Creating An Art Gallery

24 08 2006

Is it a gallery or museum? Does it serve the public, or does it serve as a platform for the artists to air their voice? And is there such a thing as a museum that provides exhibition space for artwork that can only thrive out of the context of a sterile gallery? What is the context of a museum in the context of Singapore, when subsistence has ceased to be an issue decades ago, and it is assumed that culture would flourish henceforth, yet there is instead a dearth of awareness in the public for art. What had gone wrong?

Art, in the context of Asia, has always taken on forms very unlike the western notion. The Asian art is more like a craft, a product of an expertly skilled artisan who has injected his sense of aesthetic. Chinese paintings, while serving as bona fide artworks in the European sense of the word, are meant for private collection and appreciation by a select few. Indian art are often religious artefacts crafted with immense skill, installed on temples, not so much for the appreciation of their execution but rather for their moralistic commissions. And traditional Islamic artwork consist largely of illuminated scrolls, fine intricate works of calligraphy depicting the words of the Koran, designed to conform to decrees of the religious leaders, who often abhor imagery of any kind. Tapestries, a common theme in the royal courts of both Europe and the Middle East, somehow feel out of favour with our Muslim forefathers.

As such, the appreciation of artwork solely as a detached exercise has never been a part of our culture. And Singapore has never really had its own bourgeois, for our founding fathers have nearly all left home penniless, all hoping for a stab at a comfortable life beyond the South China Seas. So what context does a western-styled museum have with a Singaporean society whose culture never knew what it was? Is it a cruel joke that this neo-colonialism is housed within buildings of the old British Administration?

Are we, as architects, to create a building that is blanched of such vestiges of purported neo-colonialism, or are we to cast aside such lofty pretensions and accept that in this age of globalisation it is naïve to believe that one can still be detached from the overwhelming cultural overtures of western civilisation? And what device do we employ to generate interest and interaction from a public that has never been cultured and schooled in having museum visits as part of their everyday life?

And even as we debate this issue, are we discriminating against non-institutionalised art forms by creating sterile white boxes in climate controlled rooms that, if the curators had their way, have the visitors dress up in bunny suits (and I don’t mean your playboy variety) so that they will not leave traces of destructive oils and whatnots. Do we need to be sensitive to them, or can we sideline these fringe-arts?

As a building within the context of an Asian society, especially within one where we openly embrace the western philosophies as a means to economic prosperity, we are internally convoluted as dissent voices shout out to us not to forget our past, our heritage. We as architects in Asia have an additional baggage of identity that we, more often than not, choose to ignore, wondering why our peers in Europe or America have it easier.

In creating a public museum, such subtexts need to be brought forth; otherwise, it is simply using a western architectural language to house a largely western notion of culture. The museum should actively engage the pedestrian, and to form some kind of narration, paralleling the traditional Hindu temples or Islamic scrolls as conduits for the art to communicate, rather than simply being a vessel to contain all that art. There must be morphological dialogue with its context, yet at the same time, like all eastern centres of artistic enlightenment or western museums, a degree of iconography to give dignity to the works displayed.

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2 responses

26 08 2006
astermei

precisely. objects of art and emblems of a culture should be housed in a place that is congruent to the objects it displays and not merely as unrelated entities. the space in which such items are displayed to ignite an appreciation in the public should serve to flow in sync with them. i think. but what do i noe.blush. can’t wait to see what you come up with=)

26 08 2006
kiat Tan

Quite rightly so. But look at the museums in the region. Colonial building after colonial building, all containing white boxes as a context-less container for the arts. Sad, isn’t it?

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