The New School
Female Singapore|January - February 2021
From an altruistic champion of independent photographers to a fine dining restaurant curating art and music like no other, Keng Yang Shuen curates the people and spaces encouraging new ways of thinking and doing in Singapore’s art scene.

THE MOST POWERFUL FIGURATIVE PAINTER TO KNOW NOW: MARLA BENDINI

For an artist who’s laid low for several years, this 34-year-old’s return to the scene has certainly been remarkable and for good reason. In 2020, she had two solo shows: one at Coda Culture; the other at Cuturi Gallery. Come March, the latter space will hold another exhibition of her works. In the spotlight: her powerfully personal paintings featuring most prominently the body – headless bodies, torsos, warts and all – that however visceral or suggestive, evoke a tender beauty. They’re also her first shows comprising solely of paintings.

Throughout her decade-long career, Marla – as she prefers to be known – has juggled various disciplines, but picked up painting again last year because she wanted to re-explore a part of her that had been dormant. She works intuitively: Each piece starts with spontaneous strokes before shapes take hold and “reveal themselves to her”. The body is a recurring motif because she loves its ability to communicate “endless things” and as someone who struggles with gender and body dysmorphia, eating disorder and addiction, the process can be semi-cathartic, reminding her to be gentle towards herself as she works through such issues, says the artist who identifies as transgender. She also hopes to alleviate others in similar situations. “I want my paintings to have an impact, but also soothe and comfort like an aura.”

THE NEW ARTIST’S SANCTUARY: COMMA SPACE

Independent art spaces here have witnessed a small spike in recent years though veteran artist Wang Ruobing says there can never really be enough of them. Now add Comma Space to the mix. Opened a year ago by Wang and her husband/ fellow artist Sai Hua Kuan, the 190 sq ft space is housed within an industrial building in Bishan. Its inaugural series 12 Solo, which was meant to have wrapped at the end of last year, but has now been extended into 2021 due to the pandemic’s disruption, is built on an unusual premise: Every month, a different artist is given carte blanche to take over the space to highlight a single artwork (yes, one).

The 12 artists involved in the project range widely – from rising star Lai Yu Tong to eminent names such as The Artists Village co-founder Tang Da Wu, whose instalment is revealed this month. “We think it is the idea and concept that matter most and there should not be a set of criteria or fixed selection process,” says Wang. That Comma is self-funded gives it the freedom to play by its own rules – never mind that such spaces are not always easy to sustain for the long term. Says Wang: “Independent art spaces are crucial not only to individuals, but also communities and society. They function outside of the mainstream and offer different possibilities such as the production of new artworks and professional incubators.”

THE INDEPENDENT PHOTOGRAPHER’S HEROINE: HUDA AZZIS Consider Azzis a true-blue advocate. A freelance video editor by day, she’s also the founder of Your Local Newsstand (YLN), a four-year-old outfit that for all it does, remains largely under-reported on and underrated. The platform specialises foremost in producing and publishing limited-edition, photography-focused zines. “Zines started as a counter-culture of sorts and as a freedom of expression,” says the 29-year-old. “The allure for me was that anyone can create them.” YLN – or Azzis, more specifically – also produces mini documentaries, articles and digital exhibitions on emerging photographers and their work; all available for viewing on its website (www.yourlocalnewsstand.com). Its last digital show put on eight months ago featured more than 200 names from around the world.

Driving Azzis is simply a fierce love for zine culture and photography. YLN is not for profit so she shoulders printing costs while photographers she works with receive a cut from the sale of zines – a much-needed outlet for fledgling talents especially at a vulnerable time like this. “I like the idea of being able to look through the camera pinhole and see how others are living their life and understand their perspectives – socially, culturally or even politically,” she says of photography as a creative discipline. And true to YLN’s free-for-all ethos, anyone interested to be featured or collaborate should just hit up its namesake Instagram account. Azzis promises to research and respond should a particular image catch her eye. “I’m always about the work first.”

THE FASHION-LOVING ART SPECIALIST TO KNOW: YUNYI LAU Glance through Lau’s Instagram page (@yylau.jpg) and it’d be hard to ignore her chic OOTDs – the polished 31-year-old dressed up in a mostly monochromatic wardrobe made up of the likes of Saint Laurent, (old) Celine, Dries van Noten and Prada. Equally hard to miss: the art. Like serious, blue chip, major art. A picture of the gigantic Aomori Dog by Yoshimoto Nara at the Aomori Museum of Art. Han Sai Por’s monumental Black Forest at the Singapore Art Museum. The works of Lucio Fontana, Rene Magritte, Ai Weiwei, Pinaree Sanpitak – you get the drift. Lau, you see, is a specialist in South-east Asian art at Christie’s. Dropping out of law school to major in art history, she’s also surprisingly low-key for someone who integrates a love for art and fashion so seamlessly. While her Instagram account is personal, she admits that social media is a helpful tool for encouraging people to visit exhibitions as well as demystifying the industry. Here, she gives the low-down on the often-opaque world of art auctions and what exactly she does as an art specialist.

WHAT DOES AN ART SPECIALIST DO?

“A specialist’s role mainly consists of cataloguing, researching and pricing works of art ahead of auctions. I also work with private clients in the region who are looking to curate their art collection, whether it is through buying or selling. Last year I even had the opportunity to be the head of sale for a virtual modern and contemporary art sale, and conceptualised and curated over 100 works of art and collectibles for it. This was in addition to working with my colleagues to market the event to our global clientele.”

WHAT FACTORS DO YOU LOOK OUT FOR WHEN CONSIGNING ART PIECES FOR AUCTION?

“When I receive a work to be appraised, I generally look at a few different elements: the artist, medium, size of the work, whether the work has been exhibited or published in something like a catalogue, as well as its provenance. All these factors contribute to the value of a work of art, and depending on these factors, we also determine if a work is suitable for consignment or not. This is considered in tangent with the current market trends as well as our confidence that we can indeed find a buyer for the work, should we put it up for auction.”

AUCTION HOUSES ARE OFTEN SEEN AS HIGHLY INTIMIDATING AND OUT OF BOUNDS. HOW MUCH TRUTH TO THAT IS THERE?

“Auctions are an incredibly democratic process by which to acquire and collect objects including art. There are no barriers to entry and anyone can easily set up an account to bid. Auctions are also generally open to the public to attend and we encourage anyone who has an interest in art – whether you are just starting your collection or a seasoned collector – to attend our previews and sales. We also have a very diverse range of items and price points on offer throughout the year. I encourage new collectors to look at our ‘First Open’ sales (a Christie’s initiative that highlights rising talent and previously undervalued names) and online sales to find items with introductory-level prices.”

WHAT ARE THE SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES BETWEEN YOUR WORK AND AN ART SPECIALIST AT SAY, A GALLERY OR MUSEUM?

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