Private art collection and commercial art galleries are definitely not the first things that come to mind when we consider art culture in Singapore, mainly due to the prohibitive costs of pursuing art ownership. Often associated with snobbery and ostentatious bourgeoisie tendencies – no thanks to popular culture – private art collection and commercial art galleries are thus often given neither attention nor understanding in the public domain. The question remains however: just what kind of place do they have Singapore’s art culture?
Mazel Galerie Singapore’s director, Kevin Troyano Cuturi, demystifies this and more in an exclusive tour of the gallery with DANAMIC.ORG.
Tucked away in a corner of Pacific Plaza along Scotts Road, the Mazel Galerie’s small space belies the curated art collection within – quantity is, after all, not quality. The gallery’s current temporary exhibition, Keep Calm and Summer On, brings the essence of the European summer onto Singaporean shores. Showcasing artists that include Julian Mayor, MONK, NOIR Artist and Pascal Vilcollet, the essence of summer is evoked with passion across a variety of mediums and forms, ranging from abstract to figurative art.
Julian Mayor’s ‘Black Solaris’ sits in prominent contrast with the white space of the gallery and we are immediately drawn to its design. Mayor crafted the chair through the use of computer modelling, heavily incorporating geometric forms and features into the design. The end result is a sleek blend of retro-futurism and space-age themes. Other pieces that accompany ‘Black Solaris’ are ‘Solaris Rosy Gold’ and ‘Mirror Table Black’, all of which were created by Mayor in the same vein. Despite sharing the same digital blueprint, each work retains individuality through its execution; the metallic panels are crafted by hand and thus have irregularities and shapes unique to them. While Mayor himself was inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky’s film of the same name to create ‘Black Solaris’, the work was reminiscent of the Black Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which added an element of pop culture fun.
However, fine art doesn’t take a backstage to the applied arts in the exhibition.
Antoine Rose’s latest Up in the Air series conveys a very freshly vibrant sense of the European summer. Comprising of photographs taken from above, the series had Rose dangling precariously out of helicopters at times for the perfect shots. The images captured reflect stunning contrasts of colour and feature crowds as a signature. From the idling crowds of beachgoers in ‘Saint Tropez Study 1’ to the participants of the NYC Marathon in ‘City Pearls’, Rose invites the viewer to cast their gaze upon the bustle of human life and to feel the fun of summer.
Pascal Vicollet, on the other hand, challenges the boundaries of abstraction and figurativism. His paintings feature central figures that are caught in a chaotic abstraction of colours, such as ‘Pink Menine’, a deconstructed version of the Diego Valazequez painting ‘Las Meninas’. Of his works on display, ‘Audrey’ stands out the most with its expressive use of colour and hues in a controlled chaos depicting the actress in a moment of tenderness with her eyes closed.
A personal favourite from the exhibition were the works of NOIR Artist, that portrayed various animals in a whimsical fashion. Known for exclusively working only with a monochrome palette, the series of animal portraits consisting of a parrot, panda and gorilla, are a rare instance of NOIR Artist incorporating colour into his art. With a distinctive sense of lackadaisical fun, NOIR Artist’s art speaks for itself in conveying the spirit of summer. The rendering of the animals in monochrome against a coloured backdrop subtly highlights their endangered status, hinting at a message for viewers.
The idea of art telling a story and to convey a particular message is highly important for Kevin in his curatorial considerations. We see this again in the works of MONK, in particular, “Shark Camouflage I”. A repeated pattern of hammerhead sharks swimming amidst splotches of colour, the work is full of meaning as Kevin explains—the light blue and white colours represent the waters and reefs in which the sharks live while the red is symbolic of the bloodshed of the hammerhead sharks.
Aesthetics and intellectual thought are combined elegantly as well in Bruno Timmerman’s photo prints of famous icons. The photos are a composite of images significant to each icon featured, presenting a history of each icon within their portraiture. Kevin points out that the cracks and fissures hint at Timmerman’s intention for us to question the status of these icons and consider the survival of the ideas they embody.
Beyond the bimonthly temporary exhibitions, Mazel Galerie does also have a permanent exhibition space that showcases truly intriguing pieces retained from previous exhibitions. Of these, Quentin Garel captivates with his sculptures that cheekily deceive the eye. Ranging from masques to full on reproduction of animal heads, his work looks to be made of wood at first, but are then revealed by Kevin to be entirely made of patinated bronze. The lifelike nature of the work is breath-taking and made even more wondrous through knowledge of its creation process.
As the tour comes to a conclusion, we take the chance to ask Kevin about private art collection and commercial art in Singapore and got answers that the average person may not be privy to.
The culture surrounding private art collection in Singapore is still developing. Art ownership, in general, comprises three main pillars: that of Investment, Aestheticism and Intellectual Thought. Kevin observes that for Europe, there is a significantly nuanced approach towards art ownership, with a marked focus on aestheticism and investment. American art collectors, on the other hand, are more focused on aestheticism than anything else, with the attitude of “I like it, I buy it” prevailing strongly. As for China, art collection tends to focus on the investment value of art.
Singapore presents a curious mix of the three and in fact as Kevin quips, carries a fourth pillar as well – Relationships. The purchasing of art is dependent as well upon the patronage relationships that are forged and nurtured between gallery owners and collectors. A collector may well desire a certain work of art but may not buy it simply due to the lack of such a relationship. Singaporean art collection does heavily value investment and aestheticism, but Kevin also notes a growing interest in understanding the craftsmanship and intellectual thought behind the works of art, something that he finds to be heartening.
Of note as well, is the lack of appreciation for the applied arts as compared to the fine arts in Singapore. The idea of art being functional is still one that’s foreign to a lot of Singaporeans. As a result, there isn’t much of a desire to make art a part of daily life as compared to other countries.
Also, while Mazel Galerie has focused on European art, for now, Kevin reveals that talks and meetings are in place to showcase art sourced from the local region, which is an enticing thought indeed.
Perhaps some of us will shake our heads and turn our noses at the very idea of collecting art for its prohibitive cost, but what makes collecting vintage wines or extravagant sports cars any different?
The fact of the matter lies in how we fundamentally view the value of art as being non-essential or non-pragmatic compared to other material objects in our lives. Of course, no one is asking you to mortgage your house to buy a Picasso. Rather we should be rethinking the way we see the value of art and ask if it’s worth our effort to include it in our lives in the ways that we can.
The Keep Calm and Summer On exhibition will be held from July 7 to August 26, 2018, at Mazel Galerie, 9 Scotts Road #02-16 Pacific Plaza Singapore 228210. Admission is free!
Photos by Brandon Neo of the DANAMIC Team.