Monday, May 6, 2013

Singapore Art Museum

6 May 2013

We saw these two little boys come out of the Singapore Tae Kwon Do school, and they were just too cute to miss the photo!  (They were discussing the flowers with their mom.)

Monday, Richard went on a History of the Empire walking tour, and I will leave it to him to write a blog about that.  I went to the Singapore Art Museum – both were close to the City Hall MRT stop, so it was very easy for us to go our own ways and then meet up again. 

 The Singapore Art Museum (known as SAM, the same as the Seattle Art Museum) is in a beautiful old building, a former Catholic school, built in 18-something, complete with a chapel in the center.  Several galleries were closed as new installations are put up, but there was plenty to see.  I was there with several classes from a primary school, about the age of the Tae Kwon Do boys, and they were very cute to watch as they answered questions by the museum educator.  

Anyway, the museum was interesting – they didn’t have any work that would be considered historic – everything was modern, or at least contemporary.  I’m not sure if there’s old Singapore art somewhere, possibly at the National Museum, or archived here – but everything was from 1980-something to the present.

The main exhibit was titled “Weight of History“ – and was artistic interpretations of Asian history.  But, as with all artists, the theme was interpreted and re-interpreted and rendered using the artists’ media and style and personal beliefs.

One of my favorite pieces was a sculpture by a Korean artist who uses “ceramic trash”- discarded pieces made by ceramicists.  She then fits the pieces together to create a sculpture, using epoxy and then gold leaf on the outside – plus, the Korean word for “gold” is almost the same as the word for “broken” or “flaw” so that there’s a play on words going on.  She’s taking traditional Asian materials, the ceramic pieces, and re-interpreting this artistic heritage into new and untraditional forms, fusing the old with the modern.

This theme was repeated over and over again, often with the same environmental concern for materials, using “waste” to create artwork.  Upcycling versus recycling.  I really liked the “carpet” created by an Indian artist who used metal mesh, gears, cogs, chains.  Another female artist, she took the hard metal pieces to create the look of the soft carpet – a juxtaposition of texture as well as material, and gender too – because in India, young children and women weave the carpets, versus the machines which are usually run by men.  So that this time, she’s using untraditional materials to recreate a traditional form.

The clash of cultures was another common theme in the artwork – the traditional sculptures of graceful women (perhaps geishas), with a computer in hand.  (And, given how quickly technology changes, my thought was “if they made that today, she’d have an iPad.”)  There’s the traditional warriors with children – one child holding a mobile phone, another with a McDonald’s box of fries.  (Look closely!)  I’m not sure if the artists were denigrating the westernization and technology-ation (?!) of Asia, but they were definitely exploring the changing cultural norms, and how technology and globalization is impacting traditional Asian cultures.  (I should add that these artists were from all over Asia – Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, Japan, Indonesia, India, Tibet, Nepal – and this theme of cultural change was fairly uniformly portrayed.  Those of us from Western cultures don’t see as much impact to our culture, because the globalized foods/devices/clothing/music/etc. come from our countries.  We rarely see Americans or Europeans adopting the kimono, but we see Asians wearing jeans.  Although we do see a proliferation of Asian restaurants, something that makes many of us rejoice!) 

Several artists also explored the role of Asian religions through their art – one artist uses incense ash to create sculpture, incorporation religious waste into his art.  (I would think he adds some kind of resin or epoxy to hold the ash together – otherwise, as Richard said, one sneeze and it would be gone.)  And this artist from Tibet, who grew up under the Chinese rule of his country and thus was not raised within his religious heritage, explores that religion now through sculpture and collage.  This statue of Buddha is covered with stickers and images of the sacred and profane – profane as in everyday and not religious, not profane as in profanity.  Anyway, the Buddha (or maybe it’s a Bodhisatva, which actually is sort of another manifestation of the Buddha) is covered in bright colored stickers and images of various products, events, etc.  And then there are black and white stickers in key points – maybe on the chakra points – that represent world religions – Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Sikh, on and on.  My interpretation would be that all religions lead to the same source, or that G-d is the same no matter what the religion – but while I think the artist might believe that, the placards at the exhibit didn’t indicate that. 

In the background are 108 small collages in deep frames, almost like small shadow boxes – each collage explores something in modern culture and current events.  There might be a photo of President Obama with various other pictures (they were all about gun violence) with writing on the inner edge of the frame (this one said “The Great Compromise??” – hmmm, think the artist is against gun ownership?).  Or Sarah Palin.  Or Jimi Hendrix (the title of the exhibit, “Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky“ is from a Jimi Hendrix song).  It was interesting, and continued the paradox of sacred versus profane.

As you can see, I had a great time at the museum, looking at and thinking about and interpreting and understanding the art.  Oh, and the clouds – I think they’re made from those little plastic things used to affix price tags to clothing.  Thousands and thousands of little plastic price tag thingies all attached together in different lengths to make clouds, hung in the stairwell!
After meeting up, Richard and I walked around the Raffles Center (near the iconic Raffles Hotel, which we never managed to find), and went up the tower to the 70th or so floor.  (Usually one pays to go up – we said we were going to the bar, though it turned out the bar wasn’t open yet, and the restaurant was changing over from lunch to tea service, so that was also closed.  But we did get to see the view for free.  We’re big on free!)  The view was amazing, even on a cloudy afternoon!   The bartender explained that we were in the downtown part of the city, which actually is rather small.  Then there are the scattered green spaces and parks.  Beyond is the river, and then the tall apartment buildings – and that’s where most of the population lives.  All those tall buildings in the distance are housing, much of it government subsidized – even the average-income people live in government subsidized housing, because that’s one of the things paid for by their taxes.  And, on a small island nation of maybe 300 square kilometers, there isn’t a lot of space for personal housing.

It was an incredible view, although I’ll admit to being a bit dizzy!  We couldn’t get a 360 view, since the restaurant was closed – but the one little corner was enough.  Although I could see the harbour in the other direction, full of freighters bringing imports and exports to/from all over the world.  (A taxi driver the other night explained that Singapore is no longer considered a port but is a hub, meaning that goods come from all over and then continue on all over the world.)

Oh - and the taxis have advertizing for a variety of Singapore attractions, including plays and such.  But I think the Night Zoo taxi is my favorite.

So – we’re having fun, trying to fit in much of what Singapore has to offer, and finding out more and more about this part of the world.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.