Gallery Partnerships, and a Pago-Pago @ National Art Gallery

Upon conclusion of the inaugural KL Biennale, the National Art Gallery proceeds to hosts several exhibitions, that collaborates with commercial galleries. Happening at the same time, questions abound about the selection process. What was the criteria for galleries invited to participate? How are costs shared, in the staging of an exhibition? What did Balai get out of this endeavour, apart from delegating its exhibition schedule to private companies? As outmoded as the notion is, the museum as institutional recognition is still a notion, worth considering while viewing these shows. From tiny works by international artists, to selling and non-selling thematic showcases, to a memorial/ clearance of sorts, each display is distinctly different. The following jottings are about each presentation, including one opportunistic display by Balai itself…

Exhibition posters at the lobby of the National Art Gallery; Final opportunity to see 1Malaysia logos on art show posters?

“Kuala Lumpur International Miniprint Exhibition 2018” (Segaris Art Centre): A miniprint is defined as a work not larger than 20 x 20 cm, and executed via a conventional printmaking technique (relief, intaglio, planography, and/or serigraphy). This definition is provided by the organizers of the Jogja International Miniprint Biennale, who also played a part in staging this display of 200+ prints by 90 artists. For eyes accustomed to graphic design on monitor screens, the majority of exhibits fail to register a second look. Figurative depictions in series by Mansoor Ibrahim and Derek Michael Besant offer visual continuity, while dramatic pictures by Loo Foh Sang and Samsudin Wahab appear primed to complement imagined storybook narratives.

Samsudin Wahab – Keramat (2018)

“Optimism is Ridiculous” (Richard Koh Fine Art): Natee Utarit writes in the exhibition statement, “(f)or me, Western-style art is (…) everything which exists in its Western contexts (…) My paintings are no different.” Therefore, looking at ;realistic paintings of animals, hung in a dark and air-conditioned museum gallery, appropriates a Western form of art appreciation. The subject matter is posed and creates a shallow perspective, its lush surfaces projecting a sheen on the flat canvas. Selected short phrases are etched upon thick custom-made dark grey frames, the solemn presentation heightening a sense of reverence, that was transmuted from the Western church to the Western museum. Its market value aside, Natee’s paintings portray art which is repressed, a muffling of self-expression tendencies in a self-proclaimed democratic world. Optimism, is indeed, ridiculous.

Natee Utarit – Innocence is Overrated (2012)

The Unconventional Sculptor: The Works of Vong Nyam Chee 1956 – 2017” (G13 Gallery): The gallery pays tribute to one recently-deceased self-taught artist, better known by the moniker Cheev. The artist constructs dancing figures by gluing wood fragments together, where such additive assembly approach appears amateurish and na├»ve, especially after one has seen sculptures from the National Collection in another gallery downstairs. More interesting are vitrines filled with hands and carved faces, that emphasize the craft behind the making. The lack of wall texts and round stickers (that indicates sales), offers a stark contrast in presenting art by a single artist, as compared to…

Installation snapshot at “The Unconventional Sculptor”

“Aku: Dalam Mencari Rukun…” (Core Design Gallery): Husin Hourmain creates large paintings that refer to religious commandments, whose previous solo exhibition in 2013 is “…acknowledged as a watershed moment in (…) the genre of contemporary Islamic calligraphy...” The unctuous wall statement continues to describe this body of work as a “philosophical series”, as sketchbooks, mason jars, and large preparatory paintings, contribute to the show’s maximising aesthetic. Isolating a geometric form – cubes, in this case – to express doctrinal reflections appear restrictive, while expressive brushstrokes tend to draw the looking eye, from its centre to the edges of the painted canvas. Which then directs attention to the many round stickers (that indicate reserved/sales), and the hilarious repeating typo ‘Modelling Pace’ in describing the works’ medium (instead of ‘paste’).

Installation snapshot at “Aku: Dalam Mencari Rukun…”

“Meraikan Pago-Pago”: Latiff Mohidin’s celebrated series is the subject of a current display at the Centre Pompidou, which exhibition was co-ordinated by National Gallery Singapore. Balai – who does not have the resources to execute a similar partnership – takes the opportunity then to exhibit its “Pago-Pago” holdings from the National Collection. The 3rd floor exhibition presents more newspaper snippets than actual work, and it is striking how consistent the language of art writing is and has been, across five decades. Chronological facts, artist soundbites, and/or personal adulation. Nabilah Said’s recent review of the Paris show offers more food for thought – “Latiff’s paintings may bear suggestions of totemic structures, but to insist on their primitiveness is to ignore the capacity of modern societies to build new forms of religion, and the dangers these can bring…”

Latiff Mohidin – Pago-Pago Bangkok