The Ties That Bind
Singapore’s grand new National Gallery has thrown open the doors to its epic collection at a time of rising global fascination with the art of Southeast Asia, writes Madeleine Ross
ontemporary art from Southeast Asia has fallen into the slipstream of its lucrative Chinese counterpart in the past few years, capturing the attention of auction houses, galleries and collectors around the globe. From group exhibitions at the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York to one man shows at Beijing’s Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, the compelling, often confronting and intensely urban work from contemporary artists in Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore is making headlines and commanding soaring prices.
The interest in the region’s creative output, however, is seemingly not restricted to contemporary art. In fact, the rising tide for contemporary pieces appears to be buoying interest in the work of the region’s modern masters. When Bathing in the Shower by the late Indonesian artist Hendra Gunawan went under the hammer at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in October last year, the oil painting sold for HK$9.7 million. That price was reportedly more than five times higher than the most expensive Southeast Asian painting sold at Sotheby’s first auction of the region’s work in 1996 in Singapore. The public, it seems, wants to know and see more.
The ground could not be more fertile, then, for the launch of the National Gallery Singapore, which has the largest public collection of modern art from Southeast Asia. Housed in two grand national monuments, the former Supreme Court and City Hall