Art, for public’s sake

Companies like CapitaLand are making strides in promoting art to the public

Issue: Nov 2009

Shimmering Pearl.
This prominent artwork in downtown Singapore, commissioned by CapitaLand for Capital Tower, Singapore, was created by local artist Han Sai Por. Inspired by nature, the playful sculpture made of glass, granite and steel provides a contrast to the dignified character of the building

Much importance is placed nowadays on making art accessible to the public. New museums, such as the latest Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, are popping up everywhere, often at lavish budgets; while art exhibitions and festivals take turns to be the toast of the town, the ultimate conversation starter.

Commissions for artwork in public spaces, whether by state or private entities, meanwhile continue to pour in at an unabated pace. One of the latest of such commissions is Antony Gormley’s “One & Other” at Trafalgar Square in the UK. The project involves 2,400 members of the public devoting one hour of their lives to becoming part of this “live” artwork in the heart of London, for 100 days, 24 hours a day, from July 6. Talk about art being accessible to the public, indeed.

But it wasn’t always like this. Until the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, art had belonged to the private realm of the privileged. Artists worked under the system of patronage, producing works on the order of aristocrats, the Church and the court, who enjoyed the masterpieces in the privacy of their own space and time. “The public aspect of art didn’t properly exist then,” said Gabriel Cabello, an art historian.

The turning point came during the Enlightenment, with increasing appreciation of the public as arbiters of taste. It was also during this period that institutions housing artworks for public viewing, or museums, were created, for the twin purposes of preserving patrimony and public education.

Back to the public sphere

Still, the art market has evolved such that many important works continue to remain in private hands today, and out of the public’s reach. Thankfully there are new players on the field – corporate entities who buy art and decorate their offices and buildings with those works, bringing art back into the public sphere.

“Enterprises can help restore the public dimension that the Enlightenment gave to art,” said Cabello.

Here in Singapore, CapitaLand is actively bringing art to the public by displaying works at public spaces at its properties. At Ascott Singapore Raffles Place, for example, is “Singapore Memoirs” by Ketna Patel. It pays tribute to Singapore’s past with its iconic images of Singapore pop culture in the 1950s rendered in vibrant hues.


Ketna Patel’s piece at the Ascott Singapore Raffles Place evokes memories of old Singapore

The artist explained: “As the building in which the artwork was to be housed was part of a larger historical, architectural framework, my response would have to be a pictorial storytelling of Singapore's 'yesterday'. Using a montage of symbols, icons, people, colour, pattern etc, I was to recreate a nostalgic collage of the 'older' Singapore.”

“I hoped that the work could 'arrest' time by making the viewer stop, and slowly take a stroll through the collage of popular culture that I had carefully researched.”

Art at ION Orchard

A few subway stops away, in downtown Orchard Road, the real estate group’s latest shopping sensation ION Orchard drives a dedicated arts programme for new and multi-media art, featuring contemporary works of established and emerging artists and designers.

“CapitaLand has an interesting concept and approach for ION Orchard: it creates public awareness of art alongside a hip shopping experience,” noted a local curator Tan Haur.

Fronting ION Orchard is Singapore artist Kumari Nahappan’s “Nutmeg & Mace”. Made of bronze and weighing two tonnes, this giant nutmeg was conceptualised based on the historical, geographical and cultural backdrop of Orchard Road, which used to be a nutmeg plantation.

“What we are doing is [for art] to reach a larger audience, to appeal to people from different walks of life,” Nahappan told INSIDE.

“I hope it (Nutmeg & Mace) is something that will inspire them, provoke them and evoke a lot of senses.”

A right match


Swiss artist Kurt Laurenz Metzler’s sculpture “Building People” at Capital Tower aligns aptly with CapitaLand’s credo

Step into the lobby of Capital Tower, and you will see Swiss artist Kurt Laurenz Metzler’s sculpture ‘Building People’. The art work integrates shapes of buildings and human beings to form a towering figure of Man, who is proud of his achievements, yet protective of the people with him. The various figurines represent human endeavour and resilience, while the buildings project continuous economic growth and the success of the enterprise. The art work was acquired by CapitaLand as it aligns aptly with the company’s credo of Building People.

“Bringing art into shopping malls and office buildings makes art accessible to the public,” said Metzler. “This is an excellent trend that has been happening for some time in the US and the UK. Art softens and enhances the environment, making it more aesthetically pleasing and creates a draw for the public. It makes the building a destination in itself and sets it apart from others.”

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