SINGAPORE: There’s something slightly intimidating about a gallery space: Perhaps it’s the white-washed walls, hushed silence or intimidating catalogues. But there is a new trend of experiencing art now: In a home setting.
Unlike a gallery, viewing art in a residence feels that much more intuitive and inviting. Which is why Singapore-based fashion designer Ondina Montgomery is opening up her Grange Road home on Nov 2 for guests to view almost 40 artworks.
“My husband and I are very passionate about art and we love to collect from interesting up-and-coming artists,” said the Danish-born fashion designer, who has been living here for seven years.
“One night at a dinner party, some of the guests commented on the artworks in our home and asked where we found them. Since I already have four pop-up fashion events at my home each year, I thought we should try and see how a pop-up artist collective would be received.”
Mrs Montgomery and her husband Mark Montgomery have handpicked the works of four artists and a gallery based in Singapore: Brazilian photographer Magali Pagani, French artist Gabriel DFQ, Pakistani artist Tasneem Moochhala, Pakistani ceramist Sabena Mufti, and online art gallery Addicted Art Gallery for the upcoming artist event.
From ceramic sculptures to mixed media installations, the works are embedded among the self-designed pieces of furniture, aged wood floors and the stunning 1940s architecture of the prominent house, situated on the corner of Devonshire and Grange roads. Guests will also enjoy a spread by luxe caterer Elsa & Co.
“Both my husband and I are in the artistic fields and we know a lot of artists, writers and designers,” said Mrs Montgomery.
“We are always looking for new and emerging artists from multiple disciplines so determining the five artists was an enjoyable process for us over several dinners and a few bottles of wine.”
ART AT HOME IS NOT A NEW CONCEPT
The concept of home-held art pop-ups isn’t, however, new. Recently, luxury marque Louis Vuitton held a private presentation of its exotic leather collection in Atbara House, the colonial house that was the former French embassy located along Gallop Road. The brand’s handbags, leather jackets and leather-strapped watches were displayed among designer furniture pieces and dramatic works of art in the restored bungalow by RAJ Bidwell, a renowned architect who also designed Raffles Hotel and Goodwood Park Hotel. Part of the collection of sculptures and paintings were two large-scale charcoal works by Belgian-based Chinese artist Xue Mu from her Black Diamond series. The artist is represented here by Yeo Workshop in Gillman Barracks.
“The designer (for the Louis Vuitton project) Rose Anne de Pampelonne is familiar with the history of art, she is a regular at art galleries and in the art scene,” said gallery owner Audrey Yeo.
“She is extremely intuitive and sensitive to the meanings of artworks. She matched the context of the artwork to the room in which it was curated – placing the works of Xue Mu in a room where Louis Vuitton craftsmen were demonstrating the painstaking craft of making handbags.”
On a much larger scale, the organisers of public art walk OH! Open House have been bringing art into houses in neighbourhoods like Joo Chiat, Chip Bee Gardens and even the HDB flats of Marine Parade since 2009.
“We didn’t invent site-specificity or showing art in houses, but very few people would argue that we were the first in Singapore to do it on an ambitious and sustained scale,” said Alan Oei, executive director of OH! Open House.
“People copying us is part of the equation, and so we have to reinvent the art experience.”
According to Oei, who is also the artistic director of contemporary arts centre The Substation, the OH! Open House concept will take the form of an “immersive traipse through Emerald Hill and its colonial history" next March.
The walk will start with a sensorial tour that’s all about “nutmeg mania” – the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialists were here as part of the spice trade – that once defined the colonial estate. Visitors will have “passports” or be recommended routes, but they are also free to explore various experiences such as attending mini tours of private houses, a science class, a Malay magical ritual and one-on-one performances whereby charms are drawn with spices on one’s body.
Besides such public art tours, the process of experiencing art in homes is also taking place on a much more intimate level. Singapore-based art collectors Lauren and Richard Nijkerk are big supporters of local artists, and host regular events for guests to visit their art-filled apartment and view the collection.
“Art feels more accessible in someone’s home,” said Mrs Nijkerk, who also supports art groups like non-profit institution Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI) through fundraising initiatives.
“Most collectors are passionate about their collections and their insights into the works add more depth and understanding. We feel it’s also important for artists to have their work seen, we’ve never understood how art can go from the gallery to a storage space. For us it’s like a new child entering the family – everyone needs to come over and meet it.”
ARE HOME-BASED ART EVENTS ONLY FOR THE ELITE?
However, Oei is quick to caution that such home-based art events could sometimes be part of an elitist trend, rather than a means of exposing more people to art.
“I am interested in the act of staging and its attendant meanings – are they showing art only in beautiful, expensive homes with designer furniture that no one else can afford?” said Oei.
“Is art only for the one-percenter then? I’m interested that such events shouldn’t just be open to your so-called big-name collectors but also your middle-class collectors who buy more sparingly but perhaps treasure the works better.”
Mrs Montgomery, for example, has selected works that are more accessibly priced, ranging from $1,500 to $10,000. The Nijkerks often welcome young collectors who are just starting to purchase their first few pieces of art into their home, to help them discover new artists or understand the process of building a personal collection.
For Mrs Montgomery, the home is an inviting environment for art lovers to meet the artists and understand more about the works.
“Art is very personal and when you do it in a personal space, it compounds the experience,” said Mrs Montgomery.
“It’s great to see at the end of the day the artists and guests all mingling together with a glass of wine and interacting on a deeper level.”
While homes provide a beautiful context for works of art, owners of a retro shophouse or eclectic apartment are probably not going to put professional gallerists out of work anytime soon.
“I think a traditional gallery space provides an undistracted space for careful contemplation and research of artworks for its artistic, historical and socio-political context,” explained Yeo, who personally consults for her clients and even organises talks and tours to introduce artists to potential collectors.
“Whereas a home context could then be a space where people understand how to live with these art works.”
Ondina and Mark Montgomery’s Artist Collective event will take place on Nov 2, 6.30pm to 8.30pm, at 7 Grange Road. You can RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org by the morning of the event.