Take a walk around Singapore and you'd be surprised at how areas of the city have been transformed into outdoor museums of sorts. They create a kind of artistic joie de vivre for residents as they go about daily lives, coming into contact with art installation after art installation. Most of these works tend to be monumental sculptures that have popped up in gardens, plazas and atriums, even over water — away from the (sometimes stifling) confines of an actual gallery or museum.
Prominent pieces to date include Spanish artist Fernando Botero's Reclining Woman, which poses gracefully by the entrance of The St. Regis Hotel Singapore; Malaysian-born artist Kumari Nahappan's Nutmeg & Mace outside ION Orchard; local sculptor Han Sai Por's Seed Series scattered around the Esplanade waterfront; Turner Prize-winner Anish Kapoor's outdoor Sky Mirror at Marina Bay Sands; David Chan's Utama's Cat on the front lawn of the Singapore Art Museum, which was unveiled in January as a celebration of Singapore's 50th year...and the list goes on. So plentiful are such outdoor works that there are even art and sculpture trails that take visitors on tours of these iconic pieces.
More recently, 15 colossal bronze sculptures from renowned Chinese sculptor Ju Ming's Taichi Series — of human-like figures practising t'ai chi — have gone on display at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, where they will remain until April 16. According to Helina Chan, the founder of iPreciation art gallery (which represents Ju), this is the first time such an extensive range of his Taichi sculptures has ever been exhibited altogether at one public venue.
“[Artworks] placed outdoors beautify the space, and also show a momentum between the two,” says Ju, who previously showed his bronze works at Paris's Mont-Royal Park and at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate among other art-forward cities.
Like him, celebrated English sculptor Henry Moore had the same penchant of taking his art outdoors. “I find sculpture more natural [in the open air] than in a London studio. [A] large piece of stone or wood placed almost anywhere at random in a field, orchard or garden immediately looks right and inspiring,” Moore was quoted saying in The Sculptor Speaks, an art history tome by Herschel B Chipp and Alice Correia.
Rarely is it merely an issue of size that compels an artist or gallery to display outdoors. Ju could have well-fitted his entire oeuvre of t'ai chi-inspired works (that range from 1m-3m high and weigh between 200kg and 2,000kg) indoors, as he previously did at the Singapore Art Museum in 2004. So what are these reasons, for taking art public? Four personalities in the local arts scene speak out.
“Visually and conceptually, artworks are a great fit to the [outdoor] environment. For one, the Singapore Botanic Gardens is an ideal landscape for Ju Ming's Taichi works. It makes the sculptures look even more stunning and in turn, these works embellish the gardens. Next, the artists get to share their art with more people and the public gets to see rare art pieces for free. [Public] exhibitions are also increasingly becoming tourist attractions. Such art shows can help build the offerings and image of Singapore as an Art City that it envisions.”
Stéphane Le Pelletier
“Displaying work beyond the bounds of the gallery is a great way to interact with the public. Galleries may gain exposure for their works and may also potentially [reach out] to people who are not as familiar with the represented artists. In fact, presenting works publicly almost predates galleries themselves; it is inherent within art. In Singapore, I [would recommend] Robert Indiana's Love (at Winsland House II along Penang Road) and Henry Moore's Large Reclining Figure (at OCBC Chulia Street).”
Director, Prudential Global Eye Programme
“Art outdoors can be the first way many people discover art and then learn more about it. For example, Antony Gormley's Angel of the North [which stands on a hill in Tyneside, UK] inspired many to think more about art. Rachel Whiteread's House, which was installed in a park in East London, only lasted around six months (it was a temporary commission) but generated a huge amount of debate about the value of public art. ”
Singapore Art Museum
“Public artworks connect people to a sense of place and belonging. Take Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate; it is now an iconic landmark in its own right [being] so closely identified with a particular place (Millenium Park in Chicago). Also, many artists create these works with the characteristics of the surroundings in mind. As a result, such art transforms the public environs and encourages us to see our surroundings anew.”