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Buying art in Singapore: Ode to Art in Marina Bay Shoppes

 

For anyone’s who’s familiar with the striking exterior of the original Raffles City gallery, there’s no mistaking the new Marina Bay Sands outlet as anything but an Ode to Art.

Huang Gang’s red-painted bronzes of sensuous female soldiers welcome you in; behind them hang Turkish artist Coplu’s charmingly vivid celebrations of love in particular and the universe in general. Black walls and 5.5-metre-high ceilings make for an edgier and more dramatic effect than the first outlet allows, though. Its exuberantly friendly owner, Jazz Chong, tells me she regards her new baby as more of an exhibition space than a shop. Its main role is to showcase and educate the public about the 50-odd artists that she actively represents.

She opened the gallery in September 2010 with a Chen Wen Ling exhibition. This top Chinese sculptor – who, like a number of “her” artists, has become a good friend of hers over the years – gave an hour-long presentation at the launch, followed by a Q&A session. Changing images of that event are screened on the black wall behind her as we chat; the place was packed to the gills with more than 300 guests.

Between 10 and 12 exhibitions a year are planned. Next up, in September, she will be showcasing Italian artist Lorenzo Quinn; he is a son of the actor Anthony Quinn. A small bronze of his, titled During Love, is displayed in the gallery; but at Marina Barrage you can see two monumental works of Quinn’s, including the stunning The Force of Nature. If you haven’t yet seen it, it’s worth the trip.

Ode to Art does represent several local artists, but Jazz is increasingly geared towards international artists. She travels “somewhere different every month”, she tells me, both to add new artists to her stable and to build on existing relationships.

For example, she has just come back from the Venice Biennale. There she met up with Cai Zhi Song, whom she has known for a long time and plans to showcase here in an exhibition this November. We linger in front of his male nude titled Ode to Motherland, a spectacular example of the sculptor’s unusual and meticulously detailed technique employing fibre-glass reinforced resin and copper plate with brass wire. Cai’s work is inspired by the Qing Dynasty, Jazz explains, adding that she has learnt a lot from him, both about art and about philosophy. (And, what’s more, he’s very handsome.)

For three years, Korean Jung Kwang Sik lived and studied in Carrara, Italy, an area that is famous for its marble quarries. The outcome is a remarkable synthesis of painting and sculpture in evocative, three-dimensional works; like landscapes, but perhaps like nothing you’ve seen before.

The annual Miami International Art Fair is another of her regular gigs. Miami is where the Germany-born sculptor Rainer Lagemann lives, and three of his nimble, larger-than-life-sized figures are scaling the wall behind the gallery counter where we sit over our coffee. (And then a beer: my arm is so easily twisted, and this is a specially fruity, low-cal Belgian beer, says my hostess.)

The iconic LOVE works of American Pop Artist Robert Indiana grew out of the hippie culture of the 70s, and stamps reflecting these images are some of the most widely printed in the world. A big fan, Jazz has visited the now-octagenarian in Vinalhaven, Maine, where he has lived for the past 33 years; a red-and-yellow LOVE tapestry hangs in her gallery.

There’s more, of course – much more. Go along to see it for yourself. If you’re in luck, and Jazz is in, she might even offer you a coffee, or a low-calorie beer that’s as sweet and bubbly as she is.

The Ode to Art Gallery in the Marina Bay Shoppes is in unit #01-19. Call 6688 7773. www.odetoart.com

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