I Am Ten @ Richard Koh’s

After 3+ years of visiting Malaysian art galleries, art fatigue finally sets in. And it has to happen at my favourite neighbourhood gallery, whose international reach now warrants another house for showing art, sixth floor mall spaces be damned. Stuck in an anxious status is Gan Chin Lee, whose panoramic kopitiam scene recalls the vivid colours of Ivan Lam with a Phuan Thai Meng earmark, which sitters’ heads are blacked out as foreign entities. One distinguished figure sits within the darkness in Justin Lim’s ‘The Collector’, another black piece acting as a teaser for upcoming solo exhibitions. From an older series, Liew Kwai Fei’s flat colours in odd-shaped frames are presented in a beguilingly attractive manner, hugging the wall with negative space in between shapes providing a respite from the other abstract works on show.

Installation view of Liew Kwai Fei – Untitled (from Shape, Colour, Quantity, and Scale series) (2010)

‘Say Nothing, Do Nothing, Be Nothing’, commands the black brooding triptych that welcomes visitors (or stop them in their tracks) into the new gallery space. Five times smaller at the same price is another black work, this time by Yang Xun. Other large paintings occupy the walls – Natee Utarit’s classical skeletons, Zhu Xinyu’s ethereal forest, and Yang Jiechang’s ink layers. Group shows are inevitably devoid of context, so why am I expecting something more? Enveloped by large pictures with six figure price tags, I snap, as the meaning of luxury hit hard upon my poor soul. Beauty and value are subjective notions, and holding an art-critical lens suddenly become a strenuous affair; The painted ripped effects of Wong Perng Fey and Yeoh Choo Kuan, technically brilliant as they are, evolve into representations of zombie formalism that fulfils only the immediate visual sense. 

Yeoh Choo Kuan – Say Nothing, Do Nothing, Be Nothing (2015)

Even non-paintings dominate the walls, although Chang Yoong Chia’s magnified prints of his stamp collages, transform creative storytelling into a nihilistic reaction to the art market. Being familiar with famous paintings from the Western canon, impedes my appreciation of contemporary painting. Are the techniques too similar? Are the same themes regurgitated? If art is meant to represent, why use this synthetic material called paint, when other modes can infer as much if not more? What is the reward of self-expressive brush strokes? So that a collector can equally reward their own self-expression, by spending large sums of money? Ironically, the conundrum I experience is also represented in this exhibition. Samsudin Wahab’s ‘Jerangkap Samar’ is a painted-over painting trapped in a net, then encased in a frame within a frame. Stuck, just like I am. 

Samsudin Wahab – Jerangkap Samar (2015)