Heist at the Museum: Minimalism: Space. Light. Object

As designers and researchers, partaking in artistic and cultural activities is a crucial part of our job, not only to stay updated with the local and international design scene, but to remain inspired and get our creative juices flowing. Recently, the Heist team was fortunate enough to pay the Singapore National Gallery a visit to experience the exhibition Minimalism: Space. Light. Object — here are some of our thoughts from our creatively-charged field trip.

Part I: Frank Stella by Sofia

Life - like any good story - is dynamic and unpredictable, so is reasonable to assume that an artist’s work throughout his or her lifetime will be equally as dynamic and unpredictable. It is fascinating to look at the overview of an artist’s portfolio and how their style changes over time. This is particularly reflected in Frank Stella’s work, as his early pieces are strikingly different from his later ones.

My first encounter with Stella’s work was at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City about 3 years ago as part of the exhibition Frank Stella: A Retrospective. At the time, what struck me was the whirlwind of colours and mixed media materials juxtaposed to create depth in masterpieces such as La Penna di hu -- Italian for “the peacock's feather” (see below).

Photograph from my first encounter with Frank Stella’s work at the Whitney in 2016.  La Penna di Hu (1987–2009)

Photograph from my first encounter with Frank Stella’s work at the Whitney in 2016.
La Penna di Hu (1987–2009)

Fast forward to last week at the Singapore National Gallery’s exhibition Minimalism: Space. Light. Object, where I was introduced to a new facet of Stella’s portfolio. This time around, the string of paintings from the Black Painting series, pictured below (late 1950s, synthetic polymer paint on canvas) were stripped of movement and color. Although formally classified as minimalist artwork - which was after all the theme of the exhibition - it seemed almost conservative when compared to his later work, which is much more dynamic and sculptural - almost architectural.

Photograph from my most recent encounter with Frank Stella’s work at the Singapore National Gallery (Selection from the  Black Paintings  Series)

Photograph from my most recent encounter with Frank Stella’s work at the Singapore National Gallery (Selection from the Black Paintings Series)

Looking at both works consecutively, what may seem like an aesthetic jump is in fact everything but - rather a gradual progression over several decades of re-working and refining, a laborious task that can be be applied to art and to the self alike.

Part II - Tatsuo Miyajima by Venus

Mega Death  by Tatsuo Miyajima

Mega Death by Tatsuo Miyajima

I love thinking about mortality - the transient quality of life, which is why I was awed by the 3 walls of numerical counters made of dazzling blue LED light repeatedly counting down from nine to one. The number zero is replaced by a brief moment of darkness which, according to the artist, represents the pause between life and death, before the cycle begins again. The work reminds me of Buddhist principles of impermanence and rebirth - a constant reminder of the powerlessness of man and that nothing survives death. Looking at the blinking blue lights, I felt a sense of calmness, knowing and fully accepting that life is a constant countdown, a brief pause, then rebirth - an endless cycle.

Mega death.gif

Part III: Robert Irwin by Michelle

Art is all about evoking emotions and intriguing curiosity -  it draws you back for a second look, and makes you think twice on what you saw on the surface. When I saw Untitled (1968, acrylic lacquer on formed acrylic plastics) for the first time, I was glued to the spot for 5 whole minutes, getting lost in the optical experience of Robert Irwin’s art.

The installation comprises of a white painted disc, which when illuminated casts overlapping shadows, giving the illusion that it is receding into space. The light dissolved the edges of the disc so that it no longer appears to be contained within a frame but rather, it becomes one with its environment.

It got me thinking about how we are constantly placed in different, sometimes difficult, situations everyday and how each of us find various ways to embrace, change or challenge these situations. Whatever our choices are, it will always have an impact - it is up to us to decide if we want to make a positive or negative one.

Part IV: Ending

As the sun begins to set, we slowly make our way out of the National Gallery, fatigued by the heaviness of our minds now buzzing with fresh information and ideas. It is a wonderful feeling, to visit a place and be attentive - after all, that is what so much of our work is based on. It is a delightful thing that occured as we stared for an entire afternoon at what are, at the end of the day, inanimate objects - and yet were inspired to think about life: its inherent dynamism and unpredictability, transient quality, and challenging nature.