It’s pretty easy to take cheap shots at Singapore and its near manic shopping scene. It’s not just the quantity of department stores and high-end outlets that can grate, but the sheer volume of shoppers can overwhelm too. I realise some Singaporeans do have a job, but on most visits I’m struck by how it seems that the job is shopping.
On a recent visit I decided to take a stroll down Orchard Road early in the morning — before the shops opened (yes, 24-hour shopping is yet to come to Singapore) — and I found that bereft of people, Orchard Road’s massive footpaths really do make for some pleasant meandering — and some excellent public art — no need to bother with seeing what is on at the Singapore Art Museum!
On Tanglin Road, the Li Chen sculptures out front of the St Regis Hotel are some of the most striking I saw. Taiwanese by birth, Li Chen’s Dragon-Riding Bodhisattva is one of a number of pieces associated with the hotel.
The St Regis has an extremely well regarded art collection of more than 80 pieces, of which this sculpture is a part. Credited to the efforts of Cecilia Kwek, wife of the hotel’s owner, Kwek Leng Beng, she spent over six years putting together the collection before the Regis opened in 2007.
If you’re able to slip inside, another Li Chen piece stands right by the lobby entrance, while a doozy by the swimming pool has a Bodhisattva most definitely in the “I’m going to lay around like a beached walrus” phase of enlightenment.
Ng Eng Teng has been referred to as the grandfather of Singapore sculpture and his work can be found dotted around Singapore. The piece above, the aptly named Mother and Child, backs onto the Angus Steak House near the top end of Orchard Road, from where it gazes down onto the traffic. The sculpture was erected in 1980 but was moved to its current location in around 2008.
The Hilton was the first major hotel to be built along Orchard Road and on its facade you’ll see 15 panels courtesy of artist Gerard D’Alton Henderson. The entire work covers some 4,000 square feet and incorporates a mix of regional motifs and forms a striking contrast to the luxury boutiques below. Also note the Qin Shu Bao and Wei Chi Jing De in the foreground (well in the garden) with their double swords — Chinese traditional belief has the duo as guardians of doorways, hence their guarding positions before the hotel’s lobby entrance.
In front of the ION Orchard, you’ll find my favourite sculpture of the lot, Urban People by Swiss sculptor Kurt Laurenz Metzler. With this piece, Metzler strives to symbolise everyday life in Singapore and the sculptures convey the movement and dynamic nature of this in quite an extraordinary fashion.
A plaque on site quotes Metzler as saying: “My sculptures tell stories with amused irony, they converse, they become alive and they turn into theatre.”
Scattered around the entrance to Paragon, this un-named sculpture by Sun Yu Li was vaguely reminiscent of a UNICEF campaign I remember as a child, with flat, somewhat alien-like cutouts dashing left and right, or as in the photo above, into or out of the ground. It does capture the motion of Singapore, but not as well as the Metzler one above.
For more information
For further information on Singapore’s public art scene, check out the outstanding Singapore Public Art website. It has a nifty Google map that is especially useful for those who couldn’t remember the name of the shopping centre that the Sun Yu Li sculpture sat in front of …
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 14th November, 2014.