Where charity and art prevail
originally published in Singapore Business Times

This year's President's Charity Art Exhibition will showcase an eclectic range of works by popular artists, reports LING SU ANN

LOOKING for the prefect conversation piece to liven up that empty space screaming out from your bare wall to be filled? Well, look no further than this year's President's Charity Art Exhibition, which will feature an exciting collection of works from an array of established artists, many of whom already have a strong following.

The charity exhibition, initiated by former president Ong Teng Cheong in 1995, has proven to be a successful platform for local artists to showcase their works, as well as a chance for Singaporeans and foreigners alike to pick up some local works and do their part for charity at the same time.

Since the exhibitions first started, more than $650,000 has been raised for a range of charities and this year, the artists have agreed to donate half of the sale proceeds to charity. The money will go towards helping the Taman Baccan Female Half-way House, the Fei-Yue Family Services Centre, the Association for Educationally Subnormal Children and the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society.

"As the organising committee changes every year, each group will come up with a different theme," explained Robert Iau, chairman of this year's organising committee. "Last year's exhibition concentrated on promoting the works of budding artists, most of whom were recent graduates of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) and LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts.

"Our approach, however, is different from previous years, where the theme was a single medium -- oil or watercolour, for instance -- or where works from a single artist were featured. This year, the curator panel that was set up to discuss the approach that the exhibition should take came to the conclusion that since this is an exhibition to raise money for charity, we should aim for a slate of artists whose works are popular and can sell."

The selection of 24 artists include well-known names such as Jeremy Ramsay, Earl Lu, Chua Mia Tee, Chua Ek Kay, Khor Ean Ghee and Choo Keng Kwang, who raised about $160,000 for the first President's Charity Art Exhibition.

Each artist was asked to put up a maximum of five pieces for sale and so far, 92 works have been submitted. The paintings are mainly in oil, acrylic and watercolour, though some Chinese brushwork has been included.

Those who are looking for paintings that capture the essence of Singapore can look forward to a wide selection -- from nostalgic scenes of "old Singapore" in watercolour by Tong Chin Sye, and a Choo Keng Kwang oil painting of an Indian newspaper stall, to modern depictions of the Singapore river skyline by Khor Ean Ghee and Aw Tee Hong, and a surreal scene of the Port of Singapore Authority by Choo Keng Kwang. All the paintings capture facets of Singapore that most of us are too busy to notice.

In fact, this year's exhibition probably features a little something for everyone. "Most of the paintings are of representative art, featuring landscapes, still-life and people, and we have included a few avant garde abstract pieces for variety," said Mr Iau. The paintings vary in style, subject, medium and of course, price, which ranges from $2,000 to $48,000.

Another feature of this year's exhibition is that instead of producing an art catalogue, all the artworks and information on the paintings and artists will be packaged in a CD-Rom. "We have photographed all the paintings and will place them on a CD-Rom, which will give the collector a timeless record of all the paintings," said Mr Iau, who hopes that the digital medium would be able to capture the artwork in greater detail than print and do full justice to the paintings.

People from all corners of the globe will also be able to view the art exhibits on the Internet and participate in an online auction this year. AsiaOne, the online arm of Singapore Press Holdings, will host a Web site exhibiting all the paintings and work with the organisers to provide a mechanism for the online auction. Details will be provided later.

"The concept is very new and exciting. Although it has never been done in Singapore, we hope to encourage the participation of the surfing public and believe that it will be a success," said Mr Iau.

Many companies and statutory boards have already been invited to preview the exhibition and the response has so far been encouraging. The Singapore Turf Club, for one, has expressed an interest in buying some pieces for its new premises in Kranji. Mr Iau also hopes to get more small and medium enterprises involved in the event.

These paintings can also prove to be excellent investments, said Mr Iau, recounting his own experience: When he was working for the Central Provident Fund, he managed to convince the board to buy paintings for its Robinson Road building. The collection of works, which include pieces by Chen Wen Xi, Chen Su Ping, Tay Bak Koy, Georgette Chan and Ho Kah Leong, is now worth a fortune, said Mr Iau. Although he was hesitant to estimate how much the exhibition would raise this year, prospects appear heartening. The Lee Foundation is the main sponsor for the exhibition and The Business Times is the official media. It will be officially launched on Dec 17 by President S R Nathan. The exhibition at the Far East Square Pavilion will be open to the public from Dec 18 to Dec 23. Viewing hours are from 11am to 7pm. Admission is free.