13 September 2013

Entering KL Art Galleries

Time is precious. In this Postmodernist era, the value of an experience (within the constraints of time and space) become increasingly significant to the individual, whose regard of material value decreases with rising affluence. People expect a time-bound satisfaction as reward, from the mere effort of employing human perceptive sense. Hence the frustration felt when engaging with a literal and obvious artwork, or one promising insight but is concealed. The same applies to the experience of visiting an art space. In Kuala Lumpur, spatial allotments for art displays are limited to enclosed areas, an exclusivity that mirrors the local visual arts scene. Many private dealers ply their active trade in wall hangings, cramping works into confined spaces, with no concern about an authentic experience. KL Lifestyle Art Space, Purplehouz, and Art Accent, fall into this category of galleries and cannot qualify as valid art spaces.

Ground floor of Shalini Ganendra Fine Art [picture from Facebook page]

The modus operandi of galleries which occupy a commercial lot, is to work around practical concerns for displaying art. Apparent particularly in "art mall" Publika, private galleries design layout and interiors that put visitors at ease. Good examples include Segaris with its industrial theme and warm lighting, and the flexible configuration utilised by Galeri Chandan. Elsewhere, one encounters peaceful privacy in well-lit demarcated areas at Richard Koh, Wei-Ling Contemporary, and G13 Gallery. These features help negate a window shopping sentiment, that stems from the immediate presentation of art. Also situated in a mall is Galeri Petronas, which wonderful circle-within-a-circle layout, is handicapped by task lighting with a small projection radius. Employing a creative approach in its presentation, Pinkguy exhibits modern and commercial artworks on display stands, which flank the water feature at Marc Residency.

Sep 2013 @ Art Row, Publika: Pop-up studios used to host a single installation - Yee I-Lann's 'Commemorate' (L); Ng Seksan's 'Malaysian Spring' (R)

Natural elements provide aesthetic solace from the daily grind, an advantage exploited by galleries located in bungalows. Sutra Gallery enchants with its leafy surroundings and wooden build-up. White terrazzo floors invoke homeliness at Taksu and Core Design Gallery. Shalini Ganendra’s splendid architecture allows natural light to fill its aerated spaces. Housed in a burnt architects office, Wei-Ling Gallery stands out among KL art spaces, where visiting it requires one to pass by strong scents emitting from banana leaf rice restaurants, and an Indian temple. Antique furniture greets the visitor, while silence and a nostalgic early painting by Chin Kong Yee, accompanies the act of ascending stairs. These distractions nullify presumptions and shapes an open mind, where by the time one is exposed to the gallery's ample skylight, art takes control. The transient separation from reality to art space, should not be underestimated for what it contributes to a visitor's experience. 

Green environment in Sutra Gallery

Institutions like the National Visual Arts Gallery and Bank Negara tend to underutilise its art spaces. The former location is cold and calculating, the agency itself suffering an inability to curate and exhibit within a white box. Visitors learn nothing during a visit because of the lack of expository texts, an issue not seen in any other public art institution. Within the serene confines of Sasana Kijang, art occupies an entire floor in the latter establishment, a space its administrator should consider letting out since it rarely hosts exhibitions. A popular art space for rent is Publika’s White Box, where constructing an aesthetic experience largely depends on the curators. The intentional blockades of “Barricade”, and fantasy environment of “Jojo in the Wonderland”, spring to mind as successful exhibitions that maximise the display area. Recent transformation of the nearby pop-up studios into individual installation areas, are also a welcome sight.

Inside Galeri Petronas [picture from Facebook page]

Ultimately, the individual quality of artwork is what matters. However, the experience of appreciating art cannot be discounted, which can be the difference between a good exhibition and an unforgettable one. Minor distractions of beautiful non-art objects, before and during one’s entering an art space, helps heighten self-awareness.  This process of entering can be ritualised to prepare an observer physically and mentally, before s/he is subjected to the wilful visual projections called art. Introducing a purposeful 'cut' (kire 切れ), liberates the visitor of dominating or preconceived thoughts. Since art in public spaces are non-existent in KL, it is perhaps time, that private galleries pay more attention in cultivating a personal experience for visitors. 
"Where we hope to land (and where we do land, though only for a fleeting moment, enough for tired wings to catch the wind anew) is a 'there' which we thought of little and knew of even less.” - Zygmunt Bauman, Postmodernity and Its Discontents

Ground floor of Wei-Ling Gallery

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