underrated aspect of art shows. The paintings exhibited at the Singapore Contemporary Art Show definitely lend the exhibition an understated innovativeness and gravitas.
Fabrik Gallery’s booth displays an interesting contrast of paintings by leading Chinese Artists Xu Songbu and Pang Yongjie. Xu Songbong’s pieces titled Hunting in Autumn and A Beautiful Day respectively create a fresh perspective on history, focusing on the Tang Dynasty’s obsession with horsemanship and the hunt. The visuals are striking both in terms of colour and the lines of the drawings.
Pang Yongjie is recognised as one of the leading Chinese artists of China’s “post-contemporary abstract” movement – his works display his unconventional abstract figurative painting style of voluptuous, fleshy human figures. They come across as both traditional and playful all at once, with the brightly coloured lips and generous curves. The Chinese contemporary works stand out, showing their advanced techniques and innovative styles, against other muted, conventional works which comes across as familiar, almost replicas to contemporary art exhibited at other galleries and art shows.
Tai Chi – Boundless by Yu Nancheng at Nancy’s Gallery is an interesting symbolism of herd mentality with rows and rows of pink coloured characters in the exact same tai chi pose held by the lone figure ahead of them. The painting has an uncanny resonance as you walk through the Singapore Contemporary Art Show, yet another art fair with works primarily geared towards the collectors, be it the aesthetically nuanced intellectual to those looking to lend their homes and lifestyles a more cultured and worldly ambience. To add to the irony, Yu Nancheng’s stunning oil paintings are very popular among collectors in Hong Kong and the rest of the world.
Korean artist Hayun Choi’s work Gaze 13, one of a series, is portraiture featuring the human face through threaded painting and photography. Most interestingly, her work stands out because of its unique textured medium as well as the subtle emotions expressed on the subject’s face.
This vivid nature of portraiture comes across in the contemporary paintings showcased such as JuanJuan by Zhang Qing from China with its simple facial rendering and understated grace and intensity.
From Europe, artists featured include Yann Houri whose latest paintings are all the talk in Paris. His works tend to reflect his unique style of visually recreating human emotions in a violent and forceful manner, using bright, glaring and contrasting colours set against human faces or a canvas mirroring drapery. However, some of the works featured at the booth do not emphasize the vibrancy and vigor of his paintings. Overall, there is an almost lackluster tone to the works featured in the exhibition due to the curatorial layout and selection of pieces exhibited.
This is exponentially felt when you come across installation pieces set in the middle of the visitors’ path. Most installation pieces come across as weak in curatorial terms, lacking impact in its placement amidst the overall layout of the art show.
The physicality of the works often does not meld with the artists’ intention. Humaniticity by Soh Ee Shaun is a modular, public cardboard art installation of variable dimensions depicting an assembling of colourful blocks and cartoon faces joined together. It is intended to represent the interconnected nature of humanity, that we are all bound together by our own past, present and future actions.
The statements on the boxes such as ‘I’m not sure what to do at this moment’ and ‘What are you going to do for the rest of your life anyway?’ imply a sense of confusion amidst an arbitrary rather than connected world. It reflects the overall sense of the Singapore Contemporary Art Show, which does not add anything new to Singapore’s arts scene but raises even more questions about the growth and direction of contemporary art in today’s socio-economic climate.
As the newest art fair on the scene, the Singapore Contemporary Art Show, to its credit, does not hide its intentions as a commercial art fair. At the end of the show, there are art works showcased at the seating area surrounding the bar – their subject focus is unabashedly on money. The intended irony is lost on the visitor who has just roamed through exhibition booths of mainstream contemporary art that caters to the sensibilities of the commercial market.
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).