is it tomorrow yet? Highlights from the Daimler Art Collection

Singapore Art Museum (SAM)
is it tomorrow yet? Highlights from the Daimler Art Collection (1926 – 2006)
27 November 2008 to 1 March 2009


Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and Mercedes-Benz are proud to present is it tomorrow yet? Highlights from the Daimler Art collection (1926 – 2006), a collection spanning more than a century of art. The western blockbuster showcases 150 works drawn from key modernist art movements in Europe to contemporary art developments of today, and includes artists like Josef Albers, Nam June Paik and Andy Warhol. Engaging with ideas and works from the Bauhaus, concrete and constructivist art, minimalism in Europe and America, the show also features international contemporary photography, video and object art and a section looking at the history of the ready-made. Car enthusiasts will also enjoy a special segment featuring car-related art from Warhol and other artists. The show’s title reflects the hopes and aspirations behind many of the modern art movements of the 20th century – that despite the differences in their formulations, styles and forms, they often shared a certain optimism, even impatience, about the future. Hopeful that the next day brings better things, at times they simply asked, “is it tomorrow yet?”

The exhibition opening will be officiated by Guest of Honour, Dr Lee Boon Yang, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts on 25 November 2008, Tuesday, 7 pm, at Singapore Art Museum Glass Hall. Media preview led by the curators will be held on the same day at SAM.

“Singapore Art Museum is delighted to be partnering with Daimler to showcase the stunning Daimler Art Collection.” Mr Kwok Kian Chow, Director of Singapore Art Museum said. “From a visually spectacular oversized balloon flower, to the severe restraint of a monochromatic white painting — this western blockbuster exhibition covers an impressive range of contemporary and modern visual art forms, styles and ideas. We are also delighted that the excellent art education programme will help make these modern artworks and ideas exciting and accessible to younger audiences.”

The exhibition is divided into six sections, extending over the museum galleries on the first and second floor. The sections are European Roots: The Bauhaus, Concrete Art & Constructivism; European and American Minimalism (1945-1970s) & European Neo Geo Artists (1980s-90s); The Car-Related Commissioned Works; The European Zero Movement (1960s); The ‘Readymade’ in Contemporary Western Art, and Towards Tomorrow: The Contemporary Works in the Collection.

During the exhibition duration, a 6 by 6 by 6m sculpture will also be displayed on SAM’s front lawn. Untitled (Balloon Flower) was created by the artist IMEX(k) specifically for SAM. The eye-catching artwork looks like a knotted balloon and is inspired by Jeff Koons’ famous “Balloon flower” sculpture. The Daimler Art Collection owns one version of the stainless steel sculpture by Jeff Koons which is prominently placed in Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz.

is it tomorrow yet? opens to public on 27 November 2008 and ends on 1 March 2009.

Monday to Sunday : 10am to 7pm, with extended hours and
FREE Admission on Friday from 6pm to 9pm

Singapore Art Museum (SAM)

Six sections of the exhibition

A European Roots: The Bauhaus, Concrete Art & Constructivism
Tracing out the European roots of the Daimler Art collection, the works in this section look at a number of key developments in abstraction which occurred in the first half of the 20th century. In the early 1900s, many artists began to abandon realistic approaches to concentrate on elements such as line, colour and materials. Often, this new approach manifested itself in non-representational art, containing no references at all to the visible world. Some artists used heavy paint and wild gestures to express emotion; others reduced their compositions to one or two colours. Though it may appear overly simplistic, this kind of work is invariably the result of considerable thought and experimentation. Some choose to stress the pure beauty of radiant colour, and others use everyday objects to question the boundaries of art. Above all, each artist represented in this section is extending a tradition that began in the late-19th century of expressing meaning, emotion, and the joy of materials without illusionistic replication of the physical world.

B European and American Minimalism (1945s to 1970s)
In the 1960s, younger artists reacted against earlier modern art — especially art that stressed emotion and personality — by attempting to create paintings and sculpture that were only about form. Rather than make elaborate structures that encouraged interpretation, these artists experimented with simple, “minimal” shapes and colours. The viewer was supposed to observe and appreciate the minimal object for its own qualities without deriving any additional meaning from the work.

Minimalist artists favoured industrial techniques; their works often look as if they were produced on an assembly line. The sculptures were too big to be seen as traditional sculpture but too small to be interpreted as architecture. Minimalist goals were neatly summed up by a saying often attributed to the American painter Frank Stella: “What you see is what you see.”

Artists working in the fields of Minimalism produced works that focused on shape, colour, and form alone. Content, whether descriptive or emotional, was banished. Very often these minimalist works were monochromatic and geometric, sometimes consisting of identical and repeatable units. To further discourage interpretation, the scale of individual works was often calculated to be in between sculpture and architecture. These were objects that had to be negotiated for their own values. In contrast to the formal limitations, however, minimalist artists used diverse and unusual materials, often drawn from industrial processes.

European Neo Geo Artists (1980s-90s)
The term ‘Concrete Art’ was coined in 1930 in a manifesto by the De Stijl artist Theo van Doesburg: the pictorial elements, detached from any narrative or illustrative content, should mean only themselves, and should be simple, precise and controllable. The ‘Abstraction-Création’ group developed these theoretical ideas further, and Max Bill built on this by organising the first international ‘Concrete Art’ exhibition in Basel in 1944. In the mid-1980s, a young generation of artists addressed this impact – subversively, and with much ironic refraction – under the ‘Neo Geo’ label, and contemporary artists such as Jean-Luc Manz, Eva Berendes and Esther Hiepler have reflected it again, at a new level of quality.

C The Car-Related Commissioned Works
In this section, commissioned works by Andy Warhol, Robert Longo, Simone Westerwinter, Vincent Szarek and Sylvie Fleury is presented, where these artists have addressed the car itself as a product, or have taken on the task of conveying the Daimler brand philosophy dialectically by asking art-specific questions.

The theme of the car as a fetish of an expanding consumer society ran through the whole of the American artist Andy Warhol’s early work. His commitment to Business Art as the ‘best’ art made him one of the undisputed leaders of the Pop-art movement. In 1986, on the 100th anniversary of the invention of the motor car, the car as a motif and icon of mobility returned to Warhol’s work with a commission from Daimler-Benz AG. About 80 pictures were planned for the Cars series, but only 35 canvases and twelve drawings were completed before he died in 1987. This complex also provides a nucleus for other work commissioned by Daimler.

D The European Zero Movement (1960s)
The artists associated with Zero were part of a much wider examination by artists about the nature of art. By 1960, all the initially offensive modern art movements – cubism, surrealism, dada – had gained general acceptance by collectors and museums. As part of this acceptance, modern art had become commodified – as salable as old master paintings.

A new generation of artists who wanted to challenge tradition saw this as a trap to be avoided and set out to reassert the purity of their aims and rethink the materials they used to express these objectives: they wanted to take art to the “Zero Point” and rethink everything. Zero artists decided to eliminate colour as much as possible and use materials not traditionally associated with art. They experimented with scientific techniques and, much like a scientist in the laboratory, tried to keep visible evidence of the artist’s involvement to a minimum. Zero artists also reacted against the superstar status of some artists – Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, for example – preferring quieter and more modest recognition. In their publications, Zero artists stated that their art was “explicitly not intended for museums” but for spaces in everyday surroundings. In this they failed. Much as they tried to be self-effacing, they participated in the development of important notions that have become central to contemporary art: the refusal to separate “art” space from “everyday” space; the assertion of the artistic potential for just about anything; and the determination to see art objects as an active component in an ever-changing world.

E The ‘Readymade’ in Contemporary Western Art
Making matters of contemporary art even more demanding for the viewer, some artists determined that art was primarily about ‘selection’ rather than ‘making’ and took objects from the ordinary world for presentation as ‘readymade’ works of art. In this case, the concept was more important than any display of manual skill. The readymade could be a practical industrial or craft item that an artist places in an exhibition with few or absolutely no modifications alongside traditional works of art. The American artist Marcel Duchamp invented the readymade in 1913 when he mounted the front wheel of a bicycle on a stool and put it in an exhibition. Recently, some artists have moved away from the individual art object to produce whole environments. In such works, the viewer experiences being inside the actual space of the art. The separation between the work of art and the ‘real world’ has been erased.

F Towards Tomorrow: The Contemporary Works in the Collection
The works in this section represent the more recent additions to the Daimler Art Collection. Where the Collection’s earlier works have had a largely European and American focus, the contemporary pieces here hail from more international sources, including countries like India, Japan, South Africa, Spain and others. Many of them address political and social themes, and also include pieces by a number of emerging practitioners who work in multi-media and video.

Over the last 30 years, more and more artists have turned to film and video to express themselves. Sometimes these works are meant to be viewed as if on TV; sometimes video screens are incorporated into larger, more complicated environments that surround the viewer and offer multiple vantage points. Using video allows the artist to introduce the element of time as an active, instead of, an implied part of the work, and new digital technology enables the photographic images to be manipulated in much the same way that a painter manipulates paint on a canvas. But video artists are not trying to produce movies. Time and narrative may be present, but the main emphasis is on visual effects. The image carries the burden of expressing meaning and, unlike movie directors, video artists delight in using low-resolution technology or ‘mistakes’ such as blurred focus and extreme camera angles.