National Gallery’s two new exhibitions on groundbreaking South-east Asian modern art includes Tang Da Wu’s solo show

Exhibition at National Gallery Singapore explores a dynamic and under-represented period in art history in the region

A Fact Has No Appearance: Art Beyond The Object, which opens tomorrow, looks at the 1970s - a dynamic but considered under- represented period in the region's art history. The exhibition also features works by Filipino artist Johnny Manahan and Malaysia's Redza Piyadasa.

At the media preview yesterday, Mr Low Sze Wee, the gallery's director of curatorial and collections, said the intent behind the show is not just to explore the history of modern art in the region, but also to revisit iconic works that no longer exist physically.

The tightly curated show offers several fascinating insights.

  • VIEW IT / A FACT HAS NO APPEARANCE: ART BEYOND THE OBJECT

  • WHERE: National Gallery Singapore, Concourse Gallery 1, 1 Saint Andrew's Road

    WHEN: Tomorrow to May 29, 10am to 7pm (Monday to Thursday, Sunday and public holiday), 10am to 10pm (Friday, Saturday and eve of public holiday).

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: www.nationalgallery.sg

  • EARTH WORK 1979

  • WHERE: National Gallery Singapore, Concourse Gallery 2

    WHEN: Tomorrow to June 19, 10am to 7pm (Monday to Thursday, Sunday and public holidays), 10am to 10pm (Friday, Saturday and eve of public holiday).

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: www.nationalgallery.sg

The section on artist Tan Teng-Kee shows how diverse his practice is and how he was among the pioneers of public sculptures.  As early as the 1970s, the Perth-based artist was re-interpreting traditional sculptural forms.

His 1975 stainless steel sculpture, Vibrating Rods, uses steel to create slender rods that lend a light, breezy feel to the piece despite the use of industrial materials.

Mr Tan, 79, tells The Straits Times: "I tried many things and developed my own aesthetic. I do not know if this is modern art, conceptual art or performance art. Different people have different views. As an artist, I was just making art that appealed to me. Art that was about openness of spirit."

Manahan, 69, is a big name in the Philippines' entertainment industry. But what is little known is that the film and television director and actor was a video artist in the 1970s, exhibiting his first video artwork in the Philippines in 1972 and taking video art to the Paris Biennale in 1982. On display are his video works, abstract paintings, archival footage and media articles about his art.

At the peak of his artistic career, he gave it all up to focus on entertainment.

The late Piyadasa, an outspoken Malaysian artist and academic, is known for using text in his art.

Early images of the artist show a dashing, flamboyant man who was unafraid of speaking his mind. His controversial text-based paintings are laden with strong statements questioning the process of artmaking and its increasing commercialisation.

Piyadasa, hailed as one of his country's pioneer conceptual artists, died in 2007 at the age of 68 from liver complications.


Above: Tan's outdoor exhibition in 1979.

The show opens tomorrow together with Earth Work 1979, a solo exhibition centred on one of Singapore's leading contemporary artists, Tang Da Wu, 73.

The key work in this show is the Gully Curtains (1979), which is the first recorded instance of land art here.

Tang had placed large pieces of fabric between gullies and with the rain washing over the fabric and the sun drying them, the fabrics took on the texture and character of varied earth marks.

Also on show are some of his original mineral pigment drawings and archival materials, including a three-page handwritten letter appealing for funds that lists in detail exactly how much it cost to create Earth Work, highlighting the funding woes artists faced during the 1970s.

Correction Note: This story has been edited for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2016, with the headline 'Fiery history of Singapore art'. Print Edition | Subscribe