Critics’ Picks

Tan Teng-Kee, Fire Sculpture, 1979, metal, wooden poles, newspaper, dimensions variable. From the work The Picnic.


“A Fact Has No Appearance: Art Beyond the Object”

National Gallery Singapore
1 St. Andrew's Rd
January 22–June 19

Each of the three artists here is a maverick in his respective art scene: Redza Piyadasa, in 1972, created The Great Malaysia Landscape, the first image to deconstruct landscape painting in Malaysia; Johnny Manahan was the first artist in the Philippines to work with video; and Tan Teng-Kee’s 1979 The Picnic has been described as the first “happening” in Singapore. Their practices question the nature of the art object and thus relate to the larger Conceptual art discourse in the 1960s and ’70s.

Artworks in “A Fact Has No Appearance,” like the title’s linguist paradox, are eclipsed by ideas bigger than what they represent. Many of these works are predominately defined through a dense presentation of facsimiles and archival documents, while the original pieces are ephemeral, persisting only in the historical narratives spun from them. This is exemplified in the exhibition’s centerpiece: photo-documentation of Tan’s 1979 The Picnic. Although influenced by Joseph Beuys, Tan claims he had no inclination toward happenings but was more concerned with formalism.

Also represented through archival materials are works that were exhibited at regional and international platforms, such as Tan’s Rider, 1983, and Manahan’s video works Chose I and Chose II, both 1982. One of the most significant tenets of the exhibition is its silence on any direct exchange between the three artists. Thus, the preconceived regionalism of Southeast Asia that viewers may bring to the exhibition proves a tenuous supposition. What we often assume is a static region is, in fact, a convention endorsed by diplomatic vehicles such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Just as historical legacies can form around absent objects, assumed facts rarely need an appearance. However, exhibitions such as this one expose narrative layers; history rarely sits idle and pretty.