P AST PRESENT FUTURE is an exploration into the overarching parallels and enduring themes that inform art of the 20th and 21st centuries traversing continents and cultures.
The exhibition brings together titans of the 20th century alongside contemporaries and future visionaries. PAST PRESENT FUTURE further showcases works loaned from important private collections, bolstering a dynamic curation that transcends geographic borders speaking to a global history of art. Spanning artists from France, Britain, America, Cambodia, Thailand, South Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia and Japan, the curation exemplify the universal language of art and the intrinsic nature of art-making.
From spotlighting classical themes of still life in works such as those by French artists Bernard Buffet and Renoir, to the breakout of abstraction in a post-war, post-conceptual world, the exhibition further draws upon narratives of imagination, as seen in the works of Marc Chagall, and painting of the idyllic life portrayed in the paintings of Nanyang artist Cheong Soo Pieng and Indonesian master Hendra Gunawan.
PAST PRESENT FUTURE encourages an exchange of dialogue about how art contributes to a collective world story, serving as a rich reminder that art history exists not in a vacuum, but in an ever-evolving pattern of influence and cross-pollination of ideas and styles.
Alongside the exhibition, Sotheby's will be hosting its inaugural Singapore Whisky and Spirits Auction (20 November - 1 December).
Discover some of the highlights of PAST PRESENT FUTURE below.
An intimate late oil by seminal French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Roses portrays a delicately brushed bouquet in romantic shades of reds and pinks. After working early in life as a porcelain painter, Renoir developed into an influential colourist whose nimble brush employed the fleeting interplay of complimentary hues to depict light and shade. Working alongside Claude Monet (1840-1926), Renoir painted the captivating people and pleasures of France’s emerging middle class. Over time, he returned to Renaissance principles and developed a more substantial, even monumental approach. Originally consigned to the legendary Parisian art dealer Ambroise Vollard by the artist’s estate, Renoir’s Roses are a late meditation on the sweetness of life. Remarkably, they were likely painted at a time when severe arthritis often required the artist’s brushes to be taped into his hands, a limitation that he transcended without complaint.
Russia-born Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was an early modernist who lived and worked in France after 1910. Highly versatile – he painted, made ceramics illustrated books and designed stage sets – Chagall’s fanciful imagery was rooted in his village childhood and Jewish identity. In Paris he made his way through various styles, including Cubism, Symbolism and Fauvism, but ultimately worked in a personal Post-Impressionist style that was suited to his dreamy storytelling. After living in the US between 1941 and 1948 he settled on France’s Côte d’Azur where he was extraordinarily productive, creating paintings, murals, tapestries and stained glass windows.
Seen side by side, two of his mature oils Scène de Cirque (1958) and Le coq vert et le modèle (study for La neige and Lecoq aux amoureux) (circa 1951) exemplify the gentle and playful inclinations of his art. In the latter, a peasant couple embrace in front of a giant green rooster while a blue clad artist studies a reclining female model. Other images, including a fiddler, a red cow and a village, surround the dreamy artist, reminding him of his past. In the circus scene a floating clown, an equestrienne, a fiddler and a trapeze artist perform in a fanciful arena. Nostalgic, innocent and spontaneous, Chagall’s oils tell us that his art was created to allow the artist, and his viewers, to escape to the past and feel the joy of an unspoiled world.
Perhaps the most enduring and recognised of Yayoi Kusama’s famed repertoire of motifs, the artist began working with the pumpkin in her teens. Detesting the four-year Nihonga (Japanese-style) painting course on which she was enrolled at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts in 1948, but relieved to be finally away from the watchful eye of her mother and constantly warring parents, Kusama painted pumpkins diligently, much of the time in her own room. Over the decades the artist repeatedly revisited the squat, reassuring form of the pumpkin – in painting and sculpture, as well as poetry that praised its metaphysical qualities. In 1994 she installed a massive yellow and black-dotted pumpkin sculpture at the end of a pier at Benesse Art Site Naoshima, the first of many larger-than-life pumpkin sculptures Kusama would display outdoors throughout the 2000s.
The recipient of Britain’s prestigious Turner Prize, Anish Kapoor was born in Mumbai, India in 1954. Known for challenging and expanding the traditions of sculpture, his works of the early 1980s were simple forms defined and permeated by the brilliant hues of raw pigment. The works that followed – including accumulations of pure pigment and wall mounted stone reliefs that evoked voids and dualities – established his international reputation. Untitled (2007), a work in polished stainless steel, is part of an ongoing series that draws viewers into a mesmerising and challenging encounter with pure space. Drawing on the paradoxical forces of the concave and the convex it creates a vertiginous effect that both awakens and enhances the viewer’s awareness of their surroundings. The rich magenta tones of the reflective surface add an emotional element that evokes sensuality, harmony and balance.
- Chu Teh-Chun, Aspiration, 2007
- Fernando Zóbel, Untitled, 1957-59
- Christine Ay Tjoe, Lama Sabakhtani 3 → 2 #03
- Fang Yuan, Fireworks 05, 2022
Chu Teh-Chun, Aspiration, 2007Born in China and a resident of France beginning in 1955, Chu Teh-Chun (1920-2014) fused Chinese painting techniques with the vigour of Western abstraction. Aspiration, which was included in the artist's 2008 retrospective, presents a deep blue inner cosmos, full of swirling abstract forms bathed in warm yellow light.
Fernando Zóbel, Untitled, 1957-59After seeing Mark Rothko’s paintings in the United States, the Philippine/Spanish artist Fernando Zóbel de Ayala (1924-84) had an epiphany and turned to abstraction. Untitled, a horizontal composition painted with hypodermic needles, was part of Zóbel’s Saeta series which was inspired by the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca and Spanish devotional songs.
Christine Ay Tjoe, Lama Sabakhtani 3 → 2 #03One of today’s leading Indonesian artists, Christine Ay Tjoe uses abstract brushwork fused with handwritten inscriptions to express her spiritual struggles and make Christian references. The title of her canvas Lama Sabakhtani 3 → 2 #03 refers to the biblical Psalm 22 in Aramaic, which translates to: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
Fang Yuan, Fireworks 05, 2022Fang Yuan is a native of Shenzen, China, who received her Master of Fine Arts Degree in New York City, where she now resides and works. The rhythmic, curvilinear forms and strokes of her 2022 canvas Fireworks, painted in violet, pink and yellow acrylic and spray paint, reflect her feelings of displacement and vulnerability.
Fernando Cueto Amorsolo
Painted by the Philippines first National Artist Fernando Amorsolo y Cueto (1892-1972), Old Spanish Church (1957) is one of many Amorsolo paintings that include historic architecture to reflect on his nation’s past and present. As a young artist Amorsolo was awarded a sponsorship by Spanish businessman Enrique Zóbel de Ayala to study painting at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid. The impressions made by Spanish art and culture remained strong throughout the artist’s life, and his paintings of Spanish colonial era churches have a tone of veneration. Surrounded by vignettes of marketplace activity, including women selling fruit and a cart drawn by a carabao, the church serves as a focus of tradition and community. The grey and tan hues of the church stonework and its rural surroundings are set off by a brilliant blue sky and a red Royal Poinciana (flame tree), a favorite subject of the artist.
The French artist Bernard Buffet (1928-1999) was a printmaker, sculptor and painter who grew up in Paris where he was exposed to the treasures of the Louvre Museum. Deeply affected by the difficult years of the Nazi occupation and by his mother’s death from breast cancer Buffet’s postwar art, often religious in nature, was tinged with misery and poverty. Extremely prolific, his distinctive style, which featured attenuated forms and stylised black outlines brought him considerable early success. A contradictory figure who lived an increasingly luxurious lifestyle while painting scenes that were often bleak or darkly humorous, Buffet had his first retrospective at the age of 30 and was featured in a 1958 The New York Times article as one of France’s “Fabulous Five” postwar cultural figures. Named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1973, Buffet’s late work was especially sought after by Asian collectors in the years before his death in 1999.
Two of his floral paintings, Yellow Tulips (1964) and Still Life Flowers (1990) demonstrate the expressive range of Buffet’s style. In Yellow Tulips, a flower that often symbolises happiness and good fortune is interspersed with spiky leaves including two that point downwards as their freshness fades. In Still Life Flowers a burst of red and blue blossoms reach from a cluster of palm leaves that seems to explode outwards as a lily and daffodil hover above them. Buffet’s ability to imbue his flower paintings with a range of emotional metaphors and personal symbolism beautifully compliments their striking aesthetic impact.
Dress Model II (2012) is an assertive and imposing cast iron sculpture by Antony Gormley. Interested in the intersections between geometry, architecture and the portrayal of human forms, Gormley’s sculptures challenge viewers to consider the relationship between their inner and outer experiences. First shown in his 2011 solo exhibition Memes at Anna Schwartz Gallery in Australia, Gormley’s Memes – which he defines as cultural analogues to genes – depict humanoid forms that respond to conditional environments and are self-replicating and capable of mutation. Dress Model II, which was cast in a single piece, is part of a larger genre that one critic has referred to as “Digital Cubism”. The metaphors implied by Dress Model II can be said to include the contradictory associations and experiences of city life including alienation, ambition and anonymity.
Kei Imazu, who lives and works in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, is an artist whose canvases begin as digital colleges. Using a combination of her own photos and images found online Imazu creates 3D renderings that serve as the initial sketches for her ambitious painted works. Blue Fish in My Hand (2018), which was first exhibited at the Aaahhh!!! Paris Internationale 2018 as part of an installation with Indonesian sculptor Bagus Pandega, is energised by the interplay of words, images and graffiti-like brushwork. The terms that appear just below a large grasping hand reference Bloom’s Taxonomy – the cognitive levels of logical thinking and learning – implying a theme of knowledge and rationality that is falling away. Imazu is interested in the possible loss of meaning that occurs when technology, art and logical thought devolve into the elements of form and colour during the creation of her art.