Our writer takes a crash course in art minimalism by venturing to the joint exhibition by the National Gallery Singapore and the ArtScience Museum, called Minimalism: Space. Light. Object.
IN A CONSUMERIST WORLD, minimalism is the one errant fish that swims against the current. Minimalism is an umbrella term. It’s a hydra with its many heads adorned with a crown specific to its principle. We’re aware of the minimalist concept of decluttering with Marie Kondo as its sainted patron or Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’, a urinal that’s part of his readymade series, which philosopher, Richard Wollheim, saw as the “paradigm of minimal art” but do we really know what minimalism is; especially when applied in the art world? Can I, a professional cynic, look at Liu Jianhua’s ‘Blank Paper’ (2012) and see past its desolate white plains? Can I stare at Tan Ping’s ‘+40m’ (2012) and push aside the notion that it resembles an unspooled toilet roll?
That is what the director of the National Gallery Singapore, Dr Eugene Tan, wants to change: the maligned understanding of what we perceive minimalist art to be. In a joint venture between the National Gallery Singapore and ArtScience Museum, the exhibition, Minimalism: Space. Light. Object. comprises 150 works from high-profile artists like Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor and regional ones like teamLab and Tang Da Wu. Visitors can follow the rise and evolution of the minimalist art movement from the 1950s to now, especially when, according to Honor Harger, executive director of ArtScience Museum, it rests on “the notions of the cosmological void, emptiness and nothingness”. Heavy stuff. But first, here’s the run-down of what minimalist art is. Birthed in America in the early 1960s, as an upright fist against the commonplace Abstract Expressionism movement: minimalism. It’s a return to basic elements, an economy of materials that isn’t representative of any external aspects of the real world or emotion; the artwork is reality. This creates an intimate moment between patron and work. As Frank Stella, one of the pioneers of the minimalist movement, said of his paintings: “What you see is what you see.”
Minimalist art is recognised by several core attributes: repetition (multiple images of simple geometric shapes); monochromaticism (limited use of colours); objects stripped down to their bare essentials (no frills, no garnishing).
While the rest of the world soon cottoned on to the Minimalist movement, in Asia, minimalism was already evident in its religions and philosophical teachings like Zen Buddhism or the Taoist principle of wú wèi (无为). Minimalism would also seep out of the canvases of the works of Carmen Herrera and Mark Rothko into other mediums like music (John Cage, Philip Glass), video (Yvonne Rainer, Nam June Paik), performance art (Zhang Yu, Trisha Brown), space (Mona Hatoum, Donald Judd), and others.
The exhibition is spread out over the two venues of the ArtScience Museum and the National Gallery Singapore, where we start our tour. What follows are some of the highlights of Minimalism: Space. Light. Object.
Minimalism: Space. Light. Object. will run until 14 April 2019. The exhibition is held at the National Gallery Singapore (1 St Andrew's Road) and the ArtScience Museum (6 Bayfront Avenue). This is a ticketed event.
Tatsuo Miyajima examines mass deaths through ‘Mega Death’, where lighted LED numbers count down and blinker out, only to see it repeat—another life takes its place—a Buddhist concept of reincarnation. ‘Mega Death’ 1999/2016 LED, IC, electric wire and infrared sensorTatsuo Miyajima