The Gift: Singapore Art Museum Explores The Act Of Giving Through Art

Installation view of _The Gift_ exhibition
Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum
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Gift giving is an act that has many meanings across different cultures. This simple act transforms an ordinary object into something much more meaningful and emotional. These perspectives set the stage for Singapore Art Museum’s latest exhibition The Gift.

The Gift is one of four related exhibitions in an ongoing transnational project titled: “Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories” which is initiated by the Goethe-Institut. The exhibition looks at how gifts become becoming an embodiment of a relationship, a social act, or even an obligation to another.


Exploring historical exchanges across geographical boundaries

Installation view of _The Gift_ exhibition
Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

Centring around broad themes such as interwoven histories, performed narratives and embodiment, these abstract concepts are explored through the various artworks of artworks and historical materials from the collections of the Singapore Art Museum and partner institutions such as Galerie Nasional Indonesia, MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum, and Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

Certain art pieces also demonstrate how the status and interpretation of exchange, such as its gesture, value, expectations and reciprocation, may also change over time.


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Donna Ong, 'The Caretaker' (detail), 2008
Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

One example is Donna Ong’s The Caretaker (2008). This display extends the history of the Friendship Doll Project of 1927, an exchange of dolls between Japan and the United States as a symbol of goodwill and their close relationship. Many of the dolls were destroyed when tensions between the two countries escalated during World War II.


Offering introspection into the subject of interrelationships

Beyond looking at historical landscapes and symbols, The Gift also draws visitors into introspective consideration of the self, through works that reflect personal expressions.

A key example is Bruce Nauman’s Korperdruck (Body Pressure) (1980), which invites audiences to introduce their body to the unyielding surface of a wall, encountering and becoming conscious of its resistance. Through this participatory work, Nauman encourages an examination of the self and one’s relationship with their own body.


The Gift Exhibition at Singapore Art Museum

Photos and prints from the Koh Nguang How Archive
Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

The Gift runs from 20 August to 7 November 2021 at National Gallery Singapore’s The Ngee Ann Kongsi Concourse Gallery. Read more about this exhibition here.


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