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Newsletter 274

Published February 16, 2019
Black hole in Singapore

There was a lot of feedback last week about the website derailment, for which I can only apologise, while blaming the unknown gremlins of the Internet. I’m still closing in on the long-awaited redesign, which should boost security, and allow scope for more content, including the small Good Weekend pieces I’ve been writing and an archive for these newsletters.

This week’s art column springs from a visit to Singapore that I squeezed in between Laos and Taiwan recently. I’ve had plenty of reservations over the years about the Singaporean approach to art and culture, but this time I was really impressed by the way the National Gallery is getting its act together. Minimalism:Space.Light.Object. held in collaboration with the ArtScience Museum, is an exhibition that would look fabulous in any city in the world. It’s well thought-out, comes with an extensive catalogue, and makes ground-breaking connections between western and eastern versions of so-called Minimal art.

In addition, I spent an entire day talking with curators and poring over the collection. What I found was a tremendous enthusiasm and positivity, quite unlike the robotic, forced enthusiasm one endures at so many of Singapore’s public events, when clichés and empty slogans are the rule. At the National Gallery the feelings were undeniably genuine, and the quality of curatorial work was first-class. The ArtScience Museum was another revelation. It’s a kind of platypus institution, combining two distinct activities that are usually kept apart. The building itself is an eye-opener, with galleries radiating in circular fashion from a central core. As well as a good-sized portion of the Minimalism show, the museum had a rivetting exhibition about physicist, Richard Feynman.

I can’t remember enjoying a visit to Singapore so much. Now if only they could do something about the climate…

I wish I’d found as much to like in Julian Schnabel’s new bio-pic of Vincent Van Gogh, At Eternity’s Gate. The title may have vague echoes of From Here to Eternityor other blockbusters, but the film itself is a subdued affair. There’s a lot of talking, a lot of walking through grass, a bit of action with the brush or reed pen, and copious close-ups of Willem Dafoe’s face looking intense or soulful. Despite the fact that the director feels he is a better position than any of his predecessors to know how an artist thinks and feels, the movie doesn’t do much to advance our understanding of everybody’s favourite tortured genius. The more I’ve read about Van Gogh, the more convinced I’ve become that he is one of the last people in history you’d want to have around for a dinner party.