“TO BE A LADY” at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Singapore

When I first saw the title for this exhibition I was put off. I’m not fond of the word “Lady”, and honestly, in the art world, when used to refer to an artist the term makes my stomach churn. “Lady” carries many subtle and not so subtle cultural signals, but the first thing that springs to mind is politeness and gentility which is, in the mind of this artist, death to the exploratory impulse. Great work is most certainly not polite. So, I was relieved to learn from the press materials that the title of the exhibition was meant to be a provocation of sorts. Still not in love with the moniker, but in this context it makes sense as a linguistic counterpoint to what is so obviously not a ladylike grouping of artists and work. It is simply strong work and the thread that happens to bind the work together is that it happened to be created by some of the greatest visual voices of the 20th century both past and present.


To Be a Lady was organized by Sundaram Tagore Gallery in collaboration with the Brooklyn-based non-profit Norte Maar. A previous iteration of the exhibition was presented in New York in 2012 at the 1285 Avenue of the Americas Art Gallery in collaboration with 1285 Avenue of the Americas and Jones Lang LaSalle. Both the current and 2012 versions of the exhibition were curated by Jason Andrew.

Sundaram Tagore Gallery has two galleries in New York, and one each in Hong Kong and Singapore. The Singapore gallery is in a gallery district called Gillman Barracks, which is an old regiment barracks that has been converted into a collection of contemporary art galleries in the heart of Singapore.


The photos that follow are some of my favorite works that were included in the exhibition. There was also an exquisite Helen Frankenthaler, but unfortunately I was not allowed to photograph it.

For more information about the exhibition please consult the websites of Sundaram Tagore Gallery and also the website of Norte Maar.




Janice Biala

Red Still Life, 1957

Oil on Canvas, 35″ x 46″, Estate of Janice Biala, courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York


Installation View

From left, Janice Biala, Hermine Ford, Elizabeth Murray, Jane Lee, Lynda Benglis, Ruth Asawa, Viola Frey and

Ghada Amer



Lynda Benglis

Beatrice, 1979

Chicken wire, plaster, gesso and gold leaf 39″ x 19″ x 9″ Courtesy of the artist and Cheim & Read, New York


Dorothea Rockburne

Copal #14, 1977

Kraft Paper, copal oil varnish, Prismacolor pencil #3, 3M 415 tape 39″ x 29″

Courtesy of the artist and Van Doren Waxter Gallery, New York


Hermine Ford

Bird Music, 2012

Oil paint, ink, watercolor, gouache, pencil and colored pencil on canvas on shaped wood panel 87″ x 38 3/4″ x 3/4″

Courtesy of the artist and Norte Maar


Hermine Ford Bird Music (Detail)


Yin Xiuzhen

Body Temperature No. 6, 2010

Clothes, aluminum plate 85.8″ x 25.4″ x 3.9″ Courtesy of the artist and Pace Beijing


Yin Xiuzhen Body Temperature No. 6 (Detail)


Ruth Asawa

Plane Tree #16, 1960

Green ink on coated paper 19″ x 25″ Courtesy Amy Wolf Fine Art and Elrick-Manley Fine Art, New York



Ruth Asawa


Jane Lee

The Jane Lee piece had been taken off the wall for a small repair. It is meant to be wall mounted.


Jane Lee

Juju, 2013

Fry acrylic paint, acrylic heavy gel on fiberglass base canvas 110″ diameter

Courtesy of Sundaram Tagore Gallery


Jane Lee Juju (Detail)

Jane Lee Detail 2

Jane Lee Juju (Detail)


Pat Steir

Painting with red and gold in the center, 2012

Oil on canvas 60″ x 50″ Courtesy of the artist and Cheim & Read, New York


Kristen Jensen

Untitled, 2012

Unglazed porcelain and white oak 31″ x 15″ 19″ Courtesy of the artist and Norte Maar


Grace Hartigan

Pomegranate, 1961-62

Oil on canvas 62 3/4″ x 50″ Private collection, New York


Visible from left: Nancy Grossman, Vanessa German, Shirin Neshat, Dorothea Rockburne, Judith Murray and Niki de Saint Phalle


Niki de Saint Phalle

Study for sculpture Tyrannosaurus Rex, c. 1963

Marker, ink, pencil on paper 14.2″ x 19.3″ Virginia Dwan Collection, New York, courtesy Norte Maar


Niki de Saint Phalle Study for sculpture Tyrannosaurus Rex (Detail)


Judith Murray

Elements, 2011

Oil on linen 36″ x 40″ Sundaram Tagore Gallery


Shirley Goldfarb

Orage, 1955

Oil on canvas 51″ x 76 3/4″

Shirley Goldfarb Estate, courtesy Loretta Howard Gallery, New York


Shirley Goldfarb Orage (Detail)


Shirley Goldfarb Orage (Detail)

The Singapore Biennale

I had the great good fortune of experiencing the Singapore Biennale recently. 2013 marked the 4th Biennale and this year’s title “If the World Changed” was an invitation to the included artists to consider and rethink our world and the world we want to live in. The curators also asked  visitors to contribute their thoughts to the dialogue via an interactive installation.


The 2013 Biennale highlights the works of 82 artists and artist collectives from the Southeast Asian region and beyond. A 27-member curatorial team selected the artists and shaped the vision for this year’s exhibition, and the event is spread across nine venues with the bulk of the work being presented at the Singapore Art Museum, SAM at 8Q, the National Museum of Singapore and the Peranakan Museum. Many of the included works were commissioned for the event.


Zulkifli Yusoff, Rukunegara 1: Belief in God , 2013, Paint, varnish and screen-print on fiberglass, 6 pieces


Rukunegara 1: Belief in God : Detail

It took me two days to see most of the exhibition and some of the works deserved a second visit. Sound was a common element. Many of the works had sound components and some, like the work of Angie Seah, invited the viewer to create their own sound environment. Seah explored the idea of sound as memory. She created a sound console so that the viewer could create their own memories with sound.


Angie Seah, Conducting Memories , 2013, Multimedia Installation

Another work to include sound was Anahata by the artist Kumari Nahappan. The piece is comprised of over 4,000 kg of saga seeds and explores the idea of change in the abstract as potential embodied by the seed and the possibility for growth that seeds contain. In addition to the seeds and the room, there was the subtle sound of a heart beating which heightened the deep red pulsating color of the room.


Kumari Nahappan, Anahata, 2013, Saga seeds, sound, Dimensions variable

There was a lot of video, and many installation works included a video component. I particularly loved the installation Monument for a Present Future by the artist Kiri Dalena from the Philippines.


Kiri Dalena, Monument for a Present Future, 2013, Single-channel video and mixed media installation with wood, clay and stone, Dimensions variable

This work included video that documented the dirt road where 58 people were found after the Maguindanao massacre of 2009.


Monument for a Present Future (Detail)

Many works were interactive and some of the more striking works included sensory elements like smell that heightened their impact. The Great Puddle by Nguyen Huy An used smell to great effect. This work is comprised of a large pool of Chinese ink in the shape of a writing desk. The shimmering reflective surface of the ink and the smell of the liquid magnified the visual impact of the work and added an organic element to what was visually quite stark.


Nguyen Huy An, The Great Puddle , 2009, Installation with Chinese Ink and Plywood

I also really loved the Lam soon soap mops from Leroy Sofyan.


Leroy Sofyan, Chalk & Cheese, 2013, Marble, Lam Soon soap and wood


Chalk & Cheese (Detail)

Many works included text like the work of Iswanto Hartono & Raqs Media Collective.


Iswanto Hartono & Raqs Media Collective, The 5 Principle No-s , 2012

There were also quite a number of works that were composed of collections of objects installed both environmentally and collectively as sculpture. Nasirun’s work Between Worlds used a collection of Wayang puppets inside lit glass vessels to mimic and reference television and popular culture.


Nasirun, Between Worlds , 2013, Installation with leather puppets in glass bottles


Between Worlds (Detail)

Another dynamic collection of objects was the stunning installation created by Oscar Villamiel. Oscar planted a rather macabre garden where thousands of dolls excavated from a landfill in Manilla literally bloomed like damaged and forlorn flowers. The work is called Payatas after the landfill from which the dolls were salvaged. The landfill is home to 200,000 people. Many residents scavenge for anything that can be recycled, re-used or resold, including toys. Payatas is one of the most disturbing and beautiful works I have seen in a long while. I wasn’t able to capture the full impact of the work, but the photos give a small idea of what it was like.


Oscar Villamiel, Payatas , 2012, Mixed media installation with excavated dolls, bamboo rods, zinc shed, wood chips and drawing


Payatas (Detail)


Payatas (Detail)

Another ethereal collection of objects were the “Nuclear” Chandaliers created by Ken and Julia Yonetani.


Ken and Julia Yonetani, Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nuclear Nations , 2012 -2013, UV Lights, uranium glass, 31 pieces

This piece was conceived in response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. The 31 chandeliers represent the 31 world nations with nuclear power and the size of each fixture represents the number of nuclear plants belonging to each nation.


Crystal Palace (Detail)

But above all the human element prevailed at the Biennale. Two works particularly resonated. The video cutouts of Nguyen Trinh Thi captured his artist friends eating as a way to investigate the artists right to freedom of expression and peaceful existence.


Nguyen Trinh Thi, Unsubtitled , 2010, Video projections on wooden cutouts

This piece also used sound to great effect. One could here the figures eating throughout. When one entered the room one could feel the presence of the figures.


Unsubtitled (Detail)

The work of TeamLab also used technology beautifully. They created an interactive environment exploring dance and indigenous festivals in Japan.


teamLab, Peace Can Be Realized Even Without Order , 2012, Interactive digital installation.

This work allowed the viewer to actually interact with the figures. Motion sensors throughout the room caused the work to shift both visually and musically as the viewer moved throughout the room.


Peace Can Be Realized Even Without Order (Detail)

After walking through Peace Can Be Realized Even Without Order several times I came to the conclusion that “if the world changed” I would want the world that teamLab created to remain exactly the same. Each moment in that space was pure magic.

Here is a link to more information about the Singapore Biennale


%d bloggers like this: