Self Portrait


Singapore Art Museum's Latest Exhibition -
An East-West fusion of Western principles of colour and composition with the disciplined control of the Chinese brush on rice paper

Exhibition Opens to the Public
14 April 99 - 20 June 99
(Galleries 5,6,7 and 8)

Tuesday - Sunday

9am - 5.30pm. Except Wednesday till 9pm. Closed Monday.

Museum Admission Charges

$3/Adult and $1.50/Child or Senior Citizen.

Singapore Art Museum at 71 Bras Basah Road (Old SJI), beside POSB Centre. For general enquiries, please contact our Front desk at 332 3222.

(12 April 1999) In "Power & Poetry: Monuments and Meditations in Chinese Ink Painting", the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) presents to Singaporeans an exhibition featuring over 60 works of three of Singapore's most innovative contemporary Chinese ink medium artists -- Henri Chen KeZhan, Chua Ek Kay and Zhuang Shengtao.

Chinese ink painting, traditionally combining poetry, calligraphy and painting, is one of the oldest forms of artistic expressions which continue to have relevance today. In Power & Poetry, we see three artists who have remained committed to what is a traditional medium with new experimentation rooted in contemporary Singapore.

Fusing modern principles of colour and composition with the disciplined control of the Chinese brush, the three artists featured in this exhibition demonstrate a breadth of vision which marks a true revolution of form and style. Predominantly abstract, the works represent a flowering in the development of an art form which is universal and yet Singaporean.

Says Mr Kwok Kian Chow, Director, Singapore Art Museum, "I believe the multicultural context of Singapore has provided artists working in traditional media fresh new inspiration and perspectives. The Power & Poetry exhibition provides an insight into the contemporary innovation which has a profound foundation in tradition."

All three artists are established masters in Chinese brush painting aesthetics and have also spent time immersed in the rigours of modern art education. The styles of each artist reflect one's experience of life and environment. Spread over four galleries, the exhibition has been divided into nine sections: The Dancers, The Fans, The Flowers, Poetic Memory, The Mountain, The Power of Nature, Poetic Mystery, All About Autumn and The Landscapes.

Says Ms Bridget Tracy Tan, Curator of the exhibition, "As varied in style amongst themselves, the three artists featured in this exhibition are equally versatile within their own individual repertoire. The inspiration for the concept of Power & Poetry stems from the idea that the works, being so diverse, have enough stand alone presence by themselves to command individual interpretation and attention. And because the works are so varied, it is important to first bind them in some similarity, be it mood, title concept or use of medium and expression, which help to provide visitors with a perspective of viewing these works through more recognisable forms first, before individually dividing the works into varying personal interpretation."

The works on exhibition were acquired from the private collections of Mr Edmund Tie, Mr Koh Seow Chuan, both Board Members of the National Heritage Board, and Merill Lynch Bank, who have been keen supporters of the arts.

Says Mr Kwok, "The Singapore Art Museum has been very fortunate to have recently received the support and donation from one of the world's most eminent corporate collectors, Sara Lee Corporation. In as much as corporate art collection being a major feature of the cultural world, so are the private collections of art collectors alike. The Singapore Art Museum is happy to showcase the 62 works from the private collections of Mr Edmund Tie, Mr Koh Seow Chuan and others, as well as the impressive Merill Lynch Bank collection of Chua Ek Kay works. We trust that Singaporeans would enjoy the opportunity to view these works exhibited in a public institution. Singapore Art Museum will continue to be a meeting place for artists, audiences and collectors."


An excerpt of the original article published in the Business Times Singapore


Published August 9, 2005

At home with the Arts
...artists share their recollections of the past 40 years in Singapore's arts scene with PARVATHI NAYAR


Kenson Kwok, director, Asian Civilisations Museum

'There seemed to have been relatively few commercial galleries in the '60s - the Chinese painting galleries along South Bridge Road, for example. For antiques, it was Helen D Ling on Tanglin Rd and Moon Gate and the China Art House along Orchard Road.

'More commercial art galleries opened in the '70s. The Raya Gallery (the predecessor of Art Forum) and the Alpha Gallery were pioneers in showing local and South-east Asian art. One could buy paintings by Hong Kong artist Ding Yanyong very cheaply, and from Chen Wen Hsi himself, at the Tanglin Shopping Centre.

'For ceramic collectors, this was the heyday of Chinese and South-east Asian export ceramics which were flooding into the antique shops primarily from Indonesia.'

'In the '80s, I first saw, and was impressed by, the works of Henri Chen works in a group show at the National Museum Art Gallery. I also happened on Jimmy Ong's inaugural exhibition at Arbour Fine Art, upstairs in one of the shophouses on Cuppage Road. Tang Da Wu and his group settled in Sembawang - the first real artists' commune in Singapore.

'Plenty happened in the '90s, not least the impressive series of Tresors Fairs which brought famous dealers and some real gems to Singapore. This was the time that the market in South-east Asian paintings started to take off. The 1990s was also the museum decade - it saw the opening of the Singapore Art Museum as well as the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) at Armenian Street.

'More museums opened in 2000s - this time the ACM at Empress Place. The very good reviews of this new museum in the international media were the reward for my six-plus years of involvement in this project.'


Singapore in Venice - A Historic First

By Feisal Abdul Rahman, Arts and Heritage Division, Ministry of Information and the Arts

Originally published at the MITA website

Singapore was invited for the first time to take part in the 49th Venice Biennale, one of the world's most prestigious arts festivals.

The theme for this year's Biennale is 'Plateau of Humankind'. The Biennale intends to serve as a platform of humanity. This reflects the desire to reconnect with the idea of all individuals as constituting a family - an idea that is particularly significant at the beginning of the new millennium, as globalisation and the breaking down of all kinds of walls gathers pace.

The Singapore Art Museum (SAM), which spearheaded Singapore's participation, organised an exhibition entitled SINGAPORE, featuring Singapore's contemporary art. MITA and Singapore Tourism Board supported the exhibition. Minister (ITA) officially opened the exhibition on 8 June. The exhibition, which runs from June to November 2001, is housed at the Schola di Santa Apollonia in Venice.

The exhibition attempts to articulate cultural vibrancy in contemporary Singapore. Four artists represented Singapore at the exhibition - Chen KeZhan, Matthew Ngui, Salleh Japar and Suzann Victor. The artists addressed issues of identity, the urban condition and Singapore's city-life within the global context through a myriad of forms comprising installation, painting and video.

Chen KeZhan explores contemporary expression through the traditional medium of Chinese ink and rice paper. The artist uses the architecture of the former chapel to create and highlight complex relationships between art, site and audience. The painting was strategically positioned to take advantage of the spatial structure and the audience is coerced to study the painting from varying and extreme vantages. The work, from afar, may only be seen in parts, concealed partially by the chapel's columns. This poses a challenge to the audience, whose viewing is affected by the lack of a complete whole, being able to see only parts at a time, whether from a distance or up close. Seeing thus becomes a meditative and speculative exercise, requiring multiple references to be made to the chapel and its architecture.

Mathew Ngui's work combines site-specific installation and performance to address the notions of communication and the generation of shifting meanings. In a precisely co-ordinated installation of cameras and monitors, selected props and self-created paintings, Ngui's untitled study of Venetian waters, draws images from outside and inside in an ironic collusion to involve and surprise his audience. Real-time feeding of captured visuals either from the canal, from inside the chapel space, chart both movement and change and stillness. The dynamic interplay results only from the last part of the installation, where viewers can only imagine how they had informed the artwork by looking at others doing exactly what they were doing, visiting the spaces they had once stood in, before reaching the end. The delayed human revelation contrasts with the almost stylised, simultaneous techno-transfer of the various images, raising questions of physical consciousness, memory and experiential dialogues on time and place.

Salleh Japar created a series of three spaces that are sequential and experiential, for the Biennale. The audience first encounters a large metal-clad wall, which connects the two other spaces - one dominated by the presence and smell of spices, and the other, salt. For Salleh, these series of materials provide a metaphor of engagements between colonial powers and the colonised, addressing assumptions and ownership over the history of Venetian and European trade, the rise of West and its colonisation of the East, and the West's conception of its history and achievements.

In Suzann Victor's work, five chandeliers are horizontally juxtaposed in at human height. Four pieces flanking the central hand-built piece are readymade 1950s Victorian-style chandeliers purchased from antique shops. The four ready-made pieces, which oscillate toward the centre hand-built piece, almost threatening to collide into it, are intended to signify the glory and pomp of the colonial era, while the hand-built piece in the centre stands for the colonised subject. This spectacle of violence creates an anxiety, augmented by the brittle fragility of the central piece. For the violence it suffers, the colonised subject bleeds drops of red glass, as if punished by anxiety of destruction of her 'misguided' state.


Velvet Underground

Velvet Underground, launched in 1994, embodies the return to small, intimate clubs where mingling, social drinking and conversation mix with a night of dancing frenzy. It caters to those who supported Zouk from the beginning, a place for clubbers in their mid-20s to early-30s. Guests are greeted by a padded velvet door followed by a long corridor lined with original 1960s psychedelic posters from the legendary Avalon Ballroom collection in San Francisco.

All the walls are adorned in velvet and decorated with original art works including one of Keith Haring's last paintings, "The Healing Hand", a 10 ft in diameter acrylic on canvass piece. The furniture, designed by Philippe Starck and Japanese Bauhaus designer Naguchi, reflects a strong attention to detail. Singaporean artist Henri Chen was commissioned to create two pieces for the club while a futuristic work by Italian architect/designer Massimo Iosa-Ghini adorns the DJ console and bar. There are also original numbered prints by Frank Stela and Andy Warhol.


Excerpt from Singapore Sweepstakes
the Singapore art scene circa 1988


There is a group of artists who thrive on the border of Chinese and Western art. Artists like the pioneering Chen Wen Hsi, Tan Swie Hian, Henri Chen Kezhan, Tan Oe Pang and a few others combine a mastery of Chinese materials and techniques with a willingness to explore new subjects or Western art effects like abstract expressionism. Not surprisingly, these are the artists who have attracted the greatest attention abroad, especially among Western audiences with a basic knowledge of Chinese art. [PS: This para is kind of embarrassing to be reading 13 years later... I'm pretty certain these artists did/do not make conscious efforts to "be willing" to "explore Western art effects". They just paint!