National Gallery Singapore Unveils A New Exhibition, Cheong Soo Pieng: Layer by Layer



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Delve beneath the surface of over 30 works by artist Cheong Soo Pieng and uncover the process of artistic creation with Southeast Asia’s first exhibition to showcase the science of material analysis.

Venue: City Hall Wing, Level B1, Ngee Ann Kongsi Concourse Gallery, National Gallery Singapore
Date: 5 Apr to 29 Sep 2024
Fee: Free Admission 

[New Exhibition] Cheong Soo Pieng: Layer by Layer

Step into the fusion of art and science at National Gallery Singapore’s Cheong Soo Pieng: Layer by Layer, the first of four exhibitions at the Gallery in 2024, spotlighting Singaporean artists. From 5 April 2024 to 29 September 2024, this groundbreaking showcase featuring over 30 artworks from Cheong Soo Pieng’s artistic career marks Southeast Asia’s first exhibition that delves so thoroughly into the artist’s practice and material research.

Free for all, Layer by Layer invites visitors of all ages to embark on an immersive voyage through Cheong’s creative realm with interactive stations that seek to engage visitors through touch and play. Engage with Cheong’s innovative techniques by visiting tactile stations that allow visitors to explore the textures of his artworks. Through these fun and engaging hands-on activities, visitors will learn more about what goes into creating fundamental elements of a painting and catch a glimpse into the world of art conservation through material analysis techniques such as infrared photography and x-ray scanning.

Exhibition Highlights

Section 1: What makes a painting

Visitors will have the opportunity to understand the process behind creating an artwork with the exhibition‚Äôs first section, which revolves around the question ‚ÄúWhat makes a painting?‚ÄĚ. Visitors can expect to be treated to an engaging introduction to Cheong‚Äôs artistic process through a step-by-step journey from sketching, his choice of materials, to the application of paint.

An early work, Indian Men with Two Cows (1949) offers an exciting example of how material analysis uncovered Cheong’s process. Infrared photography revealed Cheong’s confident application of paint without the use of preliminary sketching. This section also highlights Cheong’s approach of layering, known as marouflage. This practice of affixing flexible supports (such as paper or canvas) to another (such as wood hardboard) allowed Cheong to transform finished works into formats that could be more easily stored and framed while enabling him to achieve a wide range of textures and effects in his paintings depending on his choice of support.

Visitors will also encounter artworks suspended on a freestanding structure, providing a unique opportunity to discover fascinating details located on the back of a painting. From a close appreciation of Cheong’s choice of canvas to exhibition labels, the artist’s signature, and clues about an artwork’s past owner, visitors are encouraged to see beyond the painted image.

Section 2: When is a painting complete?

Centering on the question of composition ‚Äď or how an artist organises elements in an artwork ‚Äď the next section asks, ‚ÄúWhen is a painting complete?‚ÄĚ Follow the investigative work that curators and conservators undertook to understand how two seemingly different versions of the monumental painting In a Balinese Village were exhibited at different points in time. Cheong reworked the initial version of the painting, which was completed in 1953, a decade later in 1964. Visitors will be able to travel back in time to unravel the painting‚Äôs journey, tracing archival material complemented by technical tools like infrared photography and x-ray scans.

Section 3: What is painting

Finally, visitors are invited to consider the broader question ‚ÄúWhat is painting?‚ÄĚ in the exhibition‚Äôs concluding section. This section focuses on Cheong‚Äôs integration of a wide range of materials into his art from the 1960s onwards, including everyday and industrial materials ‚Äď from metal wires and resin to rattan and straw. Laboratory analysis and close observation allowed for the precise identification of materials in artworks formerly described as ‚Äúmixed media‚ÄĚ such as the copper strips and epoxy resin used in Singapore Scenery (1970). The meticulous process Cheong used to compose this detailed work followed the step-by-step approach of composing his paintings ‚Äď from the preparation of the wooden support to the outlines made of copper strips, and the infilling of epoxy for the surface of the artwork.

Cheong’s fascinating use of unconventional materials such as jute, gunny sack, and straw is another highlight within this section, demonstrating how his consistent engagement with distinctively Southeast Asian subject matter extended to a desire to overlay various cultural sources within his art. In this way, visitors are invited to expand their conception of painting as a medium, and the notion that a painting is solely limited to the application of colour onto a two-dimensional surface.

Interactive experiences for all

Photo Credits: National Gallery Singapore

The exhibition includes hands-on experiences that will incite curiosity for all ages. Ranging from opportunities to encounter the different types of materials Cheong incorporated in his art, to microscope stations that will allow visitors to identify the difference between cotton and linen canvases and even explore the shifts in Cheong’s style and material choices over time.

Melding the exhibition’s dual emphases on learning through discovery and play, the Gallery has developed a game available both on-site and online that invites visitors to explore Cheong’s painting techniques while matching cross-sections (a minuscule sample that provides a layered view of a painting's structure) with paintings featured in the exhibition. Visitors will be able to download exclusive wallpapers that showcase the aesthetic dimension of scientific research while consolidating their learning.

Exhibition Programmes

School Programme

Venue: National Gallery Singapore, City Hall Wing, Level 1, Keppel Centre for Art Education
Date & Time: Subjected to availability
Fee: Paid program. E-mail: outreach@nationalgallery.sg to find out more.

In conjunction with the exhibition featuring artist Cheong Soo Pieng, this is a two-hour workshop by art conservator Dr. Diana Tay titled 'Discovering Secrets of Paintings' for students. Participants will delve into Cheong Soo Pieng’s artistic process and discover how conservators study his artworks to uncover hidden stories. The session will include hands-on experiences and a showcase of the technology used in conservation. This program is available for Primary and Secondary school groups on a first-come, first-served basis. Please e-mail: outreach@nationalgallery.sg to learn more.

At the Conservator’s Bench | Cheong Soo Pieng: Layer by Layer

Venue: Online on the Gallery’s Facebook and YouTube channels

Did you know that Cheong Soo Pieng’s renowned artwork Drying Salted Fish was made using different types of ink? This edition of At the Conservator's Bench introduces the artist's innovative techniques and versatile practice through the unique perspective of material analysis in art conservation. Visit the exhibition to watch and learn more!

Watch the trailer here.

Kwok Kian Chow in Dialogue with Teo Hui Min

Venue: Padang Atrium, Level B1, City Hall Wing, National Gallery Singapore
Date: 13 Apr 2024
Time: 2pm
Fee: Free, registration required | Register here (Tickets will be available soon)

Former senior curator (1992-1994) of the National Museum of Singapore, director (1994-2009) of the Singapore Art Museum, and director (2009-2011) and senior advisor (2011-2015) of the National Gallery Singapore, Mr Kwok Kian Chow will delve into the exhibition’s framework and key questions in this dialogue with Curator Teo Hui Min.

For more information on the exhibition, you may visit this link.

Docent-led Tours

Venue: National Gallery Singapore, City Hall Wing, Level B1, Ngee Ann Kongsi Concourse Gallery
Date: From 19 Apr 2024
Time:

  • English | Thu to Sun | 11am
  • Mandarin | Sat to Sun | 2pm

Fee: Free, registration is required | Register at National Gallery Singapore, Level 1, Padang Atrium, Visitor Services Counter

Special Tours

Venue: National Gallery Singapore, City Hall Wing, Level B1, Ngee Ann Kongsi Concourse Gallery
Date: 18 May & 14 Sep 2024
Time: 3pm
Fee: Free, registration is required | Register here (Tickets will be available soon)

Enjoyed At the Conservator’s Bench? Meet the people behind Cheong Soo Pieng: Layer by Layer as they delve into the key themes of the exhibition in these specially curated tours.



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This article is prepared by

Leona Quek
Blessed with 3 handsome and loving boys in her life. Two of them call her Mommy, the other calls her Wifey. Every night, she wishes for an early bedtime, but misses her babies as soon as they sleep.

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