How The SYF Art Exhibition Project Came About
This project came to me in early June. I was recommended because of my connection to the visual arts world and past curatorial projects. It had the words exhibition and visual arts in it, so I said yes even before I read the full brief.
The brief? Design, manage, and put up an exhibition of 121 artworks (a mix of 2D and 3D all with varying dimensions) for the Singapore Youth Festival Art Exhibition 2022 in the National Museum of Singapore.
The catch? I had about a month to do so.
*Cue cold sweat*
Designing An Exhibition
The space I had to work with
This project was a huge learning curve as I knew nothing about designing/ rendering exhibitions. It’s good that the two designers I worked with were experienced and quickly turned over the design for approval. There were many mini-strokes while handling this part of the project, namely time. We always needed to get the designs out to the fabricators yesterday while ensuring the measurements were accurate and compliant with the building’s safety requirements.
We had two spaces to work with, so we did the flow and layout of the panels before splitting the artworks into the four assigned categories. We also designed elevated panels to showcase the 3D artwork.
I had a bible containing a list of all 121 artworks that I checked and re-checked as it would not spark joy if we missed out on one artwork or if an artwork was placed in the wrong section.
Part of the design work before fabrication
Since the artworks were all different sizes, placing them would be a nightmare as we needed to get the measurements for the spacing right. Everything needed to be scaled, and I was pulling my hair out trying to figure out how to get it right. I had to submit the plans the next day, and I am not an architect, nor am I well-versed enough in Adobe Illustrator to make this work.
I was about to hand-draw every panel and artwork, doing some complicated scaling math, when J suggested using Microsoft Excel. I went to sleep at 3 am that night instead of not sleeping at all.
Set-Up & Curation
After the designs were approved and sent to the fabricators, I breathed a little easier. Everything started shaping up when the guys arrived for the panel installation and painting. It was always such an experience turning what you had on paper into something physical.
After the panel setup, all 121 artworks arrived, and of course, they were not nicely sorted into the four categories. Sigh
At this point, we were racing against the clock. I did not even think to consult the client as to the placement of each artwork. I just went ahead and curated them, so when the curator of the National Museum asked if the client came by and placed the artworks, I sheepishly said no and died a little inside. I guess three years of Arts Management and 10+ years of Freelancing placed them?
The good news was the client was pleased, and I earned the nickname “back curator” of the exhibition. Yay!
Laying out the artworks that will go on the panels before hanging and lighting them
My project partner asked how I decide where each piece goes. As with previous curation projects, it has to do with the flow and what resonates with you. A striking opening piece is a must; then, you look at how a piece affects the neighbouring artwork, taking into consideration the size of the artwork, colour, visual weight, and overall vibrancy.
That or a few glasses of whiskey would do the trick. Next comes lighting the works. Some artworks can ‘share’ a light, but others require a spotlight to stand out. I tried my best to balance the pieces while sweating over the budget for the exhibition.
The same goes for the 3D artworks. We had a few heart-attack moments where the dimensions given to us did not fit the artwork, or the artwork was too fragile to stand on its own. We had to come up with many creative solutions to showcase them. Design School and Arts Management did not teach this…
This whole project was an exercise in problem-solving, and I think we did a pretty good job.
Singapore Youth Festival Art Exhibition 2022 Opening Day
The calm before the storm
After a month of crazy, we got everything looking good and were ready to open the doors to the public. We managed to get the Minister of Education as our guest of honour, which was nice. What I didn’t expect was how over 300+ people showed up! Needless to say, it was very intense and my biggest exhibition opening to date that didn’t involve alcohol.
This Singapore Youth Festival Art Exhibition 2022 project was special to me as I’ve always had dreams of being a curator. So this project matched my love for curation, project management, and design. There were also plenty of media coverage in different languages, and the client was happy. But the most striking thing for me would be the reaction of the students and teachers. They were very proud to see their artwork hanging in the National Museum after all their hard work, and I’m happy to be part of the team that made it happen.
Many thanks to my design team, D and R, who supported me through last-minute changes and heart attacks. My project partner, Cherronne, is so patient and sweet about all the special effects we encountered. My client who trusted me to lead this project. J for the Excel IT support.
Fingers crossed, I’ll get to do a similar project in the future!