Min­i­mal ef­fort

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.

Esquire (Singapore) - - Portfolio | Feature - Words by Wayne Cheong

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

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