SINGAPORE, April 10 — Besides art lovers, how many of us take the time from our busy lives to visit a museum or gallery to view art? For most of us, the extra effort it takes to step inside an institution of art is one step too many.
In Singapore, an ingenious solution is proffered: art is taken outside, to the streets and lawns of the city, where the people are.
Designed by fine art gallery iPreciation, ENVISION: Sculptures @ the Garden City is a group exhibition of monumental sculptures aimed at promoting and integrating public art in Asia. For the inaugural 2016 exhibition, 13 sets of works by 11 artists — from China, Indonesia, Singapore and Taiwan — are presented.
The outdoor exhibition is a sprawling one; the trail runs across the city’s urban and cultural zones, from the Arts House all the way to the Marina Bay Boulevard.
Helina Chan, the managing director of iPreciation, explains, “We focus on Singaporean and Asian artists as I think these sculptors have few opportunities to exhibit their large works, unlike the Western artists. We show artists of different ages: Modern Pioneer artists such as Yu Yu Yang and his disciple Ju Ming, as well as Chinese, Singapore and Indonesia contemporary artists.”
Begin the walk at the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall. The statue of Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, in front of the clock tower is a good meeting point.
On the verdant Empress Place Lawn surrounding the heritage building are some of Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming’s bronze and stainless steel creations from his Living World Series (1999-2011). They capture everyday scenes of people going about their daily lives — whether they are standing or sitting, at play or in more serious frame of mind.
This is not the first time Ju Ming’s works have been displayed outdoors in Singapore. His Taichi Series sculptures were displayed at the Singapore Botanic Garden last year, says Chan.
“There are only a handful of sculptors like Ju Ming who has such a large body of works ready for exhibition. This exhibition provides a platform for local sculptors to create and debut their works, to be shown together with the international peers.”
As such, pieces by two Singaporean artists are also displayed on the same lawn. Large painted bronze figures depicting local Myna birds are a preoccupation of Lim Soo Ngee, who discovered the native species was almost driven extinct by more successful, migrant Javan Myna birds. Whimsy and nostalgia are evoked by Kumari Nahappan’s Road to Fifty (2015), a collection of giant fibre-glass saga seeds, heart-shaped and painted a dramatic red.
At the rear of Victoria Theatre, on the Arts House lawn, is one of Chinese artist Zhan Wang’s celebrated Artificial Rocks series. This “rock” is actually a stainless steel replica of a boulder, its beaten and undulating surface pulling the curious viewer in. Is it man-made or is it natural? Looks can be deceiving.
Next to the theatre, beneath the canopy of trees in front of the Asian Civilisations Museum, are works which are more abstract in nature. Singaporean Baet Yeok Kuan’s O What a Flower (2015) is a perfectly balanced assemblage of geometric forms welded together from Colten steel.
The Young Artist Award recipient also has another installation on permanent display here: 24 Hours in Singapore (2015), comprising five large stainless steel spheres. These spheres have an audio component; passers-by can listen to recordings of the sounds of daily Singaporean life — from traffic noises to kopitiam chatter.
This is also where you can find the international debut of Shanghai-born Gu Wenda‘s Tian Xiang installation, a “stone forest” of 24 carved rocks in different shapes and sizes, weighing anything from 500 kilogrammes to eight tonnes! These huge rocks come from the sea bed; each rock is inscribed with a stroke of a Chinese calligraphic character that recalls the Chinese solar calendar.
Chan says, “Tian Xiang is an ambitious and monumental project, which took the artist over 20 years to realise. After three full days of installation, to see these beautiful natural relics exhibited on the Asian Civilizations Museum Lawn is really breath-taking.”
Cross the bridge to the Fullerton Hotel and you will encounter another set of Ju Ming’s Living World Series, near the hotel’s South Plaza.
The group of 10 life-size figures are engaged in the full spectrum of human activity in this modern age, from waiting to rushing. Try spotting the artist amongst this crowd; he has placed himself in their midst as a witty “self-portrait”!
Further along Collyer Quay, overlooking Marina Bay, is a sculpture that doesn’t appear to be a sculpture at first glance. Rain (2001) by Hangzhou native Shen Lieyi is a group of three black granite stones that have water ripples on their surfaces. Except these ripples aren’t created by raindrops but permanently etched by the artist to juxtapose the hardness and softness inherent in man’s relationship with nature.
The observation is not one that escapes Chan, who believes nothing can replace the feeling of experiencing art outside, be it surrounded by nature or in the city. She says, “Art viewed in a gallery is totally different from viewing it outdoors, where it can interact with the environment. Not everybody visit galleries so ENVISION is an alternative; accessible for the public to enjoy 24/7.”
Certainly, the younger ones will delight in Chinese artist Zhang Huan’s HeHe XieXie (2010) — two pandas named “Hehe” and “Xiexie”, whose name translates to “harmony” in Chinese. Adorable.
Nearby, in front of the Fullerton Bay Hotel, is a more reflective work, literally. Yu Yu Yang’s Mirror of the Soul (1971) invites viewers to look in and ponder as to what they see. (Something good, one hopes.)
Barely a few steps away is Indonesian fashion designer turned artist Sri Astari Rasjid’s tribute to the transformative power of women everywhere. Armour for Change (2015) takes the kebaya, a traditional blouse for women in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, and changes its story from one of repression to one of protecting the inner being. Indeed, isn’t a butterfly — here in the form of a brooch — the very symbol of change?
Finally, stroll along Marina Boulevard till you stumble upon a sculpture near the Marina City Gallery that begs for your participation. Ling Ting 2 (2015) by Singaporean Chen Sai Hua Kuan encourages ever-busy city-dwellers to stop and listen.
This was the first sculpture installed for the walk according to Chan. “We premièred this work in March 2015 on the steps of the iconic Grand Palais entrance in Paris. It was a big moment for us and for the artist; the sculpture was very well received by the French public. We knew that we had to bring it home for the Singapore audience, so seeing it here on home soil is a special feeling.”
It’s a perfect way to end the walk. Step forward, stand in the centre of the sculpture and whisper, as Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’s character did in the film In the Mood for Love. Maybe you’d wish for more art appearing outside where everyone can experience them. As your whisper is amplified into an ever-expanding echo, you can’t help but feel that wish is well on its way to coming true.
ENVISION: Sculptures @ The Garden City runs till April 23, 2016 in Singapore. To find out more visit: www.ipreciation.com