Many insiders would readily admit making frequent visits to commercial gallery shows. It is often the first stop for artwork from the artist studio, which gives you a look at what artists are working on and with right now. In comparison, once the works hit the museums, it has been around for a while and not as fresh. This point is changing nowadays, since many museums have started regularly commissioning new works from artists. Nonetheless, it remains true that many of the works showing in the commercial gallery, once collected by a private collector would disappear into private living rooms and warehouses, never to be seen by the public again. The gallery exhibition, then, is the place to have a comprehensive look at any artist’s oeuvre. To get an even more comprehensive look, you would need to visit the artist’s studio – which is a story for another time.
So it is understandable why the rare collectors’ show gets us all very excited. Collectors’ shows give us a peek into never before or rarely seen works of art, often the best or most interesting pieces of an artist’s practice. It gives us insight into what collectors are interested in and allows us to speculate how these collectors have amassed their collections. The current double bill in Gillman Barracks, Re|Collecting Asia: Selections from Singapore private collections and Ryder Ripps’ Diventare Schiavo (Become a Slave), does exactly that. Five private collections, from Jim Amberson, Ann Mui Ling, Adrian Chan & Ryan Su, Satesh Kumar and Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Ng, are represented in these shows, which is the first collector’s show in 5-year-old Gillman Barracks.
Organised by The Ryan Foundation, founded by Adrian Chan & Ryan Su, the shows feature “treasures of relatively elusive collectors who have contributed to the Singapore and international arts landscape but prefer to keep a low profile.” The presentation gives us a brief idea of the global/Asian outlook that our local collectors have in their collections: artists include Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, Asim Waqif, Chua Ek Kay, Genevieve Chua, Handiwirman Saputra, Hong Sek Chern, Jimmy Ong, Ming Wong, Peybak, Robert Zhao Renhui, Ryder Ripps, Sopheap Pich, Xue Song, Xu Zhen and Yunizar. These artists, many of whom have achieved international acclaim, come from and exhibit all over the world. This feel good exhibition positively affirms the sophistication of our collectors, who are looking at more than just Singapore, Southeast Asia, or the traditional art centres (New York/London).
While we might usually think that a good show is cohesive, it is in discordance that this show shines as a collectors’ show. Jim Amberson brings in sculptures by Sopheap Pich and Asim Waqif, expressing a certain interest for art’s ability to articulate space as well as the manipulation of non-art materials, like rattan. Ann Mui Ling’s collection of modern & contemporary Singaporean work is an enjoyable experience of painterly and abstract expression, whether in theme, composition or stroke. Satesh Kumar’s Peybak paintings are intriguing, vertiginous yet quiet, an interesting counterbalance to his Robert Zhao photographs that also invite thoughts about the utopian and fictional. Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Ng’s pleasure in montage and an all-over painting is clear in the Handiwirman Saputra, Yunizar and Xue Song works included in the show. Different interests lead them to collect different works from different artists, positively suggesting that opinions on what is good and collectible art differ among collectors in Singapore.
These may not be the principal reasons why and how these people have built up their collections. After all, we are only seeing a very small number of works from each collection and the depths of the collecting personalities that can be articulated are limited. That does not detract from the show itself: the curator Khim Ong, Deputy Director of Curatorial Programmes at NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, had worked to choose works that could come together in a single show. Works are rearranged in the space, stepping out of their home collections and creating conversations that would not have been otherwise possible. Nonetheless, aspiring collectors should note that different people will collect different things and for different reasons and you should find your own motivations, too.
To take the example of Adrian & Ryan, they describe one of their starting points as Ryan’s studies in art law. This can be seen to inform their interest in Ripp’s interactive new media practice, which challenges the overwhelming belief that art is inert. Artists have always experimented with the newest technologies and integrated it into their works while the law and the debate in intellectual property trails far behind. Xu Zhen, a young conceptual artist who is also represented in their collection, brings about similar questions on what is and is not art, what is and is not work. Their insight into the relationship between artists and the law is not one that most other collectors, young or experienced, would not have, and the kinds of conversations that they have around their collection is unique and fully passionate, informed but not limited by wider conversations in art.
Perhaps the most exciting evocation about this collectors’ show is commissioning. This part of the collector’s life is almost never seen, hiding in shadows simply because the work would go from the studio directly into a private collection. Diventare Schiavo (Become a Slave) came from a studio visit to Ripp’s studio in New York, where they got to know the artist and had that comprehensive look at his practice even a gallery show could not provide. They collected this work without having ever seen it before, since it was not yet produced. To experience the process of production from idea to final work is probably one of the delights of collecting. Potential collectors should never be limited by what already has been produced but instead look deeper, broader and maybe challenge artists to produce works that are literally just for you.
Re|Collecting Asia: Selections from Singapore private collections and Ryder Ripps’ Diventare Schiavo (Become a Slave)
Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, Asim Waqif, Chua Ek Kay, Genevieve Chua, Handiwirman Saputra, Hong Sek Chern, Jimmy Ong, Ming Wong, Peybak, Robert Zhao Renhui, Ryder Ripps, Sopheap Pich, Xue Song, Xu Zhen and Yunizar
20 September – 19 November 2017
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