The physical setting here is practically an extension of our living room, so it feels more intimate and personal than a regular commercial gallery. With this space, we will organize exhibitions, talks and private events.
– Ning Chong, Founder, The Culture Story.
Not many art spaces can confidently say that they will change the art scene in Singapore. Most are more of the same (More art galleries! More art studios! More community spaces!) which are crucial for growing the small scene but merely an appetiser for those who are already lovers of art. The Culture Story, founded by father and daughter duo Ms. Ning Chong and Mr. Chong Huai Seng, might just be the main course. This is a space for those with more than just a passing fancy for art to come together and realise a community for a deeper understanding of art.
Mr. Chong started collecting in the ’80s, acquiring works from all over the world. After three decades, the substantial collection is now open for viewing by the public. Unlike museums, both public and private, it was love for each work and not museology that guides what is on show. Unlike private galleries, nothing is for sale as each work has already found a loving home: with the Chongs. And this is also most definitely not a storage space: the works are deliberately chosen for show.
Nonetheless, what is on the walls are still works of art, which superficially does not bring anything new to the table. Numerous spaces for private collections like the Chongs’ have already been established in Singapore. However, the highlight is not really the exhibitions per se (every art space has them) but what The Culture Story brings to the exhibition, namely, the social “living room” space. Ms. Ning relates a story of “local collectors in the old days… bring[ing] ink paintings and small canvases to each other’s homes, they drink tea and showcase their latest acquisition and invite their friends to discuss and comment.” The Culture Story can be seen as an attempt to resurrect this past with an important difference: this time, the living room is open to the public. It is a space for art and for art connoisseurs to gather. Anyone with an interest can come have tea, share their opinion on art and expect to hear the opinions of others.
Still, you won’t usually turn up at your acquaintance’s place unless they have a party. The founders of The Culture Story are aware of this and have planned a series of events to bridge the gap between the ‘tentatively interested’ to ‘definitely in love’ with art. These include talks with artists, art collectors and art professionals.
Don’t expect presentations of serious and heavy theoretical papers or highly technical discussions of specific sections of the art market. Instead, these talks are straightforward for now, aiming “to introduce and demystify the art market.” They had their first talk last Saturday, a conversation with Augusto “Gus” Albor, a well-respected and senior artist from The Philippines. Amid laughter, Gus and Ms. Chong revealed the chronological growth of Gus’s beautiful mane of hair in pictures, how life itself affects the work of the artist, the close relationships with collectors and most importantly, Gus’s talent with the flute (he really is quite talented). This was followed up by a long and informal session where everyone had a chance to speak to and get to know the person behind the amazing abstract works that were also on show in the space. The Chongs were also great hosts, flitting between conversations with old friends and new acquaintances. The general ambience was informal, the content elementary yet sophisticated, allowing everyone to head off into in-depth and intriguing conversations after the PowerPoint slide was over.
At the end of the day, of course, what The Culture Story is promoting is a Singaporean life compatible with art. When we come by to have tea, we imagine that this “living room” could also be our living room, a space made sweet and special by art.
If you wish to bring art home, your friends at The Culture Story could help. Beyond the community of existing collectors you can learn from, including the founders, The Culture Story also provides comprehensive support for a collector or collector-to-be. This includes 1. Sourcing, acquisition and de-accession 2. Collections management, namely framing, storage, installation, conservation and insurance needs 3. Artwork commission (e.g. family portraits, site-specific work) 4. Support for corporate art programs. Please do share the works you have acquired with your advisors, though. It is only fair to feed back in to the ongoing conversation of what and how to collect.
The current show, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, includes just 13 Asian artists represented in the Chongs’ collection. It is a sneak peek into decades of passion, promising of the exhibitions to come. The Chongs collect many more, including works by Sydney Harpley, Sergei Chepik, Cheong Soo Pieng and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, which would, hopefully, eventually be visible through quarterly exhibitions.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Anthony Chua, Augusto “Gus” Albor, Han Sai Por, Hong Sek Chern, Hsiao Chin, Iskandar Jalil, Leo Hee Tong, Jolly Koh, Liang Quan, Shi Jin Dian, Wong Keen, Yu Teng-Chuan, Zhuang Sheng Tao
Find out more about the show here.
The Culture Story
2 Leng Kee Road
#03-06 Thye Hong Centre
+65 6924 9742
Open by appointment.