Art What! Arts National Gallery Singapore Visual Art

Art What!: Nothing Is Forever – Rethinking Sculpture in Singapore at National Gallery Singapore

From national monuments and local landmarks to even temporary installations, sculpture enlivens spaces from our shopping malls to the Central Business District. Visitors can now get up-close and learn more about the significance of this key art form at National Gallery Singapore’s latest exhibition, Nothing is Forever: Rethinking Sculpture in Singapore. The exhibition is set to take visitors on an intriguing journey of how sculpture, so prevalent in our local urban landscape, has helped shape art and even Singapore society as we know today. The first major sculpture exhibition in 30 years, Nothing is Forever will delight and surprise visitors as they immerse themselves in the realm of three-dimensional art to uncover the evolution of local sculptural practices in a free-for-all exhibition, held from 29 July 2022 to 5 February 2023.

Anthony Poon. Colourdance. 1987. Acrylic on canvas over wood relief, 200 x 200 x 10.5 cm. Gift of the National Arts Council. Collection of National Gallery Singapore.

Nothing is Forever traces the changing definitions of sculpture in Singapore from the 19th century till present day, as it also celebrates the significance of this artistic medium and its impact on our local artistic landscape. From funerary artefacts recovered from Bukit Brown Cemetery to artworks created from everyday items and modern works that challenge traditional definitions of sculpture, the exhibition will intrigue visitors with the shifts over the making and thinking of this three-dimensional medium.

Dr. Eugene Tan, Director of National Gallery Singapore, says, “By presenting the first major local survey on sculpture in 30 years, the Gallery seeks to expand scholarship and raise awareness of Singapore’s vibrant art history. Drawing from historical and cultural references alongside ground-breaking artistic practices, Nothing is Forever spotlights sculpture’s pivotal role in the development of Singapore’s art landscape through surprising and novel sculptural forms beyond familiar solid mediums. We hope this exhibition intrigues visitors and prompts them to view sculpture through renewed lenses, and inspires them to realise that art is all around us.”

S. Chandrasekaran. !” (Earth) #04. 1994. Terracota, 21 x 20 x 4.5 cm. Collection of the artist.

The exhibition’s title Nothing is Forever is drawn from a quote by Singaporean contemporary artist Tang Da Wu. The co-founder of Singapore’s first arts colony, The Artists Village in 1988, Tang questioned and expanded the notion of sculpture to consider ephemeral elements such as light, wind, and rain as materials for sculpture, apart from typically sturdy materials such as bronze. Similarly, this exhibition challenges boundaries of what defines sculpture by presenting new forms which were not previously recognised as sculpture.

Statues rescued from Bukit Brown Cemetery, artists unknown.

Some sculptures see a repurposing of everyday objects, such as Lim Leong Seng’s New Era (1976, remade 2022), a column of air-filled plastic bags attached to a string and suspended from the ceiling of The Spine Hall. Reflecting on a new era in time when plastic bags had been introduced to Singapore, Lim repurposes these humble disposable receptacles into aesthetic objects. Meanwhile, seminal contemporary artist Tang Da Wu’s remake of Cloud of ’68 (1971, remade 2022) remarks on the student riots he witnessed in Paris in 1968 through an assemblage of bricks and metal wire.

Your Blank Stare Left Me at Sea (2013) by Ang Song Nian

Audiences can also expect to see welcome elements of the familiar, ranging from religious figures to national icons. For the first time, Hindu temple sculptures donated by the Hindu Endowments Board are presented within a fine art context and suggested as important components of Singapore’s modern art history. The Merlion makes an appearance through Ang Song Nian’s work Your Blank Stare Left Me at Sea (2013), a collection of Merlion memorabilia figurines which reflect upon Singapore’s search for a national identity. Finally, visitors to Nothing is Forever will see a maquette, or miniature preliminary model, of Ng Eng Teng’s Mother and Child (1996) which sits by the Gallery’s façade facing the Padang.

Ng Eng Teng. Growth Form. 1962. Ciment fondu, 46 x 53 x 60 cm. National University of Singapore Museum Collection.

The exhibition presents a range of works that encapsulate its pursuit of rethinking sculptural practices and forms. These aspects are brought to life in the show’s displays of performative and installative works such as Lee Wen’s Journey of a Yellow Man No. 2: The Fire and The Sun (1992). A leading performance artist, Lee Wen had participated in the International Sculpture Symposium in Gulbarga, Karnataka, India in 1992. Having bore witness to social crises during his visit, he combined the mediums of sculpture and performance to remark on their ‘usefulness’. Presented in a series of photographs, viewers see Lee Wen—with his body painted yellow—mid-movement as a fleeting object moving through the wheat fields of the surrounding area.

The exhibition’s works reside within four thematic sections—Power, The Spiritual, The Corporeal, and Making, Unmaking and Remaking—allowing visitors to trace the changing roles and functions of sculpture over time. Beginning with Power, audiences will discover the perennial role sculpture has played in our society and urban environment. The subsequent sections, The Spiritual and The Corporeal, reveal the medium’s representations of culture, spirituality and sacrality, along with artists’ explorations into portraying the human form. In the final section Making, Unmaking and Remaking, the exhibition reveals how artists pushed the boundaries of technique and materiality, defying traditional definitions of sculpture in myriad ways.

Seamstresses’ Raffleses (2016) by Jimmy Ong

Additionally, the exhibition celebrates the rich history of sculptural practices within Southeast Asia, honing in on the six ASEAN Sculpture Gardens located in public parks situated in various regional capitals: Bandar Seri Bagawan, Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, and Singapore. A project that commenced in 1981 to help foster and symbolise regional cultural solidarity among ASEAN member countries, each site features commissioned works by artists of the six nations. As part of Nothing is Forever, the Gallery is presenting a 360-degree video interactive installation which takes visitors on a journey around the region to virtually explore the ASEAN Sculpture Gardens. From 29 July, visitors will be able to virtually explore Singapore’s ASEAN Sculpture Garden, located at Fort Canning Park—the first Sculpture Garden to be spotlighted via the interactive feature. Throughout the exhibition, new interactive journeys focused on the various ASEAN Sculpture Gardens will be introduced.

Images courtesy of National Gallery Singapore

Nothing Is Forever: Rethinking Sculpture runs from 29th July 2022 to 5th February 2023. For more information, visit their website here

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