Travel with master painter Wu Guanzhong in National Gallery Singapore’s first exhibition co-created with docents
Installation view, Wu Guanzhong: Travelling with the Master, 2022.

Travel with master painter Wu Guanzhong in National Gallery Singapore’s first exhibition co-created with docents

National Gallery Singapore (NGS) brings us the latest edition in its ongoing series dedicated to acclaimed contemporary Chinese artist Wu Guanzhong with the exhibition titled Wu Guanzhong: Travelling with the Master. The gallery has been committed to researching Wu’s life and art practice since 2015.

Featuring a collection of artworks from the National Collection and a series of rare archival materials, the exhibition facilitates the continued exploration of Wu’s unique approach to classic, western painting mediums in the wider context of ink aesthetics and modern Asian art. This series also aims to educate the general public about the painter’s significant influence on Chinese art history.

Conceived during the pandemic’s travel ban, Wu Guanzhong: Travelling with the Master looks not just at the physical aspect but also the conceptual, imaginative, and emotional aspects of travel.

This exhibition stands out from previous editions because, for the first time in the Gallery’s history, Wu’s journey and artistic exploits are presented through the lens of four volunteer docents.

The exhibition is co-created by four of the Gallery’s docents: Tina Nixon, Stella Rong, Gertrude Tan, and Queenie Chow (left to right).
The exhibition is co-created by four of the Gallery’s docents: Tina Nixon, Stella Rong, Gertrude Tan, and Queenie Chow (left to right).

Tina Nixon, Stella Rong, Gertrude Tan, and Queenie Chow – the docent-curators of the exhibition – are passionate about Wu’s art and have been guiding visitors through his exhibitions since 2015.

Alongside the showcase of Wu’s artworks are the docent-curators’ personal anecdotes, reflections, and photographs that will guide audiences in drawing parallels between their own experiences and Wu’s life and art.

The exhibition consists of four sections: Daydreaming, Exploring, Beyond the Horizon, and Rhapsodies. The A List highlights some of the artworks featured within these sections.

1. Daydreaming

A Dream in the Daytime. 1991. Chinese ink and colour on paper, 68.5 x 139cm. Gift of the artist.
A Dream in the Daytime. 1991. Chinese ink and colour on paper, 68.5 x 139cm. Gift of the artist.

In this first section, audiences are invited to discover Wu Guanzhong’s free-spirited and imaginative approach to art through the stylised strokes and simple dots, lines, colours, and forms that fill his canvases. Audiences can also observe the depth of his artistic expressions in how effortlessly he travels between the East and the West, the traditional and the modern, and the figurative and the abstract.

A Dream in the Daytime, with its expressive brush strokes and vibrant colours, is an excellent example of how his abstract artwork encourages audiences to let their minds wander.  

2. Exploring

(left) Wu Guanzhong. A Tibetan Buddha Wall. 1961. Oil on board, 45.2 x 60.7cm. Gift of the artist. (right) Sculpture of the Buddha along the wall of a hill in Tibet taken by Nan Drak Tsring in 2018.
(left) Wu Guanzhong. A Tibetan Buddha Wall. 1961. Oil on board, 45.2 x 60.7cm. Gift of the artist. (right) Sculpture of the Buddha along the wall of a hill in Tibet taken by Nan Drak Tsring in 2018.

In this next section, docent-curators guide audiences in imagining Wu’s arduous journey and tireless search for artistic inspiration across China. Taking cues from a small selection of paintings, the docent-curators travelled to Jiangnan and other parts of China to experience the landscapes portrayed in those artworks

For example, Wu’s painting titled A Tibetan Buddha Wall is juxtaposed with a photograph of a Buddha sculpture along the wall of a hill in Tibet. The photograph, provided by Chow, offers insight into her personal experience travelling through Tibet while drawing parallels to Wu’s artwork.

Through such reflections and comparisons, the docent-curators aim to help audiences in better understanding Wu’s artistic vision and practice.

3. Beyond The Horizon

Installation view of the modified world map in Beyond the Horizon.
Installation view of the modified world map in Beyond the Horizon.

Featuring artwork from Wu’s extensive travels around the world, this section is inspired by his own hand-drawn world map. His artworks here are supplemented with archival photographs and catalogues of pivotal group and solo exhibitions from around the world.

Wu Guanzhong. A Fleet of Boats in Indonesia. 1994. Oil on canvas, 48.2 x 68 cm. Gift of the artist.
Wu Guanzhong. A Fleet of Boats in Indonesia. 1994. Oil on canvas, 48.2 x 68 cm. Gift of the artist.

It also features paintings and sketches from his time in Southeast Asia. One example is A Fleet of Boats in Indonesia – a colourful, vibrant oil painting that was gifted to the Gallery by the artist himself. 

4. Rhapsodies

Wu Guanzhong. Roaring. 1998. Oil on canvas, 80 x 201 cm. Gift of the artist.
Wu Guanzhong. Roaring. 1998. Oil on canvas, 80 x 201 cm. Gift of the artist.

Audiences conclude their journey through the exhibition by contemplating the emotional and imaginative aspects of travel through Wu’s emotive ink depictions of landscapes.

The two-metre-long painting of China’s second-longest river titled Roaring is a key piece of this final section.

Roaring captures the sights and sounds of the iconic Yellow River and is accompanied by the docent-curators’ own experiences of their visit to the river, giving audiences the opportunity to observe and connect with Wu’s evocative artwork on a personal level.

The exhibition runs until 30 Oct at the Wu Guanzhong Gallery, City Hall Wing, and will include docent tours in both English and Chinese. Admission is free for Singaporeans and PRs.

Learn more about Wu Guanzhong: Travelling with the Master here.

(Photos: National Gallery of Singapore, Queenie Chow)

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