Singapore’s once unruly young artist still grapples with social norms


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SINGAPORE – He was once considered the enfant terrible of Singapore’s burgeoning alternative art scene for his headline-grabbing art performances, including one in which he dressed in a costume made of fake dollar bills and another involving his own urine.

But almost 20 years later, Vincent Leow is part of the establishment of the art scene. He was selected to represent Singapore at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and his work is currently undergoing a mid-career review at 8Q sam, the contemporary art arm of the Singapore Art Museum, although less so early. controversial performances.

Mr. Leow’s exhibition kicks off a planned series of notable local contemporary artists who rose to prominence after 1988, a pivotal period for the Singaporean art scene. That year saw the creation of The Artists Village, an artistic collective led by Tang Da Wu, inspired by Western movements such as Conceptual Art and Fluxus, which emerged in New York City in the 1960s.

The 8Q sam series will continue next year with exhibitions of works by Amanda Heng and then Suzann Victor, Singapore Art Museum director Tan Boon Hui said. Ms. Heng has consistently explored pressing social issues in her performance art practice, while Ms. Victor is best known for her evocative and spectacular installations.

“These artists really had this vision that art should reflect the society of that time; all values, all conflicts and all tensions; and that art had to be urgent, ”Mr. Tan said. “There was a pressing need to talk about the world. It was something very different from the idealistic watercolors of the Singapore River and the more academic realist style that preceded the late 1980s. ”

While Mr Leow gained attention with his performances – in the case of his controversial Coffee Talk in 1992, in which he drank his own urine, he was trying to convey how artists are producers and consumers. of art – they have only a small part of his practice.

“Tags and Treats,” which now runs at 8Q Sat through October 17, features Mr. Leow’s paintings and sculptures, following his artistic trajectory from the angry expressionist works he painted during his brief stay in the collective. The Artist Village with pictorial explorations of texture and canvas structure created while pursuing a master’s degree in the United States.

The show also includes some of his later satirical critiques of capitalism and consumerism. The works are presented chronologically to highlight how his style evolved, reflecting or reacting to the different places he lived: from his early years of fine arts studies at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore (1989-’91) to the three past and a half years. spent teaching painting at the College of Fine Arts and Design at the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.

His earlier paintings, such as “Lucky Strike” (1989), are charged with anger and executed with unruly brushstrokes, as the artist, then working in the new art commune, wanted to question what he saw it as a safe art.

He then quickly turned to Pop Art with a new visual language using animals to comment on social and political issues. In his series “Mountian Cow Factory” (1998), with a deliberately misspelled title, he comments on the cloning of Dolly the Sheep by creating a repetitive series of colored cows, on canvas but also in the form of life-size sculptures, placed in places. public.

In recent years, Mr. Leow’s work has been primarily associated with a series of hybrid creatures, the best known of which is Andy, a man-dog character based on his black mongrel named after Andy Warhol.

“I was very interested in the idea of ​​mythology and how we were drawn to these stories of half human, half animal characters and when I worked on this series I tried to create creatures. similar combining my pets, like my pet. dog and my rooster, with the face of a Javanese puppet mask, ”Mr. Leow said. “People saw it as a caricature of my smiling face, but that was not the original intention.”

David Chew, the curator of the exhibit, said he believed the half-human, half-animal creatures could be seen as a commentary on the interbreeding of identities and cultures that Singaporeans have experienced.

In “Andy’s Wonder Land” (2006), presented in Venice, Mr. Leow created five rooms where his pet reigned supreme. In each, Andy was presented in a fairly confined environment, such as a glass room or an upholstered pet room, which could be considered a comfortable “madhouse.”

“I was sort of trying to portray Andy in different, controlled environments,” the artist said, explaining that this was to some extent how he viewed his own space in Singapore.

The loss of her companion dog last year prompted the artist to explore the issue of mortality, reflecting on the notion of inheritance and memory.

This concept of mortality also gave the current show its title, “Tags and Treats,” which refers to pet ID tags as well as military ID tags used to identify war dead. In one piece, “Pet Hotel”, four zinc niches on stilts suggest that Andy now resides in a celestial kingdom. In his latest series, “Tribute to Andy,” Mr. Leow presents a series of portraits using black paint on the faces to create detached silhouettes.

“As I now live in the United Arab Emirates, I was trying to explore the way you represent human figures, which is at the heart of my practice, as you cannot do it within the tradition of Islamic art, ”Mr. Leow said.

“I wanted to explore the idea of ​​what we still read when everything is blocked,” he continued. “Do we still recognize the face behind?” Can the figure itself sufficiently communicate about who it is? In a way, I explore the idea of ​​how much we remember when we cover the image itself. Stripping away all the details and leaving the silhouette aside, is that enough to communicate the person or the subject himself?

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About Marjorie C. Hudson

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