The French ConneXion @ NVAG (I)

Judging from its tacky title, it is easy to dismiss this exhibition as another blasé attempt by the local institution to promote a diplomatic agenda. To my surprise, it turned out better than expected. Despite its misgivings – “The French link is ambitious. I can’t seem to grasp how the works are ‘connected’”, says a visitor – the show should be commended for exhibiting 81 pieces from the national collection, some of which have been kept in storage for a long time. Curator Ooi Kok Chuen makes do with a limited timeframe, and puts together a decent number of works to occupy the cavernous space and poor ambient lighting in Gallery 2A. Good art helps one sidestep cynical concerns about institutional intent or curatorship, and there are many exhibited works worth a second look here.

Chew Kiat Lim - Pembebasan (1968)

Two portraits painted thirty years apart, project sincere and imperfect depictions of artists’ spouses. O Don Peris illustrates the intricate details of his partner’s wedding gown and flower bouquet, yet her calves and shoes are plainly drawn to the point of being farcical. Chia Yu Chian’s take fares better, where colourful flower patterns in the background do not overshadow his wife dressed in blue, but her left arm leaning on the sofa still looks awkward. Twelve works by Yu Chian are on display – more derivative in style include the angular strokes of ‘Jalan di Bandar’ and ‘Wanita – Lady’ which recall Lee Cheng Yong, while his characteristic Fauvist colours and close-up perspective come alive in later works like ‘Still Life with Wine Jar’ and ‘Petition Writer’.

Chia Yu Chian - Demam Pilihanraya – Election Fever (1978)

Another vibrant example by Yu Chian is ‘Demam Pilihanraya – Election Fever’. One Chinese aunty donned in yellow clutching a purse, and a Malay lady clad in red carrying a child, stand in front of a wall stuck with Barisan Nasional and Democratic Action Party posters. Coincidental as it is, one cannot help chuckle when looking at this 37-year old painting now. Picasso references manifest in distinct compositions by “the most Francophile” Tan Tong, and in the slit-eyed cow people of Tew Nai Tong. The incomplete painting on an easel in ‘To Be Continued’ by the latter, projects a poignant reminder of these two modern artists, who passed away two years ago. Displayed on the opposite wall are eye-catching works by Loo Foh Sang and Long Thieh Shih, as it becomes obvious that the hanging sequence follows neither a chronological sequence, nor a segregation by medium.

Tew Nai Tong - To Be Continued (circa 1970s)

From his essay, subtitled ‘Malaysian and Singapore Artists in France and the Nanyang Nexus’, it can be inferred that Kok Chuen drafted his catalogue essay before assembling the exhibits. Writing in his typical biodata-heavy manner, the curator makes mention of every artist who was artistically influenced during trips to Paris, emphasizing on the majority of students from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts who enrolled at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Georgette Chen is cited as an influential figure in maintaining this cross-continent academic link, but in the exhibition she is grouped together with other women artists, whose works are hung within a walled-off section deep within the gallery space. The write-up follows a similar structure, which explains the disorganised feeling when one navigates the exhibition or reads Kok Chuen’s essay.

Loo Foh Sang – Kota Terbang – Flying Fortress (1968)

With no Nanyang connection and dated relatively later, Chong Siew Ying’s large creations feel badly out of place, as her shadowy characters remind one of Tan Chin Kuan’s ghoulish figures. Within the awful pink walls hang five paintings by Georgette from the national collection, the earliest acquisition being ‘Rambutan and Mangosteens’. Abundance is signified in overflowing woven baskets, where visual interest draws from fruits laid across the table, and fleshy fillings tempt the hungry observer. In contrast, the older ‘Ikan Kering’ is equally captivating but differ significantly in tone and mood, the dried fishes conjuring up a sense of stale air in a dimly-lit storeroom. Her beautiful portraits render material texture in vibrant tones, a great example being ‘Raiga’ where the brushy background projects the sitter holding onto a turquoise veil...

Georgette Chen - [l] Ikan Kering (1940); [r] Rambutan and Mangosteens (1950)


  1. 我去拜访时入口出有法国国旗,里面还有个专属空间loop法国toursim的video,再来就是Edith Piaf‘s La Vie en Rose仪式般的无限重复...不知法国大使馆或那些在我国投资/或卖不能下水的潜艇给我国政府的公司有没有sponsor呢?“the most Francophile”好像是策展人噢!酱恭维...搞不好法国人看了也有点脸红呢,之前法国和印度搞交流展(center pompidou 2011)都是两国的artists/curators来交流的,Ooi这个好像有点一厢情愿...anyway文章好像突然中断了...读起来展览好像到秀英那里就完了...右边哪里不是还有很多作品麽?

  2. Fei, the second part of the blog post will be posted later. I understand that the French embassy is sponsoring the young artists' competition displayed outside the gallery, but am not sure what is their actual involvement in this exhibition. "The most Francophile" is quoting the curator, who used this term a number of times to describe Tan Tong both in the catalogue essay and press reviews.

    1. 陈东的意识形态的确是大法国的(Picasso是法国还是西班牙呢?)和大中国(古代)的结合体....陈氏好像很少提到他生存生活的国度除了他的家庭(父亲)对他学艺术的不认同...他好像很早就直觉的以‘挪用’的方法来创作了,复风格?很可惜没展出更多的作品...个别艺术家的作品分量好像很不balance,有些很多幅,有些就一小幅而已(有点莫名奇妙),不知是不是只是Balai的收藏而已?(有几张好像又是curator的collection)这展览除了展示了法国文化对我国文化交流的日渐式微(或根本就没所谓的’交流‘(双向的),只不过是被影响(单向的)而已,又没有法国人站出来说我们的留法艺术家影响了法国艺坛或带给他们什么冲击....再来就是显示了Balai策展团队管理,技术和专业的水准不很到位?这让人担心。没include那个不下水的潜水艇可惜啊!花了纳税人酱多钱,又是PM亲手主导的杰作,dysfunctional不也就是‘艺术’或’美术馆‘的开始麽?:P


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