Vincent Leow: Tags & Treats

Vincent Leow, Dumbo, 1991, oil on canvas, 210 x 240 cm, Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy of artist.

In the 2-story installation space comprising about 50 works at the Singapore Art Museum, Tags & Treats is a mid-career retrospective of Singaporean contemporary artist Vincent Leow’s artistic practice that spans almost 3 decades.

Traditional genres of sculpture and painting play no small part in Leow’s early works which at once question and reaffirm institutional pressures, social change and identity. A palette of vivid colours and an aggressive, neo-Surrealist style dominate Leow’s at-times didactic compositions of the late 1980s and early 1990s; the first few works to confront the viewer are Leow’s intensely personal but antagonistic and provocative depictions of cigarette addiction in Lucky Strike (1989) and Cut Throat (1989).

Vincent Leow, White Portrait, 2009, oil on canvas, 100 x 80 cm, artist collection. Image courtesy of artist.

A markedly evolved visual language emerges after Leow’s graduation from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore as he turned satirist on consumerism and capitalism, injecting a subtle playfulness in his approach to mass production and consumption in Mountian Cow Milk Factory (1998). Deliberately misspelled, Mountian Cow Milk Factory incorporates the techniques of commercial advertising and pop-culture while dabbling in word-play to invoke the impossibility of identical replication.

The second story of the installation space is in part, dedicated to the works commissioned for Tags & Treats, representing as well, an artistic shift and focus in Leow’s practice. Tags & Treats after all, takes its name from a collection of Leow’s later works: where the “tag” – such as the pet identity tag, or the military tag – could serve as an object of remembrance, and can thus co-exist with a “treat” of having lived a life that is befitting of recognition.

Vincent Leow, Andy’s Wonderland, 2006, stainless steel in edition of 8, 200 x 120 x150 cm, Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy of artist.

The later works – greatly informed by the death of his beloved pet dog Andy and his present stint at the University of Shahjah in the United Arab Emirates – appear to be a mellowed re-commitment to the issues of identity, now imbued with an insouciant sense of mortality that commemorates the everyman and the mundane. Straddling the line between seriousness and flippancy, Leow defies the heavy melancholy of death by reconstructing Andy as a wide-eyed, perpetually laughing hybrid man-dog creature in Andy’s Wonderland. Not all of Leow’s installations are effusively humourous; the nobility of the everyman permeates the adjacent floor space where busts and plinths of nameless individuals stand in quiet dignity.