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Courtesy of Gajah Gallery
Courtesy of Gajah Gallery

Hidden Treasures At Gajah Gallery’s Archaeology Of The Present

Picture of Joyce Choong
Updated: 5 January 2017
Singapore’s art scene is becoming more vibrant, and with the success of artists in neighboring countries, audiences here can enjoy an ever-expanding repertoire of works. Gajah Gallery is one of the pioneering private galleries in Singapore, with an outstanding portfolio of contemporary Southeast Asian works. Culture Trip takes a peek at the gallery’s upcoming exhibition, Archaeology of the Present, a dive into the treasure trove that is Gajah’s sculptural collection.

Located in Tanjong Pagar Distripark, the gallery feels like a precious find amongst the musty warehouses in the same building. While the gallery will be celebrating its 20th anniversary later this year, its move to the Distripark is recent. The industrially refurbished chic, cavernous white space is a welcome refuge from the noise and dust, and the sculptures on display bring out curiosity from beyond the frosted-glass doors.

Gajah Front Door

Gajah Gallery | Courtesy of Gajah Gallery

Archaeology of the Present is a curated commercial show, with pieces selected by independent curator Kamiliah Bahdar. It showcases a variety of sculptures in different materials and styles from artists around the region, ‘excavated’ from Gajah’s collection. The works on show mimic the objects at an excavation site, with the gallery-goer in the same position as an archaeologist would be – a pair of fresh eyes, viewing an object for the first time. While this is a rather conventional premise, the sculptural works on display do fit it well.

The questioning begins with bronze sculptures by Indonesian artist Yunizar. Yunizar’s Deer (2016) is a mystifying combination of the two- and three-dimensional – like a drawing lifted straight out of his sketchbook cast in bronze. Born in West Sumatra, Indonesia, the artist is one of the co-founders of the Jendela Art Group, also represented by Gajah.

Yunizar, Deer (2016) |Courtesy of Gajah Gallery

Yunizar, Deer (2016) | Courtesy of Gajah Gallery

Yunizar’s works in particular capture the childlike and naïve. Deer was made at the gallery’s major initiative in Yogyakarta, the Yogya Art Lab (YAL). YAL is a platform for artists to experiment with different materials away from their current practice, and in the case of Yunizar, his scribbles metamorphosed into a life-sized bronze sculpture – a childish caricature immortalized in solid metal. While the show is largely sculptural, Deer is complemented by drawings on paper that highlight the artist’s connection to paper and pen, acting as another ‘historical’ artifact that informs the viewer’s judgment.

Diving into the trove, Bali-based artist Ashley Bickerton’s works encapsulate the hyper-commercialized lost idyll of his adopted home. Bickerton rose to prominence in New York’s East Village scene in the early 1980s, subsequently spearheading the Neo-Geometric movement alongside contemporaries Jeff Koons, Peter Halley, and Meyer Vaisman. He left for Bali in 1993, being present for the influx of tourism, commercialism, and inevitable dilution of culture. Wahine Pa’Ina (2015) demonstrates the squeaky-clean image of the island getaway that is now Bali through the image of Bickerton’s wife, barely dressed but entirely chromed. The figure is beautiful and grotesque all at once – the woman herself a strikingly tall, modelesque island beauty, while the silver coating and the basket of fruit and flowers around her waist appear analogous with the excesses of commercialism. Her eyes bear the last remaining marks of a seemingly distant reality.

Ashley Bickerton, Wahine Pa'ina (2015) | Courtesy of Gajah Gallery

Ashley Bickerton, Wahine Pa’ina (2015) | Courtesy of Gajah Gallery

A contrast from the monochrome sculpture is Kumari Nahappan’s Movement 1 (2016). The sapling has multiple layers of patina that create an easy color gradient, consistent with the idea of growth. It is restrained – more so than the artist’s previous works. Nahappan is well known for her larger-than-life sculptures of fruit and vegetables, such as the giant pepper located behind the National Museum of Singapore, or the nutmeg set in front of Ion Orchard. Movement 1 distances itself through its unique coloration and unusual sleekness.

Kumari Nahappan, Movement 1 | Courtesy of Gajah Gallery

Kumari Nahappan, Movement 1 (2016)  | Courtesy of Gajah Gallery

While there may not be many artifacts, this dig is worth the trek. The exhibition, while small, has works on show that force you to question the past, present, and future of contemporary Southeast Asian art.

Archaeology Of The Present is on display at the Gajah Gallery until August 13, 2016.

Gajah Gallery, 39 Keppel Road #03-04, Singapore, +65 6737 4202