SINGAPORE - These are momentous days for the island state of Singapore, which proudly commemorates its 50th anniversary of independence this year. Part of the celebrations will see the opening in November of a monumental National Gallery, the first museum in the world dedicated to Southeast Asian art.

Sotheby’s Singapore is also celebrating its 30th anniversary, and to mark the occasion a landmark selling-exhibition dedicated to abstract art in the region opening on 30 October. A New Dialogue consists of 57 paintings stretching from the 1960s to the present, created by 21 of Southeast Asia’s most influential artists, including Singaporeans, Cheong Soo Pieng, Wong Keen and Tang Da Wu, two of Malaysia’s most important figures, Ibrahim Hussein and Latiff Mohidin, Thailand’s Maymay Jumsai and Phan An Hai from Vietnam.


This exhibition features works direct from the artists themselves as well as from private collections. The selection illustrates that although today’s art world is expanding into new spheres and technologies - video, installation and performance, 3-D printing, digital creation - abstraction retains a critical role, both in the learning process of younger artists and the development of established figures. And although the artists on show at Sotheby’s have almost all been influenced by travels overseas, exposing them to abstract art in America and Europe, their artworks invariably reflect a local context too, such as when the Philippine’s Pacita Abad vibrantly paints on Batik material, or Lim Tze Ping uses traditional Chinese ink to depict his avant-garde compositions.


This mirrors the thoughts of Koh Seow Chan, who has been collecting Southeast Asian abstract art for over 50 years. He explains that, “Singapore is like a cradle of globalization, where we are unknowingly influenced by the best values of the East and the West, and you can see the artists in this exhibition capturing these values and representing them in composition, in colors, in their methodology. If you look back at those early pictures from the 1960s, well, I think they are still very current, while the more recent works can still be described as a work in progress. Asian culture in general is more evolutionary and not as revolutionary as in Western culture, but an exhibition such as this demonstrates that the blossoming of art in Southeast Asia is now beginning to be noticed by the rest of the world”.