The Minimalism Invasion of Singapore

Olafur Eliasson, Room for one colour, Image Courtesy National Gallery Singapore
Donald Judd, Untitled (Six Boxes), 1974, photo by Marina Bay Sands
Frederick De Wilde, Horizontal Depth³ – “This Is Not the Place We Go to Die. It’s Where We Are Born”, 2018, Photo by Marina Bay Sands
Charwei Tsai, Circle, 2009, Courtesy of the artist
Anish Kapoor, To Reflect an Intimate Part of the Red, 1981, photo by Marina Bay Sands
Morgan Wong, Time Needle Series (No. 1-25), 2016 – ongoing, Photograph by Marina Bay Sands
Zhang Yu, Ink Feeding 20150506, 2018, Courtesy of the artist
Tan Ping, +40m, 2012, Number 14 in an edition of 15, Photograph by Marina Bay Sands
Sopheap Pich, Cargo, Image Courtesy National Gallery Singapore
Martin Creed, Work No. 1343, Image Courtesy National Gallery Singapore
Tatsuo Miyajima, Mega Death, Image Courtesy National Gallery Singapore
Haegue Yang, Sol LeWitt Upside Down, Image Courtesy National Gallery Singapore
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Minimalism takes over Singapore in the form of a mega-exhibition, ‘Minimalism: Space. Light. Object.,’ across two of Singapore’s most prestigious art institutions – the National Gallery Singapore and the ArtScience Museum.  Here is our review on one of the most buzz worthy art shows in Asia.

TEXT: Aaina Bhargava
IMAGES: Courtesy of Marina Bay Sands, National Gallery Singapore, and the artists.

Olafur Eliasson, Room for one colour, Image Courtesy National Gallery Singapore

 

“A sculpture is a cut into space. Rather than cut into the material, I now use the material as the cut in space.”  – Carl Andre

This statement uttered by famed sculptor Carl Andre radicalized the way in which the art world considered minimalism, defining it’s essence. Centred around clarity for the constructed object and the space created by it, a sculpture alters the space it occupies, thereby changing the entire dynamic of the interaction between place, viewer, and sculpture.  It is on this premise, one of the most influential art historical movements of the 20th century was built. In providing an experience for the viewer, requiring their presence and engagement for activation, works by the likes of Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Fred Sandback, John McCracken (aka “Godfathers of minimalism) became representative of the origins of minimalism as we understand it today in a Western art historical context.

 

Donald Judd, Untitled (Six Boxes), 1974, photo by Marina Bay Sands

 

It is impossible to undermine the massive influence minimalism has had across a diverse range of creative fields, pervading mainstream lifestyle and contemporary design. From Marie Kondo’s decluttering KonMari Method to Scandinavian inspired furniture and decor, to the creations of Calvin Klein, Comme des Garçons, The Row, and Yohji Yammamoto, its popularity shows no signs of waning.  It is important to note however, that while some trends prevalent today were specifically impacted by the above mentioned 1960s American movement, many others and indeed the movement itself were in fact inspired by minimalist philosophies tracing their origins to multiple Asian cultures, revealing a profound connection between spirituality, philosophy, and art. It is this connection and heritage which set the minimalism shows in Singapore apart from numerous other large-scale minimalism exhibitions that have been held globally.

 

Frederick De Wilde, Horizontal Depth³ – “This Is Not the Place We Go to Die. It’s Where We Are Born”, 2018, Photo by Marina Bay Sands

 

Dr. Eugene Tan, Director of the National Gallery Singapore reaffirms the chosen direction for this exhibition, noting that “it will examine the relationship of Minimalism to art in Asia, as well as the influence that Asian spirituality and philosophy had on its origins.  In doing so, it will re-evaluate the received understanding of minimalism as a development of the Euro-American paradigm of formalist modernism.”

 

Charwei Tsai, Circle, 2009, Courtesy of the artist

 

Spread across two hallmark Singapore art institutions, The National Gallery Singapore and the ArtScience Museum, the exhibition Minimalism: Space. Light. Object., reflects two different modes of curation.  The National Gallery provides an extremely extensive account of the development of minimalism (and everything it constitutes) from its initiation as a reaction to abstract expressionism right through to its contemporary interpretations in technological mediums.  In contrast, the show at the ArtScience Museum is smaller with fewer works, but cohesively curated with careful consideration.  Rendering a distinctive experience of minimalism, it reveals conceptual facets of minimalism which have universal appeal, yet a special resonance here in Asia.

 

Anish Kapoor, To Reflect an Intimate Part of the Red, 1981, photo by Marina Bay Sands

 

The display at the ArtScience museum, curated by Adrian George and Honor Harger played to the strengths of the institution, emphasizing the scientific elements pertaining to minimalism.  Harger (Executive Director of the ArtScience Museum) comments on the selection stating, “…we have chosen to present artworks which meditate on the notions of the cosmological void, emptiness and nothingness – principles which resonate with both Minimalism and science…[the exhibition] creates dialogue between the scientific notion of the vacuum and the Zen Buddhist idea of the void.”  Indeed the exhibition is introduced with quotes and texts from the ancient Hindu scriptures – the Rig Veda, as well as Buddhist teachings, which seamlessly connect every work in the show.

 

Morgan Wong, Time Needle Series (No. 1-25), 2016 – ongoing, Photograph by Marina Bay Sands

 

While the entirety of the exhibition, and it’s curation can be considered a highlight, there are a few remarkable pieces which were a pleasure to discover. Charwei Tsai’s poetic video installation Circle (2009), captured the artist’s hand painting the ‘Enso,’ (the Buddhist symbol of the void) an ink circle on a block of ice.  As the ice melts, the surface distorts the expanding ink which eventually vanishes echoing the transient nature of life.  Anish Kapoor’s vibrant installation To Reflect an Intimate Part of the Red (1981), employs the use of abstract geometric forms to draw attention to the negative spaces around them, effectively doing so in the large space it occupies.  Also fulfilling optimum viewing potential, Donald Judd’s spectacular six gold boxes which comprise Untitled (six boxes) (1974), are made even more resplendent as visitors have ample space in which to engage with them.  Reflective surfaces, repetitive simple monochromatic geometric forms, and spatially transformative, it holds characteristics that are textbook minimalist.  These traits were easily transferred to Hong Kong artist, Morgan Wong’s Time Needle Series (2016), an ongoing project of the artist which entails him shaving an iron bar on a daily basis until it becomes the size of a needle.  Based on a Chinese proverb which conveys the potential of persistence and determination, the work succinctly captures the duality of repetition in thought, action, and form.

 

Zhang Yu, Ink Feeding 20150506, 2018, Courtesy of the artist

 

Repetitive action and the measuring of time are also vital to understanding Zhang Yu’s fascinating practice, particularly in his work Ink Feeding 201505506 (2018).  A stack of rice paper sheets are placed in a clear box, ink is then slowly poured over and absorbed by the paper.  The process is repeated, until the entire stack resembles a black cube, marking a fusion of Chinese maximalist painting techniques and western minimalist aesthetics.  This convergence is also present in Tan Ping’s seemingly never ending and unmissable line, which runs down the centre of the exhibition from the ceiling in a scroll-like form. Other standout pieces from ArtScience museum include Carmen Herrera’s paintings, Frederic De Wilde’s magnetic representation of the black hole, and a the sound room which features the a sublime medley of musical scores marking minimalism’s lesser known, but integral, associations with music and sound art.     

 

Tan Ping, +40m, 2012, Number 14 in an edition of 15, Photograph by Marina Bay Sands

 

Transitioning into the display at National Gallery, curated by Eugene Tan, Russell Storer, Silke Schmickl and Goh Sze Ying, we encounter a thorough presentation on minimalist art history. Beginning with stark, enveloping paintings of renowned abstract expressionists such as Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, it continues with masterpieces by modern and contemporary masters such as Dan Flavin, Ai Wei Wei, Frank Stella, Donald Judd, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Mona Hatoum, Richard Serra, Haegue Yang and Yayoi Kusama.

The scale of the show is equatable to being a massive, all encompassing retrospective of minimalism as an art movement, expanding audience’s perception and understanding of it’s prolific impact. This was achieved by mapping it out from its conception, through its prime and beyond (with a special emphasis on post-minimalism), to the development of its influence which informed numerous future artistic movements and manifested itself in concurring ones.  By including works by Richard Long, the renowned land artist, they demonstrated the adaptation of a minimalist aesthetic to land art, which conceptually tackled environmental issues.  Similarly, by including artists whose practices are inherently political, such as Mona Hatoum and Rachel Whiteread, the extent of the infiltration of visual minimalist principles was blatantly portrayed, specifically through juxtaposing them with other classic minimalist works.

Honoring their commitment of showcasing works by Asian minimalist artists, on view we found Tadaaki Kuwayama’s long monochromatic Blue TK684-60 (1960), Kim Lim’s Intervals I plus II (1973), and Sopheap Pich’s captivating bamboo sculpture – Cargo (2018), suspended from the ceiling in the entrance of the museum.  Tatsuo Miyajima’s highly compelling Mega Death (1999/2016), presented a digital take on the loss of human life in the 20th century due to war.  Occupying an entire room, LED digits numbered nine to one continuously countdown, omitting zero, alluding to Buddhist ideology of birth, death and rebirth, zero functioning as the void.

 

Sopheap Pich, Cargo, Image Courtesy National Gallery Singapore

 

By far works with the greatest impact were larger in scale.  Olafur Eliasson experimented with the scientific effects of light and color on vision in Room for one colour (1997). Comprising mono frequency lamps installed in a room which suppress all colours except yellow and black, the work tackles the notion of perception and how it can change with environment.  Fully activated by the presence of viewer, the piece drastically alters the space which contains it, fulfilling its minimalist intention.  Similar in principle, but via a far more eccentric method, Martin Creed transforms the Gallery’s cafeteria into a interactive art work.  Infused with whimsy, his piece Work No. 1343 (2018), comprises the use of unique pieces of furniture, cutlery and crockery (each piece is one of a kind), replacing the current standard set.  In addition to reconsidering the interactive relationship between an everyday object, the viewer and art, the work teases the notion of repetition, a fundamental minimalist tenet. His accompanying mural Work No. 840 featuring a series of monochromatic repetitive forms, expands on his humorous gesture, conveying the possibility of multiple interpretations of minimalism.

 

Martin Creed, Work No. 1343, Image Courtesy National Gallery Singapore
Tatsuo Miyajima, Mega Death, Image Courtesy National Gallery Singapore

 

These were perhaps the most authentic representations of minimalism in this particular venue, as audiences could experience them as they were intended, ample space to be within a room.  While the selection of works and artists at the National Gallery was highly impressive, the sheer number of works often times overwhelmed the space, taking away from the viewing experience.  The internal structure and layout of the National Gallery sometimes proves to be a challenge for curation, which was perhaps a factor in this case. The iconic lotus shaped ArtScience Museum, at times lamented by curators for a distinctively challenging circular interior, however was used to their advantage for this show.  Using the void as a conceptual and literal symbol as a point of departure, round spaces visually echoed the circular motifs employed by many of the exhibiting artists, reflecting seamless curating sensibilities which literally came full circle.  The high ceilings and ample distancing in regard to the placement of works further enhanced the viewing experience.  With positives far outweighing the negatives, in both institutions, Minimalism: Space. Light. Object., is a praiseworthy initiative, offering a comprehensive and diverse perspective on Minimalism with special regional resonance.

 

Haegue Yang, Sol LeWitt Upside Down, Image Courtesy National Gallery Singapore

 

 

Minimalism: Space. Light. Object
https://www.minimalism.sg
16 Nov 2018 – 14 Apr 2019

 

 


 

Aaina Bhargava is the editor of COBO, as well as a staff writer. With a background in art history and emphasis on contemporary art, she has experience working for a diverse range of local and international art institutions. She has previously contributed to Design Anthology, Artomity, Asian Art News, museeum.com, and the Artling’s online magazine.

 

 
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