Critics’ Picks

Tang Da Wu, Brother’s Pool, 2013, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Tang Da Wu, Brother’s Pool, 2013, mixed media, dimensions variable.


Tang Da Wu

LASALLE's Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) Singapore
LASALLE College of the Arts 1 McNally Street
March 15–April 10, 2013

As the father of Singapore’s contemporary art community, Tang Da Wu has long been the recipient of fond genuflection, though as the founder of the pioneering group The Artists Village, he has always eschewed the role of figurehead. Twenty-five years after its inception, the city-state’s art scene now buoyed by rhythmic jets of state funding, “Situationist Bon Gun” is a long-overdue institutional outing for Tang’s work, finally securing his place in a regional pantheon of late modernism.

Tang’s latest installations critically reflect the newly instrumentalized status of contemporary art in Singapore. In Banquet (all works 2013), he imagines the aftermath of a feast set for arts bureaucrats. Jagged sheets of glass are corralled in the center and draped with a wine-stained tablecloth, while Van Gogh’s straw chairs—no longer so humble, rendered here in steel—are strewn about, supine, prone, and airborne, bathed in a bilious yellow light. In an adjacent gallery, a cairn, titled Brother’s Pool, is blanketed with shards of shattered mirrors and cordoned off by a steel fence. The stones belonged to the late Catholic educator and sculptor Brother Joseph McNally, founder of the art college that hosts the show. This theme of posthumous appreciation speaks to the state’s relatively new impulse to collect and canonize the modern art it had long ignored and suppressed. But the formal refrain of encompassment suggests that when it finally achieves visibility, art is bound to suffer the same bureaucratization as everything else in Singapore. (Indeed, the Situationist reference is timely—or perhaps fittingly belated—if one recalls Guy Debord’s rejection of Socialism as “bureaucratic capitalism,” a hybrid Singapore may well have perfected.)

Tang’s knack for bent political allegory is most evident in Untitled: A steel sheet purports to be an oversize Penguin edition of Orwell’s 1984, propped up by six white radishes. On the shelf above, a brush bearing the family name of a young nation’s aged founding autocrat is wedged into a glass bowl at an angle that vaguely resembles a guillotine’s blade. It’s a flash of the dissonant ambiguity that made Tang’s reputation, a foil to the mute anxiety of a republic with no public sphere.