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05 March 2016 | Cultivating ambiguity

A sheep, a snake, and Al Capone walk into an art museum…

I made my first (belated) visit to the newly-opened National Gallery Singapore last night. Ah…the smell of fresh paint! Impressive space, a nice melding of the original buildings and new construction. Much too much to see in an evening (but I love the fact that they stay open until 10 p.m. a couple of time each week).

One of a the current shows examines the ideas that drifted into regional art in the 1970s, including Malaysia artist Redza Piyadasa’s take on conceptual work.

While spending some time at the University of Hawaii, a contemporary of Piyadasa’s, Laura Ruby, did not take well to what she saw as “con job art”, creating and displaying the following outside of Piyadasa’s work space:

Caution: Concept development in progress.

What happens if you take a selfie with an eye-patch-wearing snake in a wool sweater? Or, a selfie with a snake while wearing an eye patch and a fluffy, wool sweater? Or, …

Where is that eye patch I made for my pirate costume?

“6. Cultivate ambiguity.”…I do not consider myself a conceptual artist, but I do abide by this. A little ambiguity is a good thing. Purposeful ambiguity, even better.

“8. Acquire protégés and be vague with them.”…Hmmmm…I see potential there…internship, anyone?

I love the fact Piyadasa took it all in stride, posing proudly with the manifesto:

Conceptual, Ambiguous, and Proud.

I find my reactions to conceptual art to be just like my reactions to any other art…some of it I like, some of it I don't. As a practitioner and an appreciator of art, the important thing is to not walk away from something I don’t like, but to give some thought to the deeper reasons why I am reacting to the work the way I am. How do my past memories and experiences color my reactions to something?

When it comes to art, I also layer some additional credibility (and credit-bility) to the first person to do something for the first time. First person to hang a uniform white canvas in an exhibition…okay, I’ll give that to you. Make a career of it or make an exhibiton of various shades/tints/hues of “white”…well, that’s when I get a bit suspicious.

And, sometimes, I just think it is just a con job.

Ambiguously yours,

— Ken


The “A Fact Has No Appearance: Art Beyond the Object” exhibition continues through 19 June 2016 at the National Gallery Singapore.

No snakes were squeezed in the making of this post.

Original photographs by Peter T. Brown. Reasonable facsimiles reproduced here facilitated by the National Gallery of Singapore’s thankfully-liberal policy on photography.

P.S. I very much like the striped staircases that the museum inherited from the former Supreme Court building:

I like stripes.

Collated in brain kibble and observations | permanent link

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.
— Margaret Atwood