IMPART COLLECTORS' SHOW

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IMPART Collectors' Show 2019:
Fabulous Monsters
17 January to 2 February
Art Science Museum
Admission is free

In our time of conflict and uncertainty,  one of the lines of enquiry in contemporary art is a retreat from the horrors of our social-political realities into an inner world of dreams and the fantastic. Yet this trajectory is no simple escape from life. The Chinese literati sages of old who retreated to the mountains were not merely escaping but seeking a way to live, navigate or even better the tumultuous times in  which they found themselves. The dream-like worlds created by contemporary artists are also ways in which the rich repertoire of visual iconography in Asia are cleverly deployed to critique the current social-political fractures in oblique and suggestive ways beyond polemical positions. This exhibition, drawing upon visually arresting and unusual works of Asian contemporary art from Singapore-based collections demonstrates the depth and risk-taking among private collectors based in Singapore today."

Curatorial Advisor: Tan Boon Hui
Vice President, Global Arts & Cultural Programs, and Director, Asia Society Museum

Curatorial Statement
Fabulous Monsters
Tan Boon Hui
Curatorial Advisor

In our time of conflict and uncertainty, one of the lines of enquiry in contemporary art is a retreat from the horrors of our social-political realities into an inner world of dreams and the fantastic. Yet this trajectory is no simple escape from life. The Chinese literati sages of old who retreated to the mountains were not merely escaping but seeking a way to live, navigate or even better the tumultuous times in which they found themselves. The dream-like worlds created by contemporary artists are also ways in which the rich repertoire of visual iconography in Asia is cleverly deployed to critique the current social-political fractures in oblique and suggestive ways beyond polemical positions. This exhibition, drawing upon visually arresting and unusual works of Asian contemporary art from Singapore-based collections demonstrates the depth and risk-taking among private collectors based in Singapore today.

 

Legends of the Fall

The image of the fall of man (and woman), while a recurring motif in Western art finds a new relevance in contemporary Asia as a way of expressing the uncertainties and terrors of our time. Jahan Loh’s life size bronze sculpture, Genesis God’s Terrarium Adam and Eve, is both in its title and subject matter, the most obvious example in this exhibition of how this motif has been exploited by an artist from Asia. The heads of Adam and Eve are emanating a graffiti like sculptural assemblage. The assemblage appears to be lettering or calligraphy of the phrase chuangshiji or the ‘genesis’ of the title, in Mandarin text, but expressed through the graffiti style called wild style. In this work, Adam and Eve as the first Man and first Woman, are depicted in their roles as primogenitors of humanity in a literal sense.

 

This eternal couple appears again in another work rooted in street art, namely the colourful and exhilarating ‘Heaven and Earth’ or Tiandi work. Rendered in bright orange, blues and yellows on wood panel, this iconic 1956 work by Japanese post war master Ay-O is the polar opposite of Jahan’s depiction. Here Adam and Eve are the eternal lovers, embracing in the full light of day. The fall from Heaven is far from dismal, instead, the land around them is filled with light. The lovers dominate the painting surface and rise from the earth below to touch the edge of the clouds above.

 

For many artists in this show, the fall of man is much darker and sinister. Anton Del Castillo references the altarpieces of the European Renaissance to great effect in OMG. Within its three linked panels, a writhing mass of anonymous human figures wearing gas masks push, agitate and attack each other. While the traditional altarpiece might separate the depicted world into heaven, earth and hell, here there is no differentiation across the 3 panels. In OMG, the universe itself is at war. The real and the fantastic come together in Jia Aili’s monumental landscape painting, Throw Over to the Wasteland. For Jia Aili, the ruined landscape and despoiled shore are poetic devices through which he paints his intense images of contemporary society. While seemingly dreamlike, the economically dire landscapes of his childhood home of Dandong in Liaoning province probably root his fantastic images in recent reality. His paintings hint at the recent radical transformation of Chinese society as it enters the global economy. Just like Anton Del Castillo, the image of the man with the gas mask is a motif evoking the fall. Jia Aili’s landscapes are populated with recurring images of the relics of civilizational distress - wreckages of cars, consumer goods, industrial ruins, etc. Zeng Fanzhi’s Pink Nos 2 & 3 and Dinh Q Lê’s photo-weaving Persistence of Memory #10, are more direct and forceful depictions of the horrors of war and destruction, the armed soldier, the wounded man and the nuclear bomb are all symbols of our current time of conflict.

 

Artist who work in a more realist framework, directly engaging with the socio-political challenges of our time have found in the motif of the migrant and the refugee a powerful symbol. Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan’s Tears: Project Another Country, uses the remnants of the balikbayan box as a way to express the longing for home and the search for belonging that is the fate of every migrant. A product of the Philippine diaspora, the balikbayan box or returnee’s box is usually a collection of consumer goods such as clothes, kitchenware and even canned food that is to be brought of sent back to the Philippines by emigrants from outside. In this sculpture, the cardboard boxes, rolled up into bird or airplane like forms do not fly but rather fall from a pillow form, tethered to a pillow form, almost hinting at the ultimate failure of flight or escape from what is one’s home or resting place. The lack of a stable ‘home’ or exclusion from a place of rest is hinted at in Jason Wee’s Labyrinths (Open Fire), where actual park or drain barricades and window grills are upturned into a sculpture as barrier. A delicate chiffon circle or the pink dot, hints at the difficulties of LGBTQ inclusivity.

 

The Rebellion of Dreams

The pain of reality has also triggered a flight into the fantastic and an inner world of dreams as a way to respond the contradictions and conundrums of our current time. Ronald Ventura’s consortium of animal headed sculptures entitled Weights and Zoomanities Gathering III, blurs the lines between human, animal and machine and forms merge into each other with seductive beauty. Animal attributes, when used to describe humans, become loaded with moral and ethical values and judgements, hence Ventura’s sculptures ask questions such as what do we feel about a pig headed man or a rabbit headed woman? I Nyoman Masriadi also brings an ironic and humourous tone to his satirical portrait of a muscleman in My Body Not Big Enough, where his heavily muscled and oversized bodybuilder still feels inadequate and demands more sustenance, holding out his fork and spoon for another helping. The work critiques the endless consumption and greed of contemporary humanity, however much is never enough. The strangeness of our lives is another ideas running through a group of works in this exhibition which deal with the different worlds of contemporary human experience. Ang Song Ming’s works often derive from his love of music. The experience of music can be both public and private. The work on display here, Notes, while print like are actually drawings. Borrowing the compositional language of music, these drawings are analogous to visual compositions on music paper and presented here on music stands.  Henry Lee’s 7 meter long graphite and charcoal drawing, Introduction To, depicts a nightmarish world of monsters and strange beings akin to a fertile fever dream. It is clearly however less rooted in physical reality in comparison to another dream-like work, Row 1 to 6, by Juanito Torres. In the latter, the four panels of this monumental work depict a classroom scene that seems to be invaded from the rear by the exterior world and also the world of the past. In panel 3, a figure in traditional costume eyes the children from the rear while in the second panel, a cow languidly wanders into the scene, as if the rural past of the Philippines is intruding into the present. The past is always pressing at the back of the present, this works seems to suggest. The figure of the child, with its association with an earlier time of innocence is most poetically deployed in Hyun Soo Kim’s powerful sculpture, Breik. A child of nature, stands having broken off a horn by his own hands. The horn here is a sign of adulthood, as in that of deer and antelopes. The works expresses the desire to reject the horrors of adult life, the boy would rather endure the pain of tearing off a part of his body than to face the difficulties of adult knowledge.

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