Visitors can get up close and personal with Georgette Chen through her most significant artworks and rare archival materials in a special exhibition for National Gallery Singapore’s 5th anniversary

  • 08:34 AM, 4 Dec, 2020

(Singapore,4 December 2020) National Gallery Singapore presents its latest exhibition Georgette Chen: At Home in the World, a large-scale survey featuring 69 prominent works and 74 archival materials of one of Singapore’s most celebrated modern artists. Launched 27 November 2020, the first major retrospective of Georgette Chen’s work in two decades will shed light on her less well-known yet critical contributions to the development of Singapore’s then-nascent artistic community.  

In conjunction with the Gallery’s 5th anniversary commemoration and its theme of inspiring inclusiveness, the exhibition will highlight Chen’s sensitivity towards the nuances of Singapore’s diverse culture, in which she paid particular attention to the importance of language in understanding culture. There is a range of complementary programmes to engage audiences.  

Encounter Chen’s prolific body of work, which spans her time in China, France, the USA, Malaysia and Singapore. From seldom seen works from her early period in France, to her exemplary still-life paintings, the exhibition will trace the development of her artistic techniques and style throughout her career. Newly-discovered archival materials from the National Collection, and public and private collections in Singapore and China will be displayed for the first time, including newspaper articles and family photographs that give visitors a rare glimpse into Chen’s life. The contextualisation of her works through the archival materials provides greater insights into Chen’s growth as a professional artist, as well as her contributions to Singapore and Southeast Asian art and art history.

 As an artist, Chen believed her role was to represent not only the times she was living in, but life’s multiple perspectives. Visitors will gain an intimate understanding of the way Chen saw the world through her art, in the paintings she made of the landscapes she travelled in, and the portraits of the people around her. Chen’s personal observations of the world, captured in her diary entries and letters to friends, are on display for visitors to read. These materials reveal the remarkable influence of her travels in providing inspiration for her art

The exhibition will spotlight Chen’s significant contributions to the Singapore artistic community as an artist, educator, mentor and arts administrator. Key works and personal documents from pivotal exhibitions that established her reputation as an artist will be on display, such as selected paintings and the catalogue from her first solo exhibition in Singapore in 1953. Beyond her career as an artist, visitors will also discover Chen’s extensive involvement in the development of Singapore’s art scene. 

Documents from her time as a teacher at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and her work as an administrator with the Lee Foundation Fund evoke newfound appreciation of Chen for her invaluable support of local artists and art societies as a champion of Singapore art. Chen was employed at NAFA from 1954 to 1980 where she taught part-time while continuing her art practice. She imparted foundational techniques to her students based on her training in Paris and New York, while encouraging them to develop individual artistic styles.

Dr. Eugene Tan, Director of National Gallery Singapore said, “Georgette Chen holds a very special place in Singapore’s art history. Being the first female artist to have achieved such international acclaim, the impact she has had on the development of visual arts in Singapore continues to influence generations of local artists. As one of the largest custodians of Chen’s works, we are gratified to have been able to mount this latest retrospective on one of Singapore’s foremost modern artists. We hope Chen’s dedicated pursuit of a creative existence will inspire visitors to better understand our society, culture and the world we live in through art.”


Elevating the Everyday 

Chen considered everyday subjects that were otherwise considered unremarkable to hold a sense of dynamism and novelty, and sought to capture this unique energy through her art. This section features artworks that exemplify her artistic vision of finding beauty in everyday life, such as her still-life paintings of tropical fruits, moon cakes and other local foods that were indicative of the geographical location and time period she was living in. 

Despite challenging times, Chen continued to paint and focused her attention on subjects available to her while working indoors, highlighting her persistent dedication to her art even during a period of upheaval and conflict. Visitors will also have the exceptional opportunity to view Chen’s monumental Hakka Family, which will be exhibited for the first time in public since 1997.

Having lived and worked in many countries, Chen was particularly sensitive to the importance of language in order to understand a culture. Her proficiency in English, French, Mandarin and conversational Malay was instrumental in her forming close relationships with the artistic community in Singapore, and in hosting international guests on behalf of various institutions such as NAFA. 

In the spirit of the Gallery’s 5th anniversary theme of bridging divides and finding common ground through art, the Gallery will be launching a new immersive multilingual audio tour in conjunction with the exhibition for audiences with different mother tongues to better understand the exhibition and gain a deeper appreciation of her works. Audio tours will be available in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil and can be accessed on the Gallery Explorer app and SoundCloud.

For those interested in broadening their knowledge of Chen and access exclusive behind-the-scenes secret stories, the Gallery will be launching an Artificial Intelligence chatbot, Arthena, on Facebook Messenger, which they can access before, during and after their visit. Visitors may also sign up for free English and Mandarin docent-led tours from 10 December 2020 for a comprehensive experience of the exhibition

Parents can facilitate their children’s understanding of Chen’s art through family tours and storytelling sessions, Stories in Art, tailored for families with children aged four to 12 in December 2020. Families can also immerse themselves in the interactive physical installation entitled An Artist’s Tropical Landscape, inspired by Chen’s famous Tropical Fruits painting. The installation is available until 28 March 2021 at Level 1 City Hall Wing. 

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