2013.07.15 Mon, by
Singapore Postcard

Ah Singapore — Switzerland of Asia! Clean, organized, educated, military and somewhat conservative — just call me Heidi.

All that’s missing are cuckoo clocks and those things they call Alps. But who needs those anyway when you have a giant walky-casino-helipad-pool and Avatar-like super-trees? Cuckoo!

So joyous was I to be back in the land of laksa that I burst our yodeling. It sounded like yoddl-arrkkgh. Normally I’m a champion yodeler but because the pollution was over 400 psi or pmi or pmt or whatever — which by comparison made Beijing’s smog air seem pure — I choked.

Art critics are a notoriously brave and intrepid lot though, so gas mask donned and a brace of oxygen tanks on my back, your correspondent ventured out into a city spookily bereft of pedestrians. Yet again I was having a Will Smith moment.

Silverlens showed how big ideas can be generated with economy of means, with a terrific video art show using just iPads. Here, Lawrence Malstaf’s – appropriately for airless Singapore – “Shrink”, performance, 6 minutes 10 seconds, 1996

But finding art can be a tricky business. Our taxi drive didn’t have a clue what the Singapore Art Museum is, let alone where it is. Maybe he just didn’t have a clue, full stop. Anyway, eventually we reached SAM, where we avoided the survey of contemporary Arab art because we had small children who needed entertainment and Mona Hatoum just wasn’t going to flick the switch. Instead we went to Art Garden 2013, an interactive and activity-based multimedia exhibition for children. There really needs to be many more exhibitions like this in Asia. If we are serious about art eduction then we have to be serious about making art not only accessible to children but also seriously fun.

Morvarid K at Yavuz Fine Art. This work “Heart Dish 3″, photo collage, 80 x 80cm, 2013. (photo: Chris Moore)

After lunch, I struck out on my own, visiting Yavuz Fine Art, where new-generation Irandian artist, Morvarid K had a solo exhibition of her photographic collages on the theme of residential satellite dishes, and which included geometric pictures with circular images of threaded real hearts lying in satellite dishes, just in time for supper (they also led me to recall recent similar work by Jiang Zhi).

CHUN Kwang Young (b.1944) “Aggregation 07-DE146 “, Mixed media with Korean mulberry paper, 250 x 205 cm, 2007 at Art Plural Gallery (photo: Chris Moore)

I then strolled — trying to hold my breath all the way — to Art Plural Gallery, which had an exhibition of abstract folded-paper wall-works by Korean artist, Chun Kwang Young, the most successful of which were the more abstract ones.

Detail of Tomoko Kashiki “Trash Bag Like a Rabbit”, acrylic, pastel, linen, wooden panel 130.5 x 162 cm, 2012 at Ota Fine Arts, Gillman Barracks

The next port of call was the almost desolate Gillman Barracks. Half the galleries were closed, including Arndt, Fost and Future Perfect. I was sorry particularly about the latter, as they had a perfectly balanced dual show (always hard to achieve) with Chiharu Shiota and Caroline Rothwell. Kindly they supplied me with an installation view (see below). You see, perfect.

At Future Perfect had a double show of Chiharu Shiota and Caroline Rothwell, “The Pulse of Time”

(Image courtesy of the artist and Future Perfect)

The Singapore branch of Silverlens was open though, or at least they let me in and their epic iPad show video art was commendable but unfortunately I was in a hurry, so I saw very little of it. In fact, precisely one, or at least some of it – Lawrence Malstaf’s highly apposite “Shrink”.

Both of Gillman Barracks famous Japanese galleries presented mod versions of traditional Japanese art forms. Ota Fine Art‘s group exhibition “Vivid Strata: New Representations of Asia” included Tomoko Kashiki’s fine figurative paintings. Meanwhile Mizuma Gallery had solo exhibition “Mythopoeia” by Yoshitaka Amano of art manga.

ShanghART had a stockroom show on with all sorts of treasures, including from Ding Yi, Yu Youhan and Zhang Qing but what really caught my eye was the rarely seen “The Last Mosquito” by Xu Zhen. Presented as an edition, it was possible to see exactly where the insect’s blood goes.

Detail of Xu Zhen “The Last Mosquito” at ShanghART, Gillman Barracks (note the blood spitting onto the wall)

Next door Michael Janssen Gallery had a strong show by German abstract painter Peter Zimmerman, proving again that while all art benefits from context similar works together, it is particularly the case for abstract painting. While a lone Zimmerman painting can look like simply a piece of design. At Michal Jannsen it was clear that shown together, they can also fill the room with electric tension.

The best show in Singapore right now is Peter Zimmerman’s “crystal & fruits” at Michael Janssen gallery, also at Gillman Barracks.

Further abstract painting was to be found at Equator Art Projects, run by long time Singapore resident, Tony Godfrey. Ian Woo’s works are a further example of an emerging sensibility in East Asia for abstract painting, even at a time when Europe and North America are perhaps drifting away from the practice.

Equator Art Projects presented “Theory and Practice of the Small Painting”, including this fresh abstract work by Ian Woo.

For more snapshots from the postcard you will have to open the image gallery at the top, right of this article. But with the pmt levels falling, it was time for me to leave the barracks and find a swimming pool to bob around in and eventually to while away the eventing on a terrace overlooking what Singapore’s really best at – a shipping terminal on reclaimed land and a twinkling oil refinery despite an absence of oil reserves. This is why Singapore is the Switzerland of Asia (or equally, Switzerland is the Singapore of Europe) – a belief in independence, self-sufficiency, education and a desire to do things better. Sure, if it is to really develop as the influential cultural hub to which it aspires, Singapore does need greater freedom of speech. Then again, once upon a time Switzerland was Calvinist.

In the evening the smog lifted enough to sit outside. Or at least it dissipated enough to see the lights of the oil refinery (distance) and the shipping container terminal (right). It was the perfect setting for the condominium infinity pool (foreground).