2 Jan 2015 (II): Recent Acquisitions @ NVAG

Akin to an apologetic gesture, works last seen at the dismal M50 exhibition greet the visitor into Galeri 1A, Gan Sze Hooi’s map leading to Yee I-Lan’s pinafores and plates. The recreated chessboard-floor studio space demonstrates a seriousness in institutional collecting, an observation reinforced by the variety of mediums on show. Accolades are a useful starting point to add new artists into the national collection, as one spots panoramic photographs by Yaman Ibrahim (Maybank Photo Awards), a hanging wood sculpture by Sun Kang Jye (Malaysia Emerging Artist Award), a minimal but powerful audio-visual installation by Fuad Arif (Bakat Muda Sezaman), woven fabric patterns by Anne Samat (Prudential Malaysian Eye), and a matrix of light switches by chi too (Young Guns), not connected to an electrical board which unfortunately negates the work’s impact.

Installation view of Yee I-Lann - Malaysia Day Commemorative Plates (ed. 1/100) (2010) [foreground]; Commemorate 2013 (2013) [background] [picture from OUR ArtProjects Facebook post]

Wall texts amusingly segregate exhibiting artists into senior/mid-career/young groupings, also inviting visitors “…to analyse, assess and interpret the importance of the works acquired by NVAG and the significance of its collection in the context of contemporary experience.” Important but surprisingly missing from the collection previously is H.H. Lim, whose illustrated tiger is hung low and hopefully leads to the addition of more cerebral works. Also achieving international acclaim before local recognition is Tan Wei Kheng, his Bornean tribal portrait a poignant reminder about the replacement of cultures that take place in a developing nation. Well-travelled Roslisham Ismail compacts his curriculum vitae within a room, complete with Superfiction sketches and recipe books, although one Secret Affair refrigerator is shut tight with an oversized sticker.

Sun Kang Jye - (Minister) of Portrait Series (2011) [picture from MEA Award blog post]

Ise’s funky setup prompts a complex reading about packaging contexts, also leading one to ponder about the gallery’s acquisition strategy. How much weight do accolades and exposure carry in buying decisions? Who needs more Penang watercolours? Are the large paintings by young artists Fadilah Karim and Seah Zelin their exceptional pieces among recent output, or stockroom leftover? How much money was transacted for Tan Tong’s two works? Did Daud Rahim contribute anything significant to local painting? Jars of earth by Bibi Chew and paper cut-outs by Haslin Ismail make equally captivating installations; but the national gallery already owns a 2010 Haslin work of the same scale, so why add another one? With a number of exhibited works last seen in Galeri Chandan, how much do gallerists and the market influence what is acquired?

Samsudin Wahab - Katak Lembu Segar (2013) [picture from BakatMudasezaman YoungContemporaries Facebook page]

With a federal government ruling without the popular vote, Malaysian politics is definitely a “contemporary experience”, yet very few exhibited works touch upon this topic. One exception is ‘Katak Lembu Segar’ by Samsudin Wahab, the mutated carcasses expressing a violent desire to give village idiots/stupid politicians a literal dressing down. The fibreglass sculpture is seen as a follow on to Juhari Said’s ‘Katak Nak Jadi Lembu’, its reference to local art history less common in Malaysian art. Looking at works by Yap Sau Bin and Shia Yih Yiing – both deriving its content from seminal artworks – are meta-references too simplistic an acquisition criteria? One recalls the more incisive and better composed “The More We Get Together”, hung like a tetromino at Yih Yiing’s previous solo exhibition. Who decided that “Homage Couture” was the more appropriate purchase?

Raja Lope Rasyidi - Jentayu dan Kuda Kepang (2013) [picture from Core Design Gallery website]

Queries about managing public property aside, the diversity on show and strength of individual pieces, deserve applaud and a moment’s basking in Malaysian pride. One fascinating ‘Cocoon’ photograph by Sue Anna Joe hangs opposite Mansoor Ibrahim’s intricate printed insects, both works revealing life with a different aesthetic approach. Rafiee Ghani’s bold colours project an uplifting view into the joy of observing new frontiers. Local folklore and figurative dance receive the airbrush treatment from Raja Lope Rasyidi, whose mecha presentation transcends the local canon and fully deserves its institutional validation. Walking past beautiful red constructs, Kamal Sabran and Goh Lee Kwang’s ‘Bunyian dari Batu Gajah’ gets surprising airtime, the improvisational dissonance a more agreeable sound, as compared to calls of “no photos” by the gallery guards.

Sneak preview of Kamal Sabran and Goh Lee Kwang - Bunyian Aneh Dari Batu Gajah (2013)