Friday, May 20, 2011

Singapore Art Museum

One Friday, Bryan and I decided it was probably about time we visited the Singapore Art Museum. Admission is free every Friday from 6 to 9 PM, so we thought that would be the best time. Before heading to the museum, we got some dinner at Chijmes, a funky historical building that's been converted into a hip hangout full of bars and restaurants. The 130-year old religious complex has been gazetted as a national monument. I don't know much else about the history, but we had dinner at one of the bar/restaurants, and they made delicious pad thai!
Stained glass window inside
More pretty stained glass

After dinner, we walked over to the Singapore Art Museum (called SAM by the artsy crowd). It felt funny just to stroll past the reception desk without paying an admission fee (FYI, admission is usually $10).
Bryan and SAM

The first exhibit we saw turned out to be one of my overall favorites. In a small room, the white walls were covered with black bungee cord, creating a power line feel, and there were two giant black sculptures in the middle of the floor. The sculptures were reminiscent of chess pieces, and Bryan and I both liked them a lot.
They were about 10 feet tall!

*Ahem* I don't know much about art. So my artistic opinion isn't very sophisticated and mostly consists of "I like that one," "I don't like that one," and "That one looks like a giant chess piece." Mostly I feel like a prat when I try to speak intelligently about art, since I don't know much about it. If you want me to say something coherent, ask me about literature or animals. Anyway, my apologies if you're big on art and don't feel that I fully appreciate the genius of some of the pieces in the SAM's collection.

The next thing we encountered was the moving image gallery, where a bunch of chaotic, bizarre films were showing. The overarching theme seemed to be deviance and sexuality. It was kind of awkward and we didn't hang around, scooting along to the next exhibit, by Filipino artist Louie Cordero. The placard on the wall said that the exhibit was inspired by a spate of killings in the Philippines, in which people were murdered after singing Frank Sinatra's My Way at karaoke bars. Bryan and I were a little skeptical of this seemingly outrageous claim- did that really happen?!- but a little digging revealed that this did apparently happen (see this NY Times article). The exhibit was very striking, full of neon colors and freaky fiberglass bodies, with karaoke renditions of "My Way" croaking out of a videoke machine in one corner.
Creepy shadow
Love the toilet brushes

We didn't stop to admire every piece. The next one that really drew my attention was a set of three pairs of angel wings created by a husband-and-wife pair, also Filipino. The wings were constructed out of an unusual medium: flip-flops! The flip-flops were used, collected from Singapore prisons.
The Aquilizan couple's wings

Apparently I'm drawn to the creations of Filipino artists, because the Heritage Tunnel, a piece by Briccio Santos from Manila, was one of my favorites in the whole museum. It was a circular bookshelf with mirrors mounted in the top and bottom so that when you peered up or down, it looked like the books went on forever- like a dream come true!
Endless library

As we climbed the stairs to the second floor, we began to encounter signs warning parents that the upcoming section of the museum might be inappropriate for children, as it contained graphic images. When we entered the room that we'd been warned about, it was immediately apparent why parents had been cautioned. The first thing we saw was a squirrel-skin garment of some sort, displayed on a dressmaker's dummy. I didn't like it. All those dead squirrels made me want to cry. When I realized that the two dummies next to it were wearing snakeskin and goatskin, it just made it worse. I turned around and was confronted by a series of images by Manit Sriwanichpoom. The photos were taken during unrest in Thailand and contained dead bodies, one of which was shown, very graphically, hanging from a tree. A smiling man next to the corpse was winding up to hit him with a folding chair. A crowd was watching, some laughing, and some looking positively horrified. As if all that weren't haunting enough, a creepy middle-aged man in a garish pink silk tuxedo was edited into the black-and-white photo. He was standing next to a neon pink shopping cart, and watching the horror with a smirk. The other photos were in a similar vein, all with "Mister Pink" edited in, and I found them both repulsive and captivating at the same time, perhaps for the first time understanding the expression "It was like a trainwreck - I couldn't look away." We didn't photograph the images but if you're interested in them or the artist, you can see more here.

Adjacent to the Mister Pink series was another provocative piece by Thai artist Vasan Sitthiket. The piece was called "Committing Suicide Culture: The Only Way Thai Farmers Escape Debt." The eerie mood of the room containing all these unsettling pieces was amplified by the fact that it contained another artist's (Suzann Victor, a Singaporean) piece which consisted of lightbulbs connected by cords to a bar that was rhythmically moving up and down. As they moved the bulbs clanked and jangled discordantly against mirrors placed on the ground, creating a jarring soundtrack to the already bizarre mood in the room.
Way out of debt

We were almost out of the eerie part of the museum, but there was one more freaky display. As I walked past a recess in the wall, I saw a painting of a man pointing. Instinctively I walked into the recess, which turned out to be a small hallway, and looked where he was pointing. The focus of his attention was another painting of the same man, this time putting a knife into his own mouth. Overall it was disturbing, but I liked the effect of using one painting to get you to notice another. I thought about how much I would freak out if I was spending the night in someone's house and got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and saw these paintings. Yikes. Unfortunately, I didn't take note of the artist's name.
Suitable decor for a haunted house

After all the creepy stuff, we entered a more low-key part of the museum. Some of the pieces there (like Nindityo Adipurnomo's "Hiding Rituals and the Mass Production II") were underwhelming, and I had a hard time understanding how they'd attained a spot in a museum. Bryan pointed out that the Singapore Art Museum features mostly art by Southeast Asian artists, and there are likely fewer artists in the developing countries around Singapore than in places like Europe or the U.S. Drawing from a smaller pool of talent might result in sometimes displaying somewhat unimpressive pieces alongside higher quality ones.

We left the second floor and went down the stairs, passing Heri Dono's Flying Angels along the way. The Flying Angels reminded Bryan of the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz, but made me think of characters out of something darker, like a Neil Gaiman novel.

Dono's Flying Angels

We zipped by an interesting piece by Malaysian artist Bayu Utomo Radjikin. It was interesting, as was the fact that the installation in the background appeared to be a bunch of boob-shaped beanbag chairs.
Lang Kacang

Indonesian artist Jompet Kuswidananto was behind one of my favorites of the evening, "Java's Machine: Phantasmagoria." The piece took up an entire room, and consisted of a ghostly army of soldiers (really just their clothes). Some of the soldiers were holding drums, and were motorized to strike the drums at seemingly random interval, which repeatedly startled me. There was also a movie projected on one wall, and the movement and loud noises created a multi-sensory experience.
Ghostly army

I also liked the adjacent exhibit, for which I do not have any information, except that it's supposed to be a statement on gender roles. The figures are all male and are wrapped in brocaded cloth. Mostly I liked them because, with the wires running out of the tops of their head, they made me think of (NERD ALERT) the cylons that powered the ships in Battlestar Galactica.

Bryan really liked this sculpture, by Singaporean Jason Lim.
Into the River I

And with that, we were done with our first trip to the Singapore Art Museum. I highly recommend going on a Friday night between 6 and 9, when admission is free. The museum is small enough that you can cover it in that time, and you can't beat a night out for free!!

1 comment:

  1. Great post about the Singapore Art Museum! Check out our post on the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and let us know what you think!

    Happy Travels Everyone!