The National Gallery Singapore (NGS) is exhibiting not only Juan Luna’s celebrated “The Death of Cleopatra” mural for the first time in history outside of Europe, but also his most important work and, without a doubt, the most celebrated Philippine artistic artifact—“Spoliarium.”
Is that a fact?
NGS has brought the “Spoliarium” to the city-state through a virtual 360-degree video.
NGS inaugurated the virtual “Spoliarium” during the Singapore Art Week on Jan. 17-28.
The video is installed just outside the Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery C, where NGS has been holding since November its “Century of Light” double-exhibit of 19th-century French Impressionist paintings from the Musée d’ Orsay, and of the major works of Luna and the Indonesian master Raden Saleh.
The virtual “Spoliarium” is called by NGS as “the mixed-reality 360-degree experience… of Juan Luna’s masterpiece.”
It greets museumgoers after they step out of the last of three halls devoted to Luna’s work, notably “Cleopatra,” the mural-size work that won the second-class medal in the 1881 Madrid exposition. It was Luna’s first European triumph. Three years later, “Spoliarium” won the first-class medal in the 1884 Madrid Expo.
“Cleopatra” has been loaned by the Museo Nacional Del Prado of Spain. NGS director Eugene Tan said he would have also liked to bring “Spoliarium” too to Singapore. But since the celebrated mural remains lodged in the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP), which has loaned smaller Luna paintings to the Singapore show, NGS sent a team to NMP to film the work.
“Transport yourself to the National Museum of the Philippines where this massive painting measuring over 4 x 7 feet resides,” the NGS tells viewers.
By manipulating the iPad, viewers could zoom in on “Spoliarium” and scrutinize its details. They could also zoom out and view the massive hall at the National Gallery of the Philippines where “Spoliarium” is hung across Felix Resurreccion’s equally celebrated work depicting the assassination of Governor-General Bustamante.
The video installation likewise features interviews of NMP director Jeremy Barns and NGS curator Clarissa Chikiamco.
“Century of Light” will run till March 11.
ARTWALK Little India
The video installation was the gallery’s contribution to the 2018 Singapore Art Week (SAW), the annual major showcase of the visual arts aimed at positioning the island-state as a regional hub of arts and culture.
SAW is organized by the National Arts Council, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and Economic Development Board.
STB invited media men from the Philippines and other countries to SAW, whose 2018 theme was “Discover, Experience, Engage.”
The Philippine media were billeted at Wanderlust Hotel, an example of contemporary reuse of an old 1920s building of four stories located in Little India.
SAW seeks to relate art making and design to communities, and one of its more popular events is the ARTWALK trail. Forthwith the Philippine journalists took part in the ARTWALK Little India conducted by Monster Day Tours and Lasalle College of Arts.
SAW usually commissions artists to do street murals, and one such mural graced the back of Wanderlust: the artist Sobandwine’s painting of marigolds.
Though untitled, the work seems a love letter by the artist, since just above the cluster of flowers is the word “dear” and below, “love.” It was a lovely, if intriguing, work.
On Kampong Kapor Road was Tinu Verghis’ “Mirrors,” a pipe with traditionally embroidered Indian mirrors and its ends with the speaker’s cup that, according to the artist’s notes, “seeks to engage visitors to reflect on their individual identities, cultures and respective histories.”
The installation was in a small plaza in front of the Methodist Church, a heritage structure originally built in 1894. A striking Art Deco structure, it remains a working church, one of the first to cater to Peranakan or Straits-born Chinese. There was no street mural on its façade or walls understandably, but its architecture was a work of art in itself.
Since this was Little India, the park and children’s playground on Dickson Road was dominated by life-size sculptures of Indian elephants. For SAW, new, more playful colors and figures were painted on the elephants by a local artist.
On Serangon Road (the actual street, not the television drama series), artist Jaba painted the mural, “Daily Delivery,” an impressive work which contemporized the “tiffin,” the rolling-restaurant trade of old India.
The artist’s notes said the work emphasized “the idea of balancing tradition and modernization” and sought to “sustain… this traditional trade… alongside rapid developments in technology.”
Meanwhile, on Veerasamy Road, A’shua Imran had painted “A Sailor’s Guide to Little India,” a charming work that recreated his Indian ancestors’ voyage to Singapore.
“Using a selection of scenes, cultural landmarks and historical buildings,” the notes said, “each segment of the mural reveals different encounters of a wanderer—and yet points to their histories and identities.”
Imran’s map of Little India seemed a synthesis of the Singapore achievement: diverse and rich cultures harmoniously blending like the balance of colors and lines in an undisputed work of art.