Critics’ Picks

Holly Zausner, Second Breath, 2004–05, Super 16 mm and video, color, sound, 11 minutes.

Holly Zausner, Second Breath, 2004–05, Super 16 mm and video, color, sound, 11 minutes.


“The Gift”

National Gallery Singapore
1 St. Andrew's Rd
August 20–November 7, 2021

“The Gift” is one of four linked exhibitions taking place across Singapore, Jakarta, Berlin, and Chiang Mai, Thailand, as part of “Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories,” an ambitious project headed by curators Anna-Catharina Gebbers, Grace Samboh, Gridthiya Gaweewong, and June Yap, who have been charting a dialogue between the collections of their respective institutions since 2017.

“Gift” is the German word for poison, a paradox ripe for the picking. The philosophical conundrums of gifting, a gesture that lies at the heart of rituals across human cultures, is an intriguing curatorial concept, yet one that never quite carries through in this thirteen-artist show, which wanders across time and subject matter from Turkic shamanism (Joseph Beuys’s Energiestab, 1974) to Thailand’s Got Talent (Korakrit Arunanondchai’s …I wonder where Duangjai Jansaonoi is now?, 2018). Still, there are captivating works here, such as Holly Zausner’s Second Breath, 2004–05, a noirish performance in which the German artist lugs anthropoid sculptures made of brightly colored silicone through the landmarks of Berlin. The imagery flickers between comic and tender, with Zausner giving life to each absurd, ungainly form by cradling, carrying, wrestling, dancing, and swimming with them through the twilit city. The dichotomy recalls nothing so much as the relationship between mother and child.

Much on view finds a new context—a fresh entanglement—in post-2020 Singapore. Some of the concepts feel quaint after a hellish year, while others, from the devastated natural world to imperiled women’s rights, take on more weight than ever. We may well see more and more joint efforts like this in a world of lockdowns and beleaguered institutions increasingly unable to maintain their holdings. In any case, the exhibition’s title is a misnomer: This show emphatically suggests that artworks should be understood not as gifts, but as something shared between us all.