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Minimalism at NGS | Maxed Out Galleries

Minimalism: Space. Light. Object. at National Gallery Singapore and ArtScience Museum ended about 2 weeks ago, and I am finally getting around to sharing my exhibition review. I actually visited the exhibition all the way back in December 2018, so yes, I do wonder where all the time has gone!

As mentioned in my Art of 2018 post, I have so many opinions to share, so do read on as I go on at length, lol! My review of Minimalism at ArtScience Museum will be coming up soon in a separate post.

| Cover picture: Peter Kennedy, Neon Light Installations, 1970-2002, neon, composition board and synthetic polymer paint |

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Donald Judd, Untitled, 1969-1971, aluminium and transparent synthetic polymer resin
From afar, I’d thought that this Untitled by Judd was reflective, but turns out it’s transparent!

When the news of this new ‘blockbuster’ exhibition was released, I was quite curious and excited to see what National Gallery Singapore would come up with. Minimalism / Minimalist Art honestly isn’t the kind of art that I like that much, so I was expecting to learn more about Minimalism in the context of 1960s New York where it originated.

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Robert Morris, Untitled, 1965, reconstructed 1971, mirror glass and wood
Just a little further down from Judd’s Untitled, there’s a real reflective cube work by Robert Morris.

To start off with the exhibition opener, a little context is needed: At National Gallery Singapore, you go through a set of doors where there’s a small space, before going through another set of doors to enter the exhibition proper; same goes when you’re exiting each exhibition gallery.

So, I was a little rattled when I went through the first set of doors to be unexpectedly greeted by… Minimalist music? That was before I discovered that this was a sound exhibit and these musical exhibits are also played in other spaces between the exhibition galleries. In all fairness, I’m not that open-minded about music as I am towards art, so I find it difficult to get attuned to these kinds of ‘experimental’ music, if you will.

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Donald Judd, Untitled, 1968, stainless steel with yellow Plexiglass

And then, the first exhibits you see is a section of black paintings by different artists, including Frank Stella, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman. I know that the argument goes that you should slow down and ponder on these paintings… but I just don’t see how opening an exhibition with a selection of purely black paintings is a good idea.

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #338, 1971, coloured pencil

The beginning of the Minimalism exhibition follows a textbook example with artworks by notable Minimalist artists like Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin, and Carl Andre. Take a look at the Tate’s explanation of Minimalism here to find out more, I also find Tate’s series of Art Terms very helpful!

I find this Sol LeWitt drawing very interesting because it’s drawn by an artist from Sol LeWitt’s studio along with the help of four former LaSalle students – a nice touch! – based on the artist’s instructions. I’m still not too sure how I feel about this concept of works created from an artist’s instructions that is commonly seen in Minimalist and conceptual art from the 1960s and 70s.

On this matter, I also want to share this recent article from The Art Newspaper about the Guggenheim decommissioning works made from instructions that were deemed not authentic enough.

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Ian Burn, No object implies the existence of any other, 1967, synthetic polymer paint on wood, mirror and lettering

The main issue I had with this exhibition comes up really quickly in the first gallery alone – the space was overly crowded with artworks. Minimalist art demands the viewer to be conscious of the space that the artwork is engaging with (ref: Tate). At this exhibition, I really did feel that I needed more space to consider the works, but there were so many artworks placed quite close to each other. From just a picture of/with Ian Burn’s work, you can see three other works reflected in it!

Ian Burn’s No object implies the existence of any other is “based on a quote from the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume on the nature of perception, knowledge and understanding.” I don’t fully grasp the meaning, but it’s funny how this object sure does reflect the existence of a few other objects in this setting.

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Dan Flavin, “monument” for V. Tatlin, 1966, cool white fluorescent light
Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Dan Flavin, monument for V. Tatlin #43, 1966-1969, cool white fluorescent light
Minimalism at NGS

I visited the exhibition on two occasions in December and later in February this year, but Dan Flavin, monument for V. Tatlin #43 was still not working…

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Mona Hatoum, Impenetrable, 2009, black finished steel and fishing wire
Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore

I have a new fascination with Mona Hatoum’s works after seeing Impenetrable and + and – (at ArtScience Museum) in person. As I’ve always said, it really makes such a difference seeing art for yourself compared to seeing it on a screen!

At this point, the exhibition starts to break away into examples of how Minimalist tendencies have continued in contemporary art, such as Minimalism in London (e.g. Hatoum) and Minimalist work in Asia, although ArtScience Museum’s minimalism exhibition counterpart solely focuses on Minimalism in Asia.

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Lee Seung-taek, Godret Stone, 1958, 40 stones, 2 wooden bars and cord

I was quite interested in Lee’s work – godret stones “are traditionally used in Korea as weights to hold rope in place while tying knots or weaving mats”. I really like this idea of re-exploring traditional domestic objects in art.

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Kishio Suga, Infinite Situation I (Window), 1970/2018, wood, window and landscape
Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Robert Irwin, Untitled, c. 1968, acrylic lacquer on formed acrylic plastic

Robert Irwin’s Untitled looks quite different / better in real life, because it’s made of one central disc that forms overlapping lights / shadows when lit. It has a very nice three-dimensional effect compared to how it appears as a flat surface when captured in a photograph.

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Fred Sandback, Untitled (Leaning Triangle), 1989, black acrylic yarn
Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Rachel Whiteread, Twenty-Five Spaces, 1995, cast resin; Anish Kapoor, Void, 1989, fibreglass and pigment

This particular room with three very distinctive artworks is yet another example of the overcrowded feeling I got in this exhibition. You don’t get enough space to view these large works from different distances and angles – same goes for Peter Kennedy’s Neon Light Installations (cover picture above) which you could only capture in its entirety from the side of the room.

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Olafur Eliasson, Room for one colour, 1997, monofrequency lamps

I so enjoyed being in Olafur Eliasson’s Room for one colour! It’s kind of weird at first, because you see the room in yellow – and then suddenly see the people around you in only grey tones! Photos don’t do it justice, it’s really something to experience for yourself. My eyes felt a little uncomfortable after being inside for a short while, but it’s definitely a very novel experience!

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Liu Jianhua, Blank Paper, 2006-2018, porcelain

I have to say, Liu Jianhua’s Blank Paper really did look like paper with its slightly crinkled look to it, so it’s amazing to find out it’s actually made of porcelain!

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Double Portrait), 1991, print on paper, endless copies
Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Golden), 1995, strands of beads and hanging device

Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s works always feel so deliberately intentional or full of meaning despite his use of seemingly unassuming objects, but I also find it very interesting how his works are able to capture so much attention from the viewer too.

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Ai Weiwei, Ton of tea, 2006, Pu’er tea

I love how in-your-face Ai Weiwei’s Ton of tea is about, well, Pu’er tea or about Chinese tea in general. It’s a big block of dried tea leaves, and you can smell a faint waft of the tea leaves when you step closer to it.

Haegue Yang’s Sol LeWitt Upside Down series, two out of three sets captured here, hangs at the background of this picture. It’s essentially venetian blinds placed against an ultramarine blue wall, with reference to Yves Klein’s blue trademark. I’m not into it though… It looks too close to a room setting more than an installation. But I looked up other versions of Haegue Yang’s Sol LeWitt Upside Down and her large-scale installations look very cool in comparison, so perhaps it’s just these renditions that don’t work for me.

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Ai Weiwei, Sunflower Seeds, 2010, porcelain

I’ve seen Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds so many times in pictures, and it felt kind of familiar when viewing it in person. It’s my favourite artwork in this exhibition (which might sound so typical, but whatever!). Each of the seeds are made in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, China, which is renowned for its production of porcelain and ceramics.

To see more porcelain works, Asian Civilisations Museum has a Ceramics Gallery featuring largely Chinese ceramics, that I also really like!

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Martin Creed, Work No. 312 A lamp going on and off, 2003, lamp and electrical timer switch
Minimalism at NGS
A video of Martin Creed’s Work No. 312 A lamp going on and off.
Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Tatsuo Miyajima, Mega Death, 1999/2016, LED, IC, electric wire and infrared sensor

Tatsuo Miyajima’s work always make use of ticking numbers, as an allusion to the cycle of life and rebirth. The numbers on Mega Death (captured as bright dots in this photo) continuously count down from nine to one. When it gets to zero, the blue lights go off and the installation becomes completely dark, before it turns back on and begins its cycle again.

I actually found it all – the blue colour and the countdown – quite eerie, which I suppose makes its point as it’s a statement about the mass destruction and violence of the 20th century.

Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Minimalism at National Gallery Singapore
Anish Kapoor, Non-Object (Door), 2008, stainless steel

Playing around with Anish Kapoor’s Non-Object (Door)! Its concave surface causes that warped effect as seen here.

I felt that the good side to this Minimalism exhibition was being able to view many works by great contemporary artists, but problems came up in its overcrowded space and in the theme itself. Most of the exhibition was dedicated to showing how Minimalism is still seen in art today, or in the closer contemporary era, but I don’t think this idea came across convincingly.

I find the works by living artists in the latter part of the exhibition too distinctive to be compiled under this broad idea of Minimalism. While the wall texts link each artwork to a certain concept found in original Minimalist works, I felt that the overall curation lost an established idea of what Minimalism is, or in showing why these works could be considered Minimalist in some way(s). I enjoyed viewing these works individually, but their relation to a curated theme of Minimalism just didn’t come across well to me.

I was finding it so difficult to express my thoughts on this exhibition clearly in this post, and then I got the idea to include a rating system! I think it’ll be so fun to include it in all my other exhibition reviews too!

For this exhibition, I’m going to give it 3 out of 5 stars – good artworks overall, but a lack of a curatorial direction makes the exhibition experience not very enjoyable. Share your opinions on this exhibition – leave your rating below!

My exhibition rating:

3 / 5 stars for Minimalism: Space. Light. Object. at National Gallery Singapore

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