Three Curators Shaping The Art We Should See

One uses art to change society, another is highlighting street art, while a third is championing new media.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

The Activist Who’s GivingSocially Conscious Artists a Voice

In a corner of Audrey Yeo’s gallery is what looks like a classical oil portrait of a girl reclining in bed – except her face is lit up by the bluish glowof the smartphone inher hand, harsheningthe lines around her mouth in a terribly familiar way.

You don’t have to know a thing about art to instantly understand and connect to this piece, or to connect to Audrey. “Just imagine,” she says. “Our parents’ generation couldn’t have painted this. It’s works like this that mark our time.”

She has an infectious energy that belies her packed schedule – she recently produced the Asian art fair, S.E.A. Focus 2019, and runs the Arnoldii Arts Club, which organises art programmes and holidays for enthusiasts, collectors and corporate clients. All that on top of managing her gallery, a task she describes as “creating a whole infrastructure around each artist to support their works”. In practical terms, this includes everything from administrative support to artistic stimulation, networking opportunities, and emotional and moral support. She also publishes books for her artists, often engaging specialist writers and researchers even though she has a masters in contemporary art.

Given the time and resources she invests, she’s highly selective about the artists she partners with. “We’re known for working with artists who are thinkers, who have a social message,” she says. “There are galleries that work for art for the mass market, or a niche market – we work for art for the people who can change society.” Having a client list which includes international celebrities, diplomats, corporations and prominent families puts Audrey in a unique position to make her artists’ pressing social messages heard by infl uential people. “If they’re buying art, their heart is already in the right place,” she explains.

When this works out, it’s like a fairy tale come true. “One of our artists, Maryanto, was an environmental activist. He used to volunteer aid to landslide victims and protest mining sites until he realised he could make more of a difference through art.” The Indonesian artist’s stark black-andwhite works depict landscapes ruined by industrialisation and pollution. “Now his clients are major petroleum mining companies!”

She also proudly relates how one client’s family decided to convert their company to one that’s run on renewable energy. “He makes a huge social difference through his works.” Still, not everyone gets it. “My father’s friends are traditional art collectors, and they sometimes struggle to find something to buy, then they’ll ask me: ‘Why are there no happy paintings with flowers in them?’,” she laughs. “But that’s not what we do!”

Considering the uphill struggle she must face, does she sometimes think she would be happier just buying and collecting art? She pauses to think, then says: “I don’t know. Maybe? I really don’t know.” We do. She wouldn’t.

Andrey Yeo

36 | founder | Yeo Workshop |
My Reading Room

The Rebel Who Champions Accessible Art for Everyday People

he oversized graffiti-inspired works she favours are your first clue that Holly Turner isn’t your typical art curator. The hip pieces by young Latin American street artists feature pop culture subjects like cartoon animals, sneakers and superheroes, and practically vibrate with energy and attitude. Several have neon elements that glow in UV light.

Growing up on a farm in Leicestershire, Holly only discovered her calling when her college roommate needed help with some art history homework. “I’m not from an elite background, and I’ve always felt there’s a gap between great art and being able to sell it to people without inflating the prices,” says the British expat, who went on to study at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, proposing an art exhibition at McDonald’s for her master’s thesis.

That’s also why her current exhibition is held in her home instead of her gallery. “Many people might be intimidated by what they might see as sort of a ‘stiff ’ gallery,” she admits. “Also, everything looks great in a gallery, but it’s not real life. This way you can really see how the pieces look in a residential setting.”

Prices are kept as low as $3,888, but even then, she’s known to let pieces go for less to the right buyer. “If I really feel like somebody loves it, we can sort something out as long as it doesn’t undervalue my artists,” she shares. “Sometimes I just really want a customer to have a piece because they’re looking at it the way I looked at it.”

And the pieces are easy to fall for. From Walter Zuluaga’s oil paintings of magic realism scenes like giant Converse sneakers on the moon, to renowned Colombian artist Stinkfish’s bold stencil-and-spraypaint works, or local street artist Zero’s seven-part mural featuring Holly’s dog, Emilio – every piece makes an impression. “I go for paintings and artists who command a presence. Street artists have always been a little bit braver. They use bold colour palettes, and they aren’t afraid of shock value.”

When she first visited Colombia, where most of her artists are from, Holly was captivated by how the country overcame its troubled Narcos past with verve and beauty. It’s not unlike her own life: She moved to Singapore, alone, at 24, with no contacts and not even a hotel room booked – so she knows a little about choosing a different path, persisting, and things coming up roses. “After six months here, I was so lonely I wanted to give up. My mum and sister even came from the UK wanting to take me home, but I insisted on giving it a few more months.” Ten years later, she’s happily engaged, and her refusal to admit defeat has paid off . “I’ve always wanted to have my own gallery and to show dynamic, accessible artists,” she smiles. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do.”

“I go for paintings and artist s who command a presence. Street artist s have always been a little bit braver.” 

Holly Turnen

34 | founder | Artitude Galeria | 34 | founder | Artitude Galeria | 
My Reading Room

The Intellectual Who’s Exploring What’s Never Been Done Before

A piece in the ADM Gallery literally turns the spotlight onto the gallery walls themselves. One of a series of six works by Warren Khong, it’s a rectangle of wall simply highlighted by a spotlight. Other pieces in the exhibition of post-2000 Singapore art are just as conceptual, like Jane Lee’s sculptural paintings made from noodle-like strings of paint, or Kanchana Gupta’s compressed cubes of painted canvas.

They’re strangely beautiful but also esoteric, exactly the sort of pieces that invite the question you don’t dare to ask: Is this art?

To Michelle Ho, who was recently appointed curator of the Singapore Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2019, this is precisely when she has succeeded. It shows she’s managed to articulate something people may not think of as conventionally beautiful or meaningful. “Sometimes, artists dare to do something that hasn’t been done before, even at the risk of it being labelled as non-art,” she explains. “That, to me, is significant.”

The pieces all begin to make perfect sense when Michelle explains them in her even, patient voice. They’re the result of artists searching for a new understanding of what a painting could be by challenging the conventions and limitations of art.

Pursuing new ideas is second nature to Michelle, a former Straits Times Life! journalist who switched careers after getting her masters in curatorship and modern art at the University of Sydney. She then spent eight years at the Singapore Art Museum, where she led the acquisition strategies of its contemporary art collection and was co-curator in the Singapore Biennale 2013. At NTU’s non-commercial ADM Gallery, she now has the leeway to display regional and international art that challenges or provokes, and provide artists with the chance to show experimental work. “I believe every work is an opportunity for us to think about or reconsider the world in a different way. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?”

This is what she finds most rewarding – helping to realise artistic concepts that have not been seen before, such as the exhibition she and multidisciplinary artist Song-Ming Ang will present at the Venice Biennale 2019 (which starts May 11). Blending experimental music and conceptual art, it’s inspired by the series of “Music For Everyone” concerts organised by the Ministry of Culture in the 1970s and 1980s to encourage public appreciation of the arts, and it involves members of the public with no musical training playing the recorder in reinvented ways: “It’s also about the potential of amateurs as a force in art-making,” she explains. “That itself can be quite a subversive idea.”

“I hope we can become more open to alternative voices and positions,” she says. “And make art centres and museums safe spaces.” “I believe every work is an opportunity for us to think about or reconsider the world in a different way.”

Michelle Ho

39 | gallery director | ADM Gallery | 

Buying Art 101

Audrey and Holly advise what to look out for if you’re in the market for art. Let’s say you have a budget of…


A young artist. Instagram is a good place to hunt for upand-coming talents, follow their works and go to their shows.

Pick a print. It may be hard to get an original work at this price point, but you could get a print from a more established artist instead.

Buy with your heart. Don’t stress out over research or value. Just look for a piece you really love.


Light research. Get to know the basics about the artists you’re interested in – who they are, what region they’re from, techniques they use and where they’ve been represented in the world.

Buy local. And regional. With a little effort, you can find a few gems by local and South-east Asian artists within your budget.

$20k or more

Big picture. Ask for the artist’s CV and learn more, such as where they studied, their other works, exhibitions or art fairs they’ve been at, the medium used, and how long it took to do the piece.

Compare. If you can, find out what different galleries sell the same artist’s pieces for. Try to get an idea of whether their career and prices are going up, even if only gradually.

Shop smart. Buy from a reputable gallery. Check out galleries in the Gillman Barracks art district for good-quality programming and art.

Treasure it. Look after your investment well through its ideal placement at home and exploring good casing and framing.