National Gallery Singapore, South East Asia’s leading cultural institution, will showcase over 120 works from the world’s largest institutional collection of modern art from Singapore and Southeast Asia. (Re)collect: The making of our art collection unveils National Gallery Singapore’s journey of collecting and acquisition practice. It uncovers the untold stories of the Gallery’s collection and brings to light how it is continuing to evolve dynamically two years after the opening of the Gallery.
Dr. Eugene Tan, Director of National Gallery Singapore said, “For a collection of over 8,600 visual artworks, it is an ongoing process for National Gallery Singapore to delve deep and uncover stories behind these works that are representative of the zeitgeist of the century. The diversity and inclusiveness characterise and differentiate our collection of Singapore and Southeast Asian works as they open up possibilities to connect artistic practices beyond national boundaries. This allowed us to continue the endeavour in questioning and re-imagining what constitutes Southeast Asia through art, and through this come to understand our region’s heritage better. This would not be possible without the goodwill of the artists and private collectors who donated their precious works to us.”
With seven sections, that begins during post-war Singapore when art took a backseat to nation- building. The exhibition will present important milestones that led to the crystallisation of Singapore’s visual arts collection and how it developed as its custodianship shifted from the National Museum Art Gallery (NMAG) in 1976 to Singapore Art Museum in 1996 and to the present day National Gallery Singapore which opened in 2015.
It’s origins date back to 1960, when philanthropist Dato Loke Wan Tho, donated more than 110 works from his private collection, with the wish that they would eventually be housed in a new art gallery. This donation formed Singapore’s seedling collection of visual art, with the first registered artwork titled Self-Portrait by Chuah Thean Teng (1914 – 2008).
In 1976, the opening of the National Museum Art Gallery marked a concerted effort by a state- level institution to collect and display works of art for the first time. Several works from NMAG’s inaugural exhibition donated by artists will be on display here. This includes And Miles to Go before I Sleep by Cheo Chai Hiang (1946), an artist who pioneered Singapore's modern art scene.
Other sections will highlight characteristics of the Gallery’s Collection, such as works by Singapore’s artistic forerunners like Lim Hak Tai (1893 – 1963), Georgette Chen (1906 – 1993), Cheong Soo Pieng (1893 – 1963), as well as works engaging with aesthetics of ink painting by Lim Tze Peng (1923 –), Chen Wen Hsi (1906 – 1991), and Tan Oe Pang (1947 –). Also featured is the Gallery’s new collecting focus on photography, a medium historically under-represented in the collection.
The support from private donors, organisations, artists, artists’ estates and families through artwork donations, as well as the Gallery’s Art Adoption and Acquisition (AAA) Programme, is critical to the building of the collection. This is highlighted particularly through the Gallery’s collection of Georgette Chen's artworks and personal documents which are formed over the years through donations by the artist, the artist’s estate and the Lee Foundation. A part of this collection will be displayed at the exhibition. This includes Chen’s Family Portrait, an intimate portrayal of the family of Chen’s close friend was part of the donations by the artist’s estate in 1994. The names of more than 400 past artwork donors and participants of AAA will be acknowledged in the exhibition, which demonstrates the tremendous level of support received in building the collection.
Recent acquisitions made by the Gallery will also be on show. This includes Singaporean artist Kim Lim (1963 – 1997), works, Abacus (Plaster, wood and metal, 1959), Pegasus (Wood and metal, 1962) and Naga (Portland stone, 1984) which will be shown together for the first time; as well as early works by Malaysian artist Latiff Mohidin (1941-), who recently became the first Southeast Asian artist to have a solo exhibition at Centre Pompidou’s In-Focus Gallery as part of National Gallery Singapore’s inaugural travelling show.
The final section will explore the Gallery's approach in collecting contemporary art, which aims to place these works in context to the historical collection. The Gallery’s focus on drawing historical paths between works in the collection is manifested by a display of three major works by Thai artists of varying cultural backgrounds and generations—Montien Boonma (1953 – 200), Navin Rawanchaikul (1971-) and Rirkrit Tiravanija (1961-). Navin’s stirring installation of 11 towers consists of 11,000 medical bottles, half of them containing black and white photographs of the elderly which the artist meticulously documented.
Curator of the exhibition, Horikawa Lisa shared, “This is our first attempt at coming face-to-face with the history of our collection. Our aim is to make the collecting history and acquisition practice by the Gallery more visible to the public. As a custodian of the world’s largest collection of 19th and 20th century art of Southeast Asia, we have an important responsibility to conduct research into our collection, understand where we come from, and identify the ways in which we can build the collection further for generations to come. We hope that this exhibition will enable a deeper appreciation of our National Collection and inspire interests in the layers of histories, memories and current practices that inform the building of a collection. The display complements our long- term exhibitions at the DBS Singapore Gallery and UOB Southeast Asia Gallery.”
The exhibition will be held at the Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery B and C from 11 May to 19 August 2018. Sharing her hopes for the exhibition, Ms. Chua Sock Koong, Group CEO of Singtel, the Lead Sponsor for (Re)collect said, “National Gallery Singapore is the custodian of the world’s largest institutional collection of modern art from Singapore and Southeast Asia and the pride and joy of Singaporeans. As Singapore’s leading communications group and a longstanding supporter of the arts, we look forward to supporting the Gallery’s efforts to showcase the depth and breadth of this unique and important collection, and cultivating a greater appreciation of art from the region.”
(Re)collect is proudly supported by Lead Sponsor Singtel and Supporters Lee Foundation, Applied Materials and Hitachi Home Electronics Asia (S) Pte. Ltd.