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Art What!: Cultural Medallion recipient Goh Beng Kwan celebrates 85 years in solo exhibition #GBK85

Goh Beng Kwan with his works at Punggol MRT Station, 2001. Image courtesy of ArtAF.

In celebration of his 85th year of life, renowned Singaporean artist Goh Beng Kwan and ArtAF are presenting a comprehensive solo exhibition entitled #GBK85 to reach out to new audiences, bring communities together and inspire younger generations.

This landmark exhibition will be held at Conrad Centennial Singapore from 20th to 29th May 2022 within an entire 6th floor of guest rooms and a suite, as well as the guest floor hallway and lobby area. A truly revolutionary presentation and format, #GBK85 will be the first-ever solo exhibition of works by a Singapore artist installed in this way within a hotel space. Audiences can look forward to an immersive installation of 85 of Goh’s original artworks organised by period. The exhibition even includes 11 Augmented Reality (AR) works, a medium rarely utilised by a local artist of this generation.

Lotus Passion. Image courtesy of Goh Beng Kwan and ArtAF.

For over half a century, Goh has been an influential artist in Singapore, contributing significantly to the development of local contemporary art, garnering accolades including first prize at the inaugural UOB Painting of the Year Competition in 1982, and the Cultural Medallion for Visual Arts in 1989. His work has been featured in over 120 exhibitions across Asia, Europe and the United States, and is in private collections locally and throughout Asia. Many may recognise his notable commissions on display around the country at hotels, corporate offices and private clubs, as well as Punggol MRT station and Farrer Park Hospital.

Image courtesy of ArtAF.

Goh is continuously creating, making rich mixed media art inspired by his travels, identity and current events. Acclaimed for his bold, innovative work as a collage artist, Goh experiments with various other mediums such as Chinese ink, acrylic paint and watercolour as well as tapestry, paper pulp and even ceramic paintings.

GBK85 spans 60 years of his illustrious career, showcasing Goh’s ever-evolving spectrum of art through several distinct, immersive sections including Augmented Reality, Early Works (1950s – 1970s), 1980s, 1990s, 2000 – 2019, 2020-2022 and various commissioned works. This will be the 2 artist’s first complete show since his last solo exhibition Journeys, held in 1991 at the National Museum Art Gallery. #GBK85 is a ticketed exhibition proudly presented by ArtAF, supported by National Arts Council (NAC) and venue sponsor Conrad Centennial Singapore.

Chinese New Year Blessings, 2005. Image courtesy of Goh Beng Kwan and ArtAF.

A dedicated ArtAF app has been created for visitors to engage with Goh’s works both during and after the exhibition. The app will allow visitors to view, through their phone, a series of 11 augmented reality (AR) works virtually installed within the guest floor hallway of the exhibition. Four of these AR works include NFTs minted for National Gallery Singapore’s fundraiser, Gallery Benefit in January 2022. These four NFTs are 2022 digital versions of Goh’s original works, Painting within a Painting (2016), Chinese New Year Blessing (2005), Urban Renewal Sun and Moon (1970s), and Viaduct (1962-66).

Heritage House, 2014. Image courtesy of Goh Beng Kwan and ArtAF.

Users will see these unique digital works come to life on their phones through animation and sound. In conjunction with this exhibition, there will be a special giveaway of 10 Goh Beng Kwan NFTs, with additional details provided closer to the exhibition date.

After the exhibition, those with the ArtAF app may access a catalogue of all 85 works in the show, which can be calibrated and then virtually “displayed” for art lovers to experience what a GBK artwork may look like if placed within their homes or another setting, as well as a virtual 360-degree tour of the exhibition.

Twin Fish Cave, 1960s. Image courtesy of Goh Beng Kwan and ArtAF.

Across the early 1950s and 1960s, Goh learned Chinese ink techniques as a student under the tutelage of first generation artist Chen Wen Hsi, and later was influenced by western abstract expressionism while mentored by artists Sidney Gross and Leo Manso during his time as a student in New York and Provincetown. This unique art background shaped his work, with Goh incorporating Chinese artistic principles and traditional calligraphic strokes into modern abstract paintings and collages. Section 1: Early Works, stretches from the 1950s to 1970s and includes his works in New York.

Indonesian Puppet Show, 1950s. Image courtesy of Goh Beng Kwan and ArtAF.

Representative works from this period include realistic paintings like Still Life (1950s – 1960s), and Indonesian Puppet Show (1950s). Having been a star student of Chen Wen Hsi at Chinese High school, Still Lifeis the first watercolour piece that Goh created under Chen’s guidance during special afterschool classes for the master’s select star students. Indonesian Puppet Show reflects on Goh’s birthplace of Medan in Indonesia and features didactic strokes of white added by Chen to enhance the painting’s realism. During his time in New York from 1962 – 1966, Goh’s style evolved to create oil-on-canvas works Twin Fish Cave (1960s) and V Stroke (1962-66), the latter of which showcases Chinese brush stroke technique.

Outside the Window, 1986. Image courtesy of Goh Beng Kwan and ArtAF.

After winning the UOB Painting of the Year in 1982, Goh was invited around the world for exhibitions and workshops. Having met a variety of overseas artists during his extensive travels, Goh began his exploration of different styles and materials. His work in Section 2: 1980s features collage works like Outside the Window (1986) and Leaf (1980) with an increasing use of found materials like string, paper, fabric and metal.

Image courtesy of ArtAF.

In the years following Journeys, his solo exhibition at National Museum Art Gallery in 1991, Goh continued his various artistic pursuits and diversified his style. As Goh’s explorations expanded across new destinations, so did his artworks.

Ahka Village, 1991. Image courtesy of Goh Beng Kwan and ArtAF.

Drawing from Goh’s trips around Asia and his residency with the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI), his work in Section 3: 1990s reflects inspirations from his travels and a variety of styles. Works from this period include ink works such as Gorgeous Lotus (1999) and Rocky (1999), and increasingly layered collage and mixed media works Ahka Village (1991), featuring a village he chanced upon in Thailand, and Di Alas Di Bawah (1990s).

Hatyai Street Scene, 2018. Image courtesy of Goh Beng Kwan and ArtAF

Section 4: 2000 – 2019 showcases vibrant scenes on canvas created during his travels to naturally beautiful, untouched rural landscapes. Diverse works from this period include Grass by the River (2006), created during his residency in STPI, with paper pulp and paper strips to create texture and movement; lush large-scale Great Mountain (2012); and travel-inspired Phuket Island (2007), Bedugul, Bali (2003), and Hatyai Street Scene (2018).

Lotus Garden, 2013. Image courtesy of Goh Beng Kwan and ArtAF.

When Covid hit in 2020, Goh began producing a series of works to commemorate the significance of Covid as a historical moment of universal experience. His Covid series features works of mixed media on newspaper. By using both English and Chinese newspapers with specific dates and headlines published during that period of time, Goh was able to mark the significance of specific dates and document events in Singapore and around the world during this period. These artworks also feature a darker colour palette to depict the level of emotion and despondent feelings during lockdown.

Image courtesy of ArtAF.

Mike Williamson, General Manager, Conrad Centennial Singapore, says, “Conrad Centennial Singapore is home to an impressive and diverse collection of over 400 exquisite artworks. We are proud to support the #GBK85 exhibition as part of our collective appreciation and support of an ongoing commitment to the development of the local art scene and fine arts in particular. The hotel is truly a sanctuary where art is everywhere and everything, a notion brought to another level by the #GBK85 installation.”

#GBK85 will be held from 20th to 29th May 2022 at Conrad Centennial Singapore Level 6. Tickets available here

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