‘Take your photograph and go. Thank you.”
You’d think I had done something wrong! That I’d p***ed someone off. No, that was our orders given by a gallery assistant at the National Gallery Singapore. In and out, bish bash bosh, that is how it felt when we were at the exhibition. Shame, it really tainted what could have been one of the best exhibitions I have been too.
I am all for art reaching the masses. The world should be more colourful! It is great to see an artist appeal to such an array of fans and that is what Yayoi Kusama has done. You’ll have seen her work on the likes of Victoria Beckham’s and tons of influential blogger’s Instagram feeds. But when that popularity means we can’t actually appreciate the work anymore and the viewing sessions are timed on an iPad, that is when I start questioning what the point of it all is?
At the National Gallery, you’ll find Yayoi Kusama’s exhibition named ‘Life is the Heart of a Rainbow’ on
until 3rd September. As quoted in the gallery leaflet she is ‘known for her iconic dots, nets, pumpkins and infinity rooms’ which has caught the attention of millions of people. Bright, intricate, fun but with a deeper, more sinister meaning, her work is truly fascinating. Using paintings, sculptures, installations and video, Yayoi’s work traces back to when she experienced ‘hallucinations where her surroundings are covered completely with the pattern of polka-dots or nets…’ As mentioned in my post A Whirlwind Day in Singapore we were really excited to see her work, but so were hundreds of other people.
Like a ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, we had to queue to see each of Yayoi’s famous infinity rooms. There were signs up saying ’15-20 minute wait from here.’ After 20 minutes waiting, you were allowed 20 seconds in the rooms. Whilst in ‘Gleaming Lights of the Souls’ I had enough time for one photograph and for me to say ‘wow Pete, this is pretty cool. How many actual…’ ‘Thank you, next please.’ Oh right, great. It occurred to us that no-one was looking at any of her paintings or her sculptures. Instead, they passed through these spaces checking how the photograph from the infinity room looked and uploading it to Instagram. It felt like there were only a handful of us that wanted to actually delve into the artist’s work and not just have photos to boost our Instagram following.
The website High Snobiety has rightfully named Yayoi Kusama as ‘Instagram’s Favourite Artist’ and I couldn’t agree more. However, they say that many people are taking the insta-snaps as a way of interacting with her work. I don’t agree, instead they are only thinking of themselves and how awesome the dots will look online. It’s damaging, not only to how we experienced this exhibition but to her work itself! On more than one occasion, mindless selfie-takers have over-stepped the line and damaged Yayoi’s pieces. That’s interaction for you! It really is a shame for those of us that genuinely wished we had the time to admire her work, who wished to spend more than 20 seconds to appreciate the piece and look deeper into what we can see.
In Gillman Barracks Arts Cluster we also witnessed more work from Yayoi Kusama – she is literally everywhere right now! This time (probably because there were no infinity rooms) there were no teens with selfie sticks, no queues and no timers, we were able to view the work in peace. This exhibition, named ‘Colour Song’ focused on her netting paintings. I could get up close and see the circle painting technique she used. Thousands, maybe millions, of tiny hand-painted circles cover the canvas creating a netting of little dots. This links back to where the polka-dot work began and ties directly to the hallucinations Yayoi has experienced.
Within the small galleries at Gillman Barrack you will find some beautiful work from silk paintings to video, from furniture design to photography. There is street art on the sides of the buildings, workshop spaces and cafes with tons of art magazines. These art spaces are set in a former military barracks. We entered the gallery by strolling along Singapore’s Southern Ridges trail. This trail is made up of canopies and bridges that weave through the forest of Singapore with views of the urban jungle below. Although only a few minutes, you feel miles away from the city.
Free to enter, a great way to spend the afternoon and a fantastic use of the old barrack spaces. If you find yourself strolling in the area, pop in! Unfortunately the galleries were really quiet and it upsets me that places like this aren’t thriving more, so go and help them out!
Another exhibition I should mention is again at the National Gallery. Here you’ll find ‘Children’s Biennale: Dreams and Stories’, with a piece by teamLab. ‘…discover art in a whole new way. Explore dreams and stories through site-specific installations, interactive artworks and music performance.’ TeamLab also have a similar exhibition on at the ArtScience Museum alongside two other exhibitions. One exploring our voyage into space using art and artefacts. The third, like walking into the set of i-robot, Ex-Machina or Terminator, is named ‘Human+’, this explores our relationship with robots.
I could write pages and pages about Singapore’s art scene, but with only a short stay here, our time (like our time looking at Yayoi’s rooms) came to an end. I loved so much about this city and it’s art, and yes, although the exhibition was upsetting and stressful, don’t let that take away from how wonderful Yayoi Kusama’s work is. Maybe this is the way art galleries are now? Technology, especially our phones, are such a huge part of our daily life that why wouldn’t it be part of visiting an art exhibition too? Maybe I’m just too old and care too much about artwork and don’t care at all about taking selfie’s. Perhaps there should be a rule, no phones allowed? Or maybe they have two lots of showing times – one for genuine fans and one for Instagramers. But then again, we did still take pictures, so am I actually just another narcissist? I hope not, as I know we still would have gone to see her work whether phones were allowed or not, and I probably would have preferred it more if they weren’t. But as I said before, it is great that an artist can appeal to so many people, so maybe I should just put up with the consequence of that?