Iskandar Jalil

National Gallery Singapore
1 St. Andrew's Rd
September 1–February 28

Iskandar Jalil, Sit the Chair, 2006, cobalt and copper barium, glazes, stoneware, 18 x 8 1/2 x 7".

No matter how “smart” our objects may now be, we don’t expect them to discern whether they’re used correctly, or if it all. But Iskandar Jalil believes there is such a thing as an ethical pot or vessel: It embodies the maker’s aesthetic ideals and value placed on the medium. A pot made in the right frame of mind would actualize the spiritual dimensions, time, and place of its creation, similar to how a bottle of wine can disclose much about the conditions and influences of its site of origin. Such a theory may carve out a space, in fine art, for studio pottery—a mode of artmaking that has come about only within the last century—cracking a strained boundary between the categories of artist and artisan, one tested by the mid-twentieth-century emergence of modernism’s insistence that art refuse any functionality. Iskandar, a Singaporean artist whose course of practice dovetailed with the ascendancy of the nascent group movement of the Modern Art Society in Southeast Asia in the mid-1960s, initiated the discourse around the intersection of ceramics’ functional underpinnings and modernism’s fascination with the new; here, he presents a survey of works made from that time to the present.

References from decades of extensive travels appear throughout Iskandar’s sculptures, all made from local clay: Vessels are covered in Arabic-Jawi and Roman text and incorporate influences such as Japanese shibui and wabi-sabi, while his signature blue glazes are inspired by land- and skyscapes across Scandinavia. Certain works such as the undated (Untitled) (Mangkuk Tingkat)—a stack of stoneware tiffin boxes—and (Untitled) Water Container, 1999, can fulfill what are apparently their utilitarian purposes. However, many others serve more poetic means, including the ongoing, undated “Culture” vessels, a series of totemic pillars, each one too narrow for the wooden ladles that crown them; Untitled (Mother and Child), 2004, a pair of codependent, multitextured donut-shaped azure moldings that prop each other up; and the undated amorous S curve of She, a vertical stoneware strip that folds back in a slight, provocative recline and is adorned with a single delicate broach sphere. We may no longer employ ceramicists to make dishes; these humble forms transcend tugs of obligation.

Jennifer Piejko

Viktor & Rolf

National Gallery of Victoria
180 St. Kilda Road, and Federation Square
October 21–February 26

Viktor & Rolf, “NO Collection” (detail), 2008–2009.

Since launching their couture house in 1998, Dutch fashion designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren—also known as Viktor & Rolf—have been lauded for their imaginative womens-wear lines and runway performances that so often directly respond to the conventions of the high-fashion industry. Here, over forty of Viktor & Rolf’s most iconic haute-couture and ready-to-wear pieces are displayed on headless mannequins standing on low-lying plinths. Interspersed with these displays are miniature versions of their designs on porcelain dolls, one of which is a robot that walks, waves, and turns on a scaled-down runway. Placed in front of wallpaper that features thousands of the duo’s design sketches spanning their entire career, standout pieces include a gray wool trench coat featuring a three-dimensional rendering of the word “NO” protruding from under its collar, and a fanned black pleated dress suspended from an aluminum harness with small runway spotlights and working speakers attached, intended to be mounted on the shoulders of some unfortunate model.

Presented in beautiful lighting, Viktor & Rolf’s “Russian Doll” collection, 1999–2000, comprises nine jute haute-couture dresses that are as much nostalgic remnants of the duo’s 1999 autumn launch as they are fresh displays of impeccable craftsmanship. (For its inaugural unveiling, the designers themselves dressed the doll-like model Maggie Rizer as she stood on a rotating platform: Rizer began the performance of sorts outfitted in a frayed burlap slip before gradually being transformed into a heavy haute-couture sculpture.) While one premise of the National Gallery of Victoria exhibition—that fashion can be art—seems a symptom more of status anxiety than of serious inquiry, it is Viktor & Rolf’s technical proficiency that resonates most strongly here, transforming borderline gimmicks into exquisite experiments with line, shape, color, and volume.

Wes Hill