An empty room illuminated by bright yellow light by Olafur Eliasson and a heap of ceramic sunflower seeds by Ai Weiwei are both iconic works of Minimalist art. They are being exhibited in Singapore for the first time.

The exhibition, Minimalism: Space. Light. Object., is a showcase of one of the most influential art movements of the 20th century. It features more than 150 works – including visual art, music and video – over two locations, the National Gallery Singapore and the ArtScience Museum. It runs until April 14.

Minimalism: Space. Light. Object. surveys the rise of, and legacy left by, the Minimalist movement, from its origins in the 1960s in the United States, to its influence on contemporary artists.

It is the first Minimalist exhibition of this scale in Singapore and also shows how Minimalism influenced modern and contemporary artists in South-East Asia.

Dr Eugene Tan, director of National Gallery Singapore said: “While Minimalism has had a significant impact on contemporary design and lifestyle in Asia, its relationship to art in the region has been less well understood. This exhibition will examine the relationship of Minimalism to art in Asia, as well as the influence that Asian spirituality and philosophy had on its origins.”


A woman walks past an art installation by American artist Sol LeWitt titled incomplete open cube at the National Gallery Singapore. Photo: AFP

The movement started with American artists influenced by Zen Buddhism and Hindu scriptures, and a parallel movement arose in 1960s Japan, titled “mono-ha”.

In both cases, artists focused on simplicity, repetitive forms and even forms of art that could not be shown in galleries, such as land art – sculpting the ground itself.

Rather than emphasise an artist’s decision-making and personal expression, Minimalism aimed for a direct encounter between viewer and artwork.

For the exhibition, the National Gallery Singapore houses more than 100 works such as American artist Dan Flavin’s white fluorescent light sculptures, monument for V. Tatlin #43 (1966-1969), and Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s Room For One colour (1997), a space illuminated by mono-frequency lamps that suppress all colours except yellow and black. Viewers see only in shades of grey and are led to consider how the world may be viewed from different perspectives.


A woman takes pictures with her mobile phone of an art installation by Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima titled Mega Death at the National Gallery Singapore.

Also at the National Gallery Singapore is influential Chinese artist Ai’s Sunflower Seeds (2010), in which each unique, handcrafted ceramic seed challenges the “Made in China” narrative of cheap mass production, and Lebanese artist Mona Hatoum’s barbed-wire cube Impenetrable (2009).

The ArtScience Museum houses other large, complex works such as Hatoum’s + and – (1994-2004), a rotating circular sculpture in which a layer of alumnium sand is rotated by the sweeping action of a motor-driven scraper.

The museum also hosts works of Minimalist music, including the melodies of influential American composers Steve Reich and Terry Riley, as well as their precursor John Cage – the American composer who emphasised silence as an essential part of composition.

Both venues also showcase the works of contemporary artists influenced by the Minimalist movement. The ArtScience Museum, for example, hosts a new commission by Singaporean artist Jeremy Sharma, a roughly 34-minute sound installation in which male and female voices describe colour.


Donald Judd’s sculpture Untitled (1974) at the ArtScience Centre in Singapore comprises six box units of highly-polished brass. It embodies seriality, either as repetition of a standard unit or a simple mathematical progression. Photo: Handout

Over at the National Gallery Singapore, its ground-floor cafe Gallery & Co. has been transformed into British artist Martin Creed’s Work No. 1343, the first Asian edition of his well-known restaurant project in which no single item is the same, from utensils to crockery to furniture.

More than 1,000 items, including furniture, plates, cups, spoons and forks, were replaced by unique items over six hours last November. These items were lent or given by 50 donors, including artists and second-hand shops.

The work plays with Minimalist ideas about repetition by having multiple unique items and also draws from the movement’s focus on the viewer experience.

Curator Silke Schmickl, who liased with Creed to set up the work in Singapore, said: “The exhibition starts with High Minimalism but also explores how contemporary artists keep some elements in their own work in the present day.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network