30 March 2015

Like Someone In Love @ Lostgens'

Moving on from an intuitive art-making approach to a rigorous execution of formal theory, chi too maintains his signature trait of sentimentalism, through the choice of medium and titles. Bubble wrap is commonly used to protect valuables like paintings, but in switching the utility of objects, a transformation of value is achieved. The nondescript plastic grid is utilised but its air pockets - the purpose of the item's manufacture - is punctured and filled with acrylic paint. Composition and narrative are forsaken in favour of illustrating theory, the chromatic designs made with reference to Josef Albers' Interaction of Colour. The contrary applies to pricing, which now becomes a quantitative assessment instead of a qualitative one, quoted at seventy cents per paint-filled air pocket.

Like Someone In Love #10 (2014)

Inconsistent fillings in the dots when viewed up close, presume a standard volume of injected paint, and are likely caused by the different chemical make up in paints of differing hues. This mechanical process - along with its deficiencies - seems to fulfil intrinsic needs, of an artist whose output is typically reactive, or requires reaction. Despite its unassuming visuals, this exhibition presents intelligent creations, which diverging approach may prove invaluable in chi too's artistic growth. The transformation of value is made more apparent in an unexpected event, when two works were damaged; something used to protect fragile items is now rendered fragile (do the artworks now cost less?). Harder to keep than paintings, the bubble wrap can now resume its original intended function as three-dimensional wallpaper. Pop Art, anyone?

Close-up captures from "Like Someone In Love"

27 March 2015

Ivan Lam: Twenty @ Wei-Ling Contemporary

Threading a slippery path on the top floor, to view Ivan Lam’s sleek new creations under fluorescent lights, feels like experiencing the beginning of the end. Large eye-catching fare devoid of politics cater perfectly for the international art market, a place the gallery is focusing its attention on. The opening of this new space is accompanied by a hastily put-together survey, where works made before the artist’s gallery representation, are cramped into one fifth of the total floor area. Walking past glossy canvases, toy transportation, sans serif alphabets & numbers, a notorious vending machine, and equivocal artwork titles, a sense of fictitious materiality permeates the space. As Gina Fairley questions in her 2009 essay, “…has reality been thwarted by (Ivan) Lam’s hyper-saturated palette, fractured brushstrokes and ‘unreal’ perspective?”

The Day the Devil Cried (2003)

Such catalogue essays help propagate the view of one masterful printmaker turned virtuoso painter, a thinking artist well versed in art history, never settling in his creative output yet commercially successful. The works on display in this survey, however, fail to support these claims. Absent are the prize winners and auctioned lots, as references to Jasper Johns’ targets and enlarged pop imagery, indicate a desire to only recreate existing forms on flat surfaces. Large paintings culled from a handful of private collectors hardly signify critical value, especially for an artist featured often in lifestyle magazines. Personal narratives evolve into panoramic diptychs; as the opaqueness increases with the thickness of resin on Ivan’s canvas, one is reminded of the artist’s steady rise to fame which aligns with Wei-Ling’s prominence as gallerist.

Flower (You never forget my birthdays) (2005)

Angles, shapes, and layers, are picture-making concerns on two-dimensional space, but it is Ivan’s exploration of colour which leaves the deepest impression. References to Piet Mondrian and Edward Ruscha, observed in ‘The Day the Devil Cried’ and ‘Firestarter’ respectively, show accomplished attempts at mimicking styles. Inkjet printing is emulated in “Seasons”, dot-matrix recreations which allude to the conventional technology behind digital reproductions. Tracing the blocks of colour in ‘Flower (You never forget my birthdays)’, to the Pointillist-like dots and crosses in ‘Target and Deer - You Are Being Missed, Dear’, to the bold primary hues in ‘Train’, the artist successfully presents the irresistible appeal of flatly-applied colours. Swatches of house paint highlight Ivan’s palette – or what he terms “natural colour system charts” – in one gratitude piece for the sponsor of his medium.

The machine that walks this earth (2009)

Works from “Panorama” – in particular ‘The machine that walks this earth’ – strike me as the best among exhibits. Anurendra Jegadeva states in the exhibition catalogue, “(t)hese scenarios that seem mundane but are so salient because of that very ordinariness are executed with obsessive deliberation. Lam’s panoramas are deliberately frank paintings with no startling revelations, an art of technical prowess, intricate composition, brilliantly tactile surfaces and an undercurrent of social comment.” As the most realistic renderings within his oeuvre, an impossible angle in human perception also makes “Panorama” the most incisive. Drawing real life is an impracticable act and presented as such, where titles infer situational reflections that are vague upon recall, akin to the everyday human experience of modern life. 

The Blue Machine (2012)

Ivan's works can be seen as pandering to the international art market via his ambiguous visual cues. Amanda Rath writes, “…Lam appropriates and empties images in such a way that his work can read as knowingly bypassing or going beyond certain thorny positions and (dominant) discourses. They belong to everyone and no one.” His sleek and precise output also contrast with mainstream Malaysian art, where handicraft, statement making, and nostalgia, are the norm. Describing himself in an interview, “(a)t times I feel like a machine making the work (…) At times I’m painting the machine in me.” This mechanical and apolitical approach fits into what art critic Blake Gopnik dubs as “aesthetic agnosia”. Representative of capitalist pursuits and surface judgements of the general human population, Ivan’s works are perhaps, more real and on point than I will ever admit. 

Nippon (2014)

22 March 2015

Contemporary Propulsion – Influence and Evolution @ G13

Repressed desire in Loh Bok Lai’s pair of women aside, Dasein graduates present humdrum paintings – personal metaphors and visual effects lack intellectual depth, while Hoo Kiew Hang’s ambitious take on Pop Art borders on irrelevance in this age of social media. Abstract forms by Kim Ng and Yim Yen Sum fare better, as one imagines Muji Lee’s corkboard constructs to be more impressive at a larger scale. Krystie Ng’s sewn fabric are clever and representative depictions, the tactile features of thread and pulled cloth reinforcing the sustained tension of women-related issues. Lilliputian figures on isolated islands stuck upon the gallery’s white walls, however, draws my attention back to the exhibition’s best works. Commenting on materialism via found objects is a common idea in contemporary art, yet Tiong Chai Heing’s latest output communicates something deeper.

Krystie Ng (A Collaboration with the Artist's Mother) - Love and Hurt – Unsung Sentiments (2013-2015)

Last seen at “1 CARES • 關懷!”, the barren landscape is now presented as fragments, where humans wander about in decaying islands. These minuscule creations are akin to temple murals illustrating mythical worlds, but Chai Heing’s version of purgatory conveys the pain of desolation, a fear that religious hells seldom describe. Rags that make up her older creations are less visible in ‘Small World’, which materials dissolve into something beautiful, projecting a sensory pleasure that mitigates the misery of living in this sordid state. Also displayed are very attractive hung works based on photographs, ‘Drowning’ an example of the artist’s exceptional technical skill, at creating visually captivating images despite not utilising found objects. As religion continues to isolate Malaysians from each other, I take a respite by inspecting the installation’s details, again and again.

Installation view and close-ups of Tiong Chai Heing - Small World (2015)

15 March 2015

Maestro @ Galeri Petronas

Corporate and private galleries join hands to promote one’s collected prints, while the other aims to draw in the crowds under its new Art for Everyone tagline, hashtags included. Significant Spanish artists are featured together with Western canon greats, while printmaking objects display insincere attempts at a museum-grade showing. Édouard Manet’s etched portrait of Edgar Allan Poe poses a wonderful greeting; Odilon Redon keeps the visitor refreshed midway through one’s visit, with a Symbolist depiction of the goddess Cybele as inspired by Gustave Flaubert. Flat graphics and optical art decorate the walls in between, with occasional showstoppers like Édouard Vuillard’s brilliant composition of an interior fireplace, and Sol Lewitt’s methodically random lines in a circle. 

Odilon Redon - Temptation of Saint Anthony (1896)

Despite the heavy name-dropping, viewing prints by renowned artists do not help anyone in appreciating Western art movements. Impressionistic illustrations by Camille Pissarro fail to come to life without colour. Sketches from the Blue period and a dubious 1950 etching, do not represent Pablo Picasso at his best. Middling mid-career drawings by Eugène Delacroix and Henri Matisse reveal little, while late works by Giorgio de Chirico and Andy Warhol contain signature traits but a lesser creativity relative to their significant output. Jackson Pollock’s pens and Jasper John’s limited edition book are curious collectibles, as banal an artefact as Damien Hirst’s ‘Pharmacy’. 

Édouard Vuillard - L'Atre (1899) [from Paysages et intérieurs]

With works by 76 artists on display, simplistic associations make up what one finds attractive. Corrugated cardboard creations by Andrés Nagel and Aramis Ney impress with its manipulation of medium. Hans Hartung and Antoni Tàpies offer powerful abstractions – the former via scratched lines, the latter through footprint traces. Edvard Munch’s overhyped expressionism springs to mind while appreciating Bengt Lindström’s striking paintings. Eduardo Arroyo’s incisive cartoon mocks dictatorship, while vicious designs by Oswaldo Guayasamín also present political opposition. Dense pictures by Asger Jorn (pre-COBRA) and Roberto Matta (post-Pinochet) are a delight to take in upon establishing context, by linking the year these works were made within a historical timeline.

Oswaldo Guayasamín - Máscara 2 (1973)

Jaume Plensa contributes my favourite works in this exhibition, whose two eccentric pieces hang faraway from each other. The first is a hand-less clock embedded into an enlarged description of the “yellow race (Chinese)”, the second a horoscopic map where “Art” is the centre of the universe... Under its seemingly democratic new ethos, the gallery retains is authoritarian sheen by admitting paternalistic and capitalist values. In an interview with The Edge, curator Badrolhisham Mohamad Tahir says, “(c)ensorship of the arts is a sad reality, and we have to make sure nothing explicit is displayed” (…) “Art isn’t a project or a secondary subject, however; it is a recognized economic sector and should really be approached without prejudice.” Tell that to the bored policemen standing about.  

Jaume Plensa - [l] Interiors III (1992); [r] Untitled (1996)

01 March 2015

Being Human @ White Box

Despite the significant calibre of exhibiting artists, it is difficult to take huge paintings of human beings seriously, especially when the catalogue essay takes one pop-rock song as a reference point. For many working with the same motifs, the oversized portraits only panders to friendly collectors – one can imagine Kow Leong Kiang drawing the larger-than-life Ahmad Zakii Anwar holding a revolver, as an inside joke. Chong Siew Ying’s idyllic couple is meant to hang above a holiday villa settee, while the moody avatar by Zakii and Arif Fauzan’s hesitant women suit house owners looking for less cheery but more atmospheric pictures. Less discerning folks may opt for yet another heroic gesture by Bayu Utomo Radjikin, or the crude and awkwardly executed nude by Chong Ai Lei.

Shia Yih Yiing (2014) -
MISS NATURE
under SCORE
_ _ _ _   _ _ _ _ _ _

Representing the Fklub collective, Bayu talks about obscured countenance in an interview, “(…) while faces easily give up their tales, the body speaks in a different language”, but the true subject matter here is scale. Referencing a popular theme from artists past, Fadilah Karim’s ‘The Lonesome Painter’ depicts her small figure curled up on a chair in the painting’s centre, its composition circumventing the need to enlarge the body, as surrounding easels are captured from a straightforward angle. More adventurous is Gan Chin Lee, who chooses a more difficult perspective to illustrate two sisters, the foreshortening of the figure done well but less so for the bed frame. One revelation is how nostalgic pictures fail when scale is amplified, as seen in the lacklustre fish-eye views presented by Chin Kong Yee, and in Cheong Tuck Wai’s peeling texture on a giant boy’s face.

Gan Chin Lee - Self and other (2014) [picture from 速寫本子 web log]

Despite its grandiose display at Singapore Art Stage, Marvin Chan’s crucifix creation gets the white wall treatment in the Malaysian show, his self-censorship contributing to the ongoing narrative about figuration within local art history. The best works project contemporary concerns, from Hisyamuddin Abdullah’s surprisingly appealing ‘DramaKing’, to one bleak painting with bleached animals by Shia Yih Yiing, to the framed mind maps of Phuan Thai Meng’s students. Recent aeroplane tragedies imbue “So Close yet So Far” by Chan Kok Hooi with an unintentional sense of longing, neutralising perversion with introspection. The realisation here is not that large figurative depictions are outmoded; rather, it is the capitalist mode of art trading that renders such artful statement-making individual property, which is the issue at hand.

Installation snapshot of Marvin Chan - Desecration of the Temple (2014) [painting at Marvin Chan's tumblr]