Hey, who moved my sculpture? - Straits Times, 19 June, 2011
HEY, WHO MOVED MY SCULPTURE?
Artists are irked that they aren’t informed when their public art pieces are moved. By Amelia Tan and Neo Wen Tong.
Missing: a Goddess of Happiness sculpture inside Orchard MRT station.
And it was none other than the sculptor herself who made the discovery – about five years ago.
Then, Ms Han Sai Por, the 1995 Cultural Medallion recipient, was taking a train at the station when she did a double take.
The grey marble sculpture which had stood in the station for close to two decades and which was commissioned by MRTC, the predecessor to SMRT Corporation, was missing.
Ms Han, 67, has since wondered where her first public sculpture was moved to.
An SMRT spokesman told The Sunday Times last week that the sculpture was removed from Orchard MRT station in 2006 due to building work on Ion Orchard.
It is now in the SMRT Clubhouse in Bishan. The spokesman added that SMRT is looking for a suitable location to publicly display it again.
The issue of public sculptures being moved surfaced when The Straits Times reported on June 8 that the Housing Board had told local sculptor Chua Boon Kee to move three of his six displays, located near Clementi Mall.
The HDB said the sculptures had to be moved because of concerns that the metal would heat up in the sun and singe people sitting on them. The HDB said it will relocate the pieces to s shadier area. Mr Chua said he wants to move them into the fountain.
The ST Forum Page then ran a letter by Mr Jeffrey Say, 46, the programme leader for the Master of Art History programme at Lasalle College of the Arts, he said the incident raises the larger issue of society’s attitude towards and regard for public sculptures.
“A public sculpture is created to be in a dialogue with the site and the environment. Relocating a sculpture compromises both the intent of the artist and the integrity of the work,” he wrote.
Nearly a dozen sculptors, artists and art academics contacted by The Sunday Times noted that rapid urbanization had led to public sculptures being removed. What irked them was that, not infrequently, the artists concerned had not been told about such actions.
Mr Say said his research showed that many pre- and post-war sculptures have disappeared and are untraceable.
The missing items include those by Italian sculptor Rudolfo Nolli, who created the sculptures for the Malayan Railway station in Tanjong Pagar.
Works by Mr Yeo Hwee Bin, a pioneer local sculptor, and Mr Vincent Hoisington, who has received numerous commissions from department stores like Robinsons, are missing too.
Mr C. K. Kum, who runs architectural firm Atelier Oasis and who is the president of the Sculpture Society (Singapore), said art pieces, whether placed on private or public land, belong to the organization or individual who commissioned and paid for them.
He said the owners have the right to remove or destroy the pieces without telling the artists and that is why many end up unaccounted for.
“While an artist owns the copyright, the physical product belongs to the one who paid for it. However, as artists we would appreciate it if the owners informed us,” said Mr Kum, 48, who was trained as an architect.
The National Heritage Board and the Urban Redevelopment Authority encourage private individuals and organisations to commission, maintain and display public art through incentives like tax deductions.
However, art pieces that have come about through these schemes belong to the organisations or individuals who paid for them and not the government agencies.
Private companies and government agencies like the HDB and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said they commission sculptures with the intention of making them permanent art pieces.
They look at the reputation and the experience of the artists before deciding from whom to commission the work.
However, sculptures can be moved due to special circumstances and the organisations said they look at the best alternative locations in which to place them.
The STB said: “(The statues and sculptures) are an enduring legacy for the enjoyment of future generations, and the statues will be moved by the STB only in exceptional circumstances, such as when the Merlion was relocated to its new home to give it a more prominent and visible location in 2002.”
Artists contacted said the issue of the removal of their works boils down to a lack of appreciation and knowledge of the significance and value of art.
There is also a constant need to build, which in the process destroys art pieces that are a part of Singapore’s heritage, they said, adding that the removal of sculptures and other art pieces leads to another problem: the lack of recognizable and iconic pieces that resonate with Singaporeans.
The artists felt that more education on art was needed.
Ceramic artist Jessie Lim, 55, said: “There should be more education about public monuments; more information and education about art for the public.”