On 27 September 2014, yet another art salon was organised by Art Stage and hosted at Pearl Lam Galleries (located at Gillman Barracks). The discussion sought to explore why and in what ways contemporary abstract art has the potential to become both a meaningful focus of artistic production in Southeast Asia, as well as a highly collectible type of art in the region.
The topic Collecting Contemporary Abstract Art: What Is With Southeast Asia? was addressed by a panel of speakers namely British conceptual artist Peter Peri; Director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore (ICAS) Bala Starr; Contemporary Southeast Asian art collector Hogi Hyun; and was moderated by the curator Amelia Abdullahsani-Gerick.
Starr kick-started the salon by giving a very brief overview of abstraction. In summary, she said that in creating an abstract piece of art, process is valued over product. There is constantly an opposition of information that sparks a sort of functionality that remains present in such an artform in the 21st century. She added that there is indeed a surge in the number of abstract exhibitions, especially during the 1990s in America, which inadvertently influenced other parts of the world like Asia to follow suit.
The significance of time in relation to the abstract art period is crucial. Especially so in terms of formal abstraction, when the scale and process is of utmost importance to the artist. It connects with the very environment they are affected by, whether politically, socially, economically and so on. Due to the nature of the genre, the concept of value becomes tricky because the works deal with concrete concepts and ideas but abstract value. Therefore, more and more people feel the need to understand and identify with abstraction in the 21st century. Additionally, Starr asserted that abstract works of art bear a sense of consistency in relation to history, ‘they’ are part of a trend in the art world; that has the ability to spark interest in artists to spearhead research in the field of visual arts – a meaningful endeavor.
Peri is a living example. A former street and graffiti artist, he spoke enthusiastically about the importance of the practice of abstract art. Having been influenced by his grandfather, Laszlo Péri, an artist who was part of the modernist and constructivist movements, Peri identified abstraction as a space with leakages; a symptom to add weight symbolically to limited forms. He hopes for a deeper understanding of the historical perspective of abstract paintings which involves complex processes that seem to require more excavation.
From the viewpoint of a seasoned collector, Hyun believes there is an absence of a deep rooted tradition in abstraction here as compared to the West that had produced great masters like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Paul Klee amongst others. Therefore he has reservations on whether contemporary society can be effectively presented through abstract works in Southeast Asia when the level of understanding and appreciation of abstract art is still at the developmental stage. However, he does see the potential for abstract art to be the next big thing in this region because there are notable local artists like Jane Lee, Ian Woo and Jeremy Sharma who have taken a very admirable attitude towards creating abstract works.
With regard to the topic of collecting abstract art, the panelists agreed that it has been a rewarding journey for all of them thus far. They mentioned that they personally look forward to art that can transform an emotional experience into something ‘physical’ for them; adding that the transition and synthesis of these emotions conveyed through the works are important. Regardless of the genre of art, it is a reflection of society. Overall, the material construction and ambiguous titles of abstract works often leave much room for contemplation and provides a complicated experience for viewers; but it is an activating presence. This is why contemporary abstract art has the potential to become both a meaningful focus of artistic production in Southeast Asia, as well as a highly collectible type of art in the region.
Written by Tessa Ann Wong