The old and the new: Singapore Day 4 (25th July 2014)

Regular readers of our travel blogs may have noticed a strange absence of museums in this blog to date. But, don’t panic, because today’s the day. We went to two museums/galleries, one housed in one of the most modern buildings you could imagine, a stylised lotus flower (symbolising a welcoming hand), and the other in a lovely old colonial building that was once a school. Intrigued? Read on …

Art Science Museum

You will have seen the exterior of this museum in our Day 2 post. We were so surprised by its appearance, we knew we had to check out its insides. The museum is located on reclaimed land that includes the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the Gardens by the Bay. It is part of the Marina Bay Sands complex. The building is sustainable: it collects and re-uses water, and draws natural light through the “petals” of the lotus (or fingers of the hand!). However, the sloping walls must make mounting exhibitions tricky at times.

Its premise is interesting, though logical if you think about it … it’s that artists and scientists are both inspired by curiosity about the world. Leonardo da Vinci is a perfect example of a fusion of the two in one person.

This museum mostly comprises travelling exhibitions. The day we were there, they had two: dinosaurs and Annie Leibovitz. We feel we’ve done dinosaurs, so just opted for the Annie Leibovitz. Sue loved it, Len less so. He never has been greatly interested in photographic exhibitions, for some reason that Sue fails to understand!

The exhibition is related to her book Annie Liebovitz: A photographer’s life 1990-2005, which essentially encompasses the period of her relationship with Susan Sontag, whom she met in 1989 and who died at the end of 2004. The exhibition interweaves Leibovitz’s personal, family photographs with her assignment work. She has, she says, one life, not two. The juxtapositions were interesting, if not startling at times. For example, next to the very formal portraits of Generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf are shots of her family. And between emotionally intense shots of Daniel Day Lewis and a pregnant Demi Moore is a gorgeous, tiny photograph of Susan Sontag’s shell collection, creating a delicate, peaceful interlude, a point of stillness.

However, besides portraits, the exhibition includes landscape photography.  Annie said:

Susan and I had gone to a show of paintings by Wright of Derby at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wright was a successful 18th century British portrait painter who as he got older painted more and more landscapes. I feel a great affinity with him. I can see how you might want to turn your back on society and paint lakes and mountains.

There were also some political photos, such as those taken when she accompanied Susan Sontag to Sarajevo. One photo, black and white fortunately, depicts a fallen bicycle with blood smeared on the ground, taken immediately after a young boy has been shot. We were pleased to hear later that before (we presume) she took the photo, she and Susan put the boy in their car to be taken to the hospital, allaying that concern about photojournalists ignoring humanity while they get their shot. There’s another more abstract photo depicting the blood of a Tutsi massacre.

Some of the most tender – and unfamiliar – photos are those of her family, and particularly of her parents. They are intimate, and provide a lovely insight into what seems to be a close, supportive family. The accompanying PBS documentary showed her to be (at least to us) somewhat demanding and imperious in some of her celebrity work, but the rest of the exhibition reveals a complex woman who has experienced much and has been willing to learn and change with those experiences.

Singapore Art Museum (SAM)

Before heading back towards our hotel and our second museum of the day, we did some errands and had a quick lunch at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. Singapore is full of malls containing shops like Prada, Armani, and so on, and this is one of them. The Food Court though was reasonable and is more akin to hawker centres than to the food courts at home. Sue had a tasty Chicken Rice, which was nearly as good as the one we had made (!) and Len had a seafood laksa.

SAM is housed in a gorgeous old 19th century colonial school building – with long shuttered corridors – and we again focused on the temporary exhibition – Medium at Large: Shapeshifting materials and methods on contemporary art. It, SAM explains, “explores the idea of medium in contemporary art, probing some of the most fundamental and pressing questions of art – its making, and also our experience, encounter and understanding of it.”

And so, we saw two portraits made using live bullet shells (by Alvin Zafra), and a sculpture made with human hair (Mella Jaarsma’s “Shaggy”). We saw works that play with medium and form, such as an oil painting overlaid with a video projection (Ranbir Kaleka’s “He was a good man”), a video of a woman dancing on butter captured also in still photographs (Melati Suryodarmo’s “Exegie – Butter Dance”), and another video of the release of a taut rope journeying through architectural spaces (Chen Sai Hua Kuan’s “Space Drawing 5”). Many of the artists are Asian, and new to us – and a few of the works, including an astonishing video installation called “The Cloud of Unknowing” (by Ho Tzu Nyen) – were exhibited at the Venice Biennale. Challenging, intriguing, mind-opening. A good change from the tried and true that are the mainstay of the famous, classic galleries of the old world!

Today’s pictures …

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2 Responses to The old and the new: Singapore Day 4 (25th July 2014)

  1. lithe lianas 26 July, 2014 at 9:51 pm #

    The lotus building is amazing – how many levels are there inside. Is it made of concrete. It is amazing how many curved buildings have appeared since the Sydney Opera House was built. Utzon really started something.

    And … how long was the video of the woman dancing on butter!

  2. LenAndSue WHERRY 27 July, 2014 at 12:37 am #

    Hmm. LL, I think it has about 4 levels above ground and 2 below but I may be misremembering. I expect it’s concrete but don’t know.

    The woman dancing on butter went, I think, for 15 mins or more, but I only watched some of it. Here is a link to a 5min version she did in 2009 …

    it’s worth looking at though distressing too … Part of it is a comment on the effect on her body of moving from Asia to fatty European food.

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