Singapore Lowdown: Must-See Exhibitions
Zac Lee, Companionable Silence (2021). Oil on canvas. 92 x 153 cm. Courtesy the artist and Richard Koh Fine Art.
The Lion City welcomes the new year with the 11th edition of Singapore Art Week (SAW 2023) from 6 January with over 130 events spread from the city centre to the heartlands.
SAW 2023 is anchored by two pivotal art fairs. The STPI project, S.E.A. Focus (6–15 January), will host a dedicated showcase of Southeast Asian contemporary art; ART SG launches its inaugural edition at Marina Bay Sands (12–15 January), gathering over 150 leading galleries. We share our selection of Singapore exhibitions to explore beyond the two fairs.
Organised by Singapore Art Museum, this year's Singapore Biennale generated controversy and intrigue after adopting the name Natasha to suggest a more embodied, humane approach to the biennale, where artworks can be overshadowed by an overstuffed curatorial.
This soft gesture hinting at an integration between art and life spreads from Singapore's commercial district to its southern islands, with a cast of over 50 artists and collectives, many of whom are gathered at Tanjong Pagar Distripark.
Beyond everything it represents, the Singapore Biennale is worth a visit—if only to stop by Trevor Yeung's makeshift shed, The Pavilion of Regret (2022), where you can drop off and take home house plants. Alfonse Chiu shares highlights of Natasha here.
Chinese opera singers, cabaret girls, boxers and jesters from 20th-century Singapore sidestep their roles as amusement park performers in Sarah Choo Jing's latest exhibition, which dives into the nuances of entertainment and desire.
Choo Jing contends with the role of entertainment in the past and present, considering the idea of a wonderland as an escapist outlet offering an antidote to reality. Her immersive installation Dancing Without Touching spans video, sculpture, digital prints, and NFTs.
Working across image-making, film, and installation, Choo Jing is known for her uncanny observations of contemporary society, examining individual and collective narratives, interpersonal relationships, and human behaviour.
Since her residency at STPI in 2021, Genevieve Chua has experimented with dimensionality in her painting practice. Her new exhibition grrrraaanularrrrrrr features 46 works, among which include a series of cement paper relief sculptures that reference the geometry and materiality of the pictorial surface.
Speaking to technology's impact on the rhythm of life today, Chua's works bear titles like Blink (2021)—a simple semi-circular depression—and Apex and Depressions (2022), an arrangement of overlaid right angles, sharp corners, and curves recessed in a cement paper cast.
Perhaps the most explicit reference to the role of technology can be observed in Headset (2022), shaped after the virtual reality device. Superimposing a rectangular form on an oval surface, Headset considers the collisions between the material and virtual worlds.
Patricia Piccinini's hyperrealistic humanoid sculptures are not for the fainthearted. Flesh-toned pig creatures made of silicone, fibreglass, and human hair share the glow that enlivens human eyes, inciting recognition and repulsion in equal measure.
Wearing ambiguous expressions resembling anxiety or surprise, Piccinini's naked bodies are sculpted with features that blend human and mutant traits. In While She Sleeps (2021), one creature lies curled on another's lap—hint at a vulnerability that pertains to all lifeforms.
By collapsing the formal distinctions between species, Piccinini pushes against our hierarchical biological inclinations. The same drive toward unity informed the artist's 2003 Venice Biennale project We Are Family.
Taking place at ShanghArt at Gillman Barracks is Indonesian artist Melati Suryodarmo's performance lecture series Unpacked, presented across two occasions on 7 January (3–4pm) and 13 January (5–6pm).
Suryodarmo is known for her physically intensive, durational performance practice which is informed by her time spent travelling and living in Germany and Indonesia. Recognising her body as the vessel that grounds her in the world, Suryodarmo tests the borders that separate the body and its environment.
Suryodarmo's work 24,901 Miles (2015) will also feature in ShanghART's booth at ART SG. Documenting the artist's ten-hour performance over two days, 24,901 Miles references the circumference of Earth and uncovers the complexities around distance, migration, displacement, and alienation.
Collecting Bodies: A short story about art and nudities in Asia
The Culture Story, 2 Leng Kee Road
10 December 2022–31 March 2023
How is the image of a body held? How do we carry these bodies through representation? An exhibition curated by Dr Yanyun Chen gathers 31 artworks from ten private collections to consider the relationship between the timeless representation of nude bodies and the act of collecting.
In the context of Southeast Asia, Chen asks 'why nudity in art would often incite offence, censorship, and restrictions'. Depictions of the body in the exhibition range from the explicit to the implicit—as seen in Mangu Putra's oil painting, Sisa Malam (2005), where the presence of the nude is inferred.
Divided into seven themes, Collecting Bodies spans topics from patronage to sexuality, liberation and diaspora. Featured artists include Shi Hu, Theo Meier, and Murniasih, among others.
Zac Lee: Another Day
Richard Koh Fine Art, 47 Malan Road
7–19 January 2023
A moment of respite in a coffee shop sighted through a window; a girl's face concealed by a book she reads promising a 'future perfect'. Zac Lee's latest oils on canvas capture intimate everyday experiences that leave space for contemplation.
Rendered in subdued palettes, Lee's hyperreal figurations are warm and inviting. Attention to idiosyncratic details—such as the way a body might stretch or fold as one applies lipstick, or poses for the camera—imbues each scene with personality.
Despite their familiarity, images like Future Perfect (2021) somehow evade cliché. From rogue hair strands that frame a glimpse of an eyebrow, to the reader's slight tilt of her head and stretched fingers gripping a book, Lee's painting conveys a subtle portrait of an individual contemplating body image.
Located somewhere between painting and sculpture, Jane Lee's intricate wall-reliefs are notable for their tactile surfaces that allude to subliminal states. In the acrylic and gel on fibreglass Boundless III (2016), rings of yellow implode around a white centre, as if one of Van Gogh's sunflowers had been blasted upon the canvas.
The artist's latest exhibition, Neti Neti, referring to the Sanskrit not this, not this, traces the degradation of masterpieces throughout time. Iconic art-historical works are reconfigured in material and dimensions, stripping known images from reverence to return to the essence of painting.
Living Pictures: Photography in Southeast Asia
National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew's Road
2 December 2022–20 August 2023
Since its inception, photography has introduced distinct representations of Southeast Asia, from early colonial perspectives by European settlers, to negotiations of different subjectivities in the 1970s, and curated compositions of self for social media today.
A monumental exhibition at National Gallery Singapore traces the medium's evolution from 19th-century archives to mixed-media works by contemporary artists—not limited to Heman Chong, Chua Chye Teck, and Yee I-Lann.
From early ethnographic representation to the tradition of portraiture and performance popularised by the upper-classes, and photography's eventual integration within the fine arts, the ways we see and represent, document and imagine unfold across the exhibition's five sections. —[O]