National Gallery Singapore launches first international presentation at Gwangju’s Asia Culture Center

Singaporean artist represents National Gallery Singapore in its first international exhibition in Gwangju.

Ahead of its grand opening in November 2015, the National Gallery Singapore launches Singaporean artist and researcher Koh Nguang How’s solo project in the special exhibition space at Asia Culture Center’s (ACC) Library Park in Gwangju.

Façade of the former Supreme Court. Image courtesy Darren Soh and National Gallery Singapore.

Façade of the former Supreme Court in Singapore, the site of the National Gallery Singapore. Image courtesy Darren Soh and National Gallery Singapore.

Two months ahead of its opening, the highly anticipated National Gallery Singapore is already starting to make its presence visible in the region, holding true to its mission of supporting Singapore art history and fostering cultural understanding, dialogue and knowledge of art and art history across Asia.

From September 2015 to February 2016, as part of its international programming, the National Gallery Singapore is holding a new scholarly and history-rich exhibition project by one of Singapore’s most respected artists and art history researchers, at Asia Culture Center’s (ACC) Library Park in Gwangju.

Archiving Singapore art history

“Singapore Art Archive Project” by Singaporean independent artist and researcher Koh Nguang How is part of “a new framework for the awareness of Asian culture”, as the press release explains, “placing Singapore on a unique international platform”. For the presentation of archival materials on Singapore’s art history, Koh collaborates with National Gallery Singapore curator Charmaine Toh.

National Gallery Singapore Curator, Charmaine Toh and artist Koh Nguang How at the presentation of Koh’s ‘Singapore Art Archive Project’ at the Asia Culture Center, Gwangju, 2015. Image courtesy Koh Nguang How.

National Gallery Singapore Curator Charmaine Toh and artist Koh Nguang How, at the presentation of Koh’s ‘Singapore Art Archive Project’ at the Asia Culture Center, Gwangju, 2015. Image courtesy Koh Nguang How.

Koh is a first generation member of The Artists Village (TAV). He started his artistic practice in 1988, working across a wide range of media, including photography, collage, assemblage, installation, performance, documentation and archiving, as well as curating and research. Koh has been working on the “Singapore Art Archive Project” since 2005.

In his practice, Koh focuses on Singapore art history and has based his latest project on his research on contemporary and historical artists from Singapore.

Koh says about his work, as quoted in the press release:

My collection for the Singapore Art Archive Project began with newspaper cuttings when I was a student in junior college in 1980. I was doing art as a subject, so naturally my focus was more on art related articles. I continue to collect newspaper cuttings to this day.

From November to February, Koh will also be undertaking a three-month residency at the ACC, focusing on three key contemporary Singaporean artists, thus changing the Gwangju display to include his new research and findings. Koh will include Tang Da Wu, Chng Seok Tin and Shui Tit Sing.

National Gallery Singapore Curator, Charmaine Toh and artist Koh Nguang How at the presentation of Koh’s ‘Singapore Art Archive Project’ at the Asia Culture Center, Gwangju, 2015. Image courtesy Koh Nguang How.

National Gallery Singapore Curator Charmaine Toh and artist Koh Nguang How, at the presentation of Koh’s ‘Singapore Art Archive Project’ at the Asia Culture Center, Gwangju, 2015. Image courtesy Koh Nguang How.

Tang Da Wu (b. 1943) is a co-founder of The Artists Village (1988), a collective that promoted experimental art practices. He is a pioneer of performance art in Singapore whose work has spanned installation, drawing and painting to explore social and environmental issues. Koh will examine Tang’s developments, updating the timeline of his practice, with a focus on his London period during the 1970s.

Chng Seok Tin (b. 1946) is one of the most versatile artists from Singapore, working in sculpture and ceramics, as well as mixed media, textiles, printmaking, painting and photography. In 1988, she lost much of her sight after brain surgery, and became an advocate for artists with disabilities. Koh will include important reviews and articles on the artist and her exhibitions throughout the 1970s and 1980s, most of which are in Mandarin. Koh will translate some of the key writings in English.

Shui Tit Sing (b. 1914, Guangdong, China) moved to Malay in 1940. He juxtaposes Western painting and Chinese ink traditions, and is widely known for his wood carving sculptures largely influenced by bas relief from temples around Southeast Asia. He was part of the Ten-Men Art Group together with Yeh Chi Wei, Choo Keng Kwang and Lim Tze Peng.

This project by the National Gallery Singapore is notable in how it is bringing history and the archive to life – inserting a living, breathing human scholar into an exhibition that is continually being updated by his new findings. Curator Charmaine Toh discusses in the press release Koh’s significant contribution to research at the National Gallery Singapore:

At National Gallery Singapore, we have used Koh’s important research as a resource in curating our opening exhibitions and it has helped us to contextualise many works in the exhibition, providing new insights into our own collection.

Atrium of the National Gallery Singapore. Image courtesy National Gallery Singapore.

Atrium of the National Gallery Singapore. Image courtesy National Gallery Singapore.

The largest collection of modern art in Southeast Asia

The National Gallery Singapore has been years in the making, an enormous new project dedicated to  the scholarship of Singaporean and international researchers and curators of Asian modern and contemporary art. On 24 November 2015, the museum will finally open to the public, with complimentary entry for all until 6 December.

Housed in the restored Supreme Court and City Hall buildings in Singapore’s Civic District, the National Gallery Singapore oversees the world’s largest public collection of modern art from Singapore and Southeast Asia, with over 8,000 artworks. The museum is dedicated to collaborative research, education and exhibitions, highlighting Singapore’s culture and heritage and its relationship with Southeast Asia and the world, as well as the importance of modern art in Southeast Asia in a global context.

In an interview with Art Review Asia, National Gallery Singapore Director Dr. Eugene Tan said about the aims of the museum:

The National Art Gallery aims to be a leading visual arts institution […], creating a dialogue between the art of Singapore, Southeast Asia and the world. The gallery is dedicated to the art histories of Singapore and Southeast Asia. […] we aim to historicise the development of art in the region from the nineteenth century to the present day. […] through our increased understanding of the art history of Singapore and Southeast Asia, we aim to examine the role of the region within the global historical development of art through special exhibitions. While the National Art Gallery will focus on the art of Singapore and Southeast Asia from the nineteenth century to the present, the Singapore Art Museum focuses on contemporary art. Both museums will complement each other and work closely together in making Singapore a vibrant arts hub.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Singapore art scene, Singaporean artists, research, museums, museum exhibitions, events in Gwangju

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