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Not Against Interpretation: Untitled


“While the appreciation of art has largely been perceived to be a visual affair, it is also a process that is often mediated by text. After, artistic intentions and artwork subject matter are frequently conveyed to viewers through words, writings, and most of all, artwork titles.

If names matter, what can we say about untitled artworks that seem to say nothing, or quite possibly everything? To what extent to text and image attach meaning to art? Without titles and established commentaries, is it yet possible to gain a genuine encounter with art?”


All the works displayed at the Not Against Interpretation: Untitled exhibition at Singapore Art Museum are missing something vital that every work in other exhibitions have – a title. Not Against Interpretation: Untitled contains art works from local artists, and each of them are open to be named by the public. Each display had nameplates that the public can insert a slip of paper with their title of the display.


Untitled, the second edition in SAM’s Not Against Interpretation series, draws from a selection of the National Heritage Board collection of untitled works. While artists’ motivations for presenting their works as untitled ones may vary, many untitled works are frequently meant to allow viewers to discover meaning through their own perspectives. Besides artistic intent, viewers’ interpretations of artworks also play a significant role in the definition of an artwork. In this exhibition, visitors are welcome to suggest suitable titles, placed alongside the artwork, as part of the exhibition objectives of opening up new readings in the experience of contemporary art. Not Against Interpretation is an experimental platform aimed at nurturing appreciation for contemporary art, and invites visitors to interpret the artworks in their own way based on their experiences with the artists’ works.


Of course, giving such an opportunity to the public predictably came with the risk of nonsensical titles for the work of art. I had to laugh at some when I saw some of the titles written. Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball”, seriously? But many of the titles had a lot of thought put into them, and I was impressed by how they really suited the display, almost as if the artist himself had named it.


Ahmad Abu Bakar made Untitled (Chair) in response to the rising consumerism of 1990s Singapore where portable music players became popular and frequently seen to be used by commuters on public transportation. The work was a reconstruction of an earlier piece, since lost, which Bakar made in 1992 at The Space exhibition at Hong Bee Warehouse. At this exhibition, participating artists created new works utilizing found objets from the disused warehouse. The work became a subject of discussion during a sculpture forum, and critics have interpreted its form as a representative of the electric chair, itself symbolic of capital punishment in Singapore. For the artist, it was the state of mental absorption amongst music listeners that was of his primary interest in the making of the work as the artist reflected on the relationship between meditation and torture.

Art as a form of contemplation continues to be a theme in Bakar’s practice. Much of the ceramics that he subsequently produced through the course of his career stem from the artist’s interest in representing ideas related to the body, mind, cosmos and universe. Born in Malacca, Bakar received his training at the Lasalle College of Fine Arts and the University of Tasmania. Presently a Lasalle lecturer, Bakar is also actively involved in art and community projects, most notably with prisoners.



Emerging in the 1960s Singapore art scene along with artists such as Goh Beng Kwan, Thomas Yeo and Teo Eng Seng, Anthony Poon was part of what is known as second generation artists in Singapore, whose works can be said to define a new characteristic of modernism in Singapore that departed from the Nanyang style. Trained in the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, the Bradford Regional College of Art and the Byam Shaw School of Art in the UK, Poon’s works are largely influenced by Western genres such as Optical Art and colour field theory, which he adapted to create his signature style of abstraction in Singapore. Throughout his career, Poon’s works were distinctive from his peers in terms of his method of pictorial analysis, precision in technique, investigation of issues relating to visual perception in art, as well as the exploration of colour as a visual language. Embedded in many of his geometric-style paintings are the artist’s examination of the relations between colour, form, line, space and surface. Some of his sculptural public commissions can be seen at Tampines Junction, Singapore Turf Club and Old Hill Street Police Station.


Graduating with a diploma in Fine Arts from NAFA, Angeline Choo was actively participation in  ASEAN organized exhibitions through the 1980s and 1990s. Choo’s practice emerged amidst the landscape of a rapidly modernizing Singapore, and painting floral still-life, orchids and nature became the artist’s consistent theme in her practice, as a way of reflecting on the urban development of the city state and lost of natural landscape. Untitled is a rare piece from Choo inspired by a scene in the courtyard of her family home, and features a mundane domestic environment that is at the same time, uncommon as a portrayal of still-life. When Choo’s father, artist and art educator Choo Keng Kwang noticed the laundry in the courtyard one afternoon, he was struck by this unique combination of light and form and urged his daughter to paint it. The work entered the museum collection after it garnered a Distinction Award in the 1988 UOB Painting of the Year competition.

Take this chance to get closer to the raw message of art the way it is without the influence of titles and established commentaries. Not Against Interpretation: Untitled runs at Singapore Arts Museum from 20 July 2013 through 27 April 2014. Admission is free.




Text by Arynah Aminuddin and Singapore Art Museum
Images by Arynah Aminuddin

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