How Maisy Koh Savours Art Without Having To Buy Everything

As this mum of two girls will have you know, volunteering as a docent at the Singapore Art Museum allows her to discover and indulge in modern masterpieces. She takes us on a tour through her favourite stops.

How Maisy Koh Savours Art Without Having To Buy Everything
Maisy Koh

“Being in a museum or art gallery is like being in a cocoon; it’s meditative. It’s just you and the art — you appreciate what the artist has achieved and what the artwork tries to convey. Some pieces speak to you and draw you in; others, you have to peel away the layers. Just like Boedi Widjaja’s Black–Hut, Black–Hut, where concrete is infused with salt so it ‘blooms’ and leaves a trace on the hut, much like memories marking a house. It also ‘intervenes’ with a space we otherwise don’t pay much attention to. In the background are recordings of gamelan that recall Boedi’s childhood memories in Indonesia, and further explores the Chinese diaspora. Sometimes, the value in art is not immediately apparent and takes a while to fathom. At other times, it may just be the aesthetics we are attracted to.”

“I joined the museum as a docent in 2014. I have learnt to differentiate between art appreciation and art collecting. As a docent, I never talk about the prices. And sometimes, works I like during an exhibition are not necessarily those I’d acquire. Take, for instance, Le Quang Ha’s Gilded Age (installation view below) from Singapore Biennale 2019, which I appreciate because it is powerful but is too disturbing for me to place at home. It is a political and social critique so blatantly provocative. For our home, my husband and I look out for pieces by local artists and foreign ones such as Wu Kuan-Te.”

Le Quang Ha, Gilded Age, 2018 (installation view)
(Image: Singapore Art Museum)

“As both a docent and an art lover, I’m delighted to have venues such as SAM, National Gallery Singapore, STPI and Gillman Barracks where we can appreciate visual arts. I especially love National Gallery’s corridor, which showcases works of artist-cum-activists such as Sharon Chin. Her recent installation features monochromatic banners quilted from fabric cut-outs salvaged from discarded political flags; these were collected after the Malaysian general elections.”

Sharon Chin, In the Skin of a Tiger: Monument to What We Want (Tugu Kita), 2019

“One of the most striking works at Singapore Biennale 2019 was on display at the National Gallery earlier this year. It is by Haifa Subay, a young Yemeni street artist who spoke out against the awful war in her country. Hearing her heart-wrenching story first-hand was a very emotional experience. Hers is a story of the human spirit, and we were gripped by her anguish and resilience.

Haifa Subay, War and Humans, 2019

This story first appeared in the May 2020 issue of A Magazine.

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