The Art Of Being Independent

Text by Patricia Lee
Photography by Jovian Lim

After a two-hour chat with June that stretches from her passion for South East Asian art to Nietzsche, one statement in particular stands out in my mind: “You don’t produce exhibitions for the public but if you produce something good, you will have a public.” It’s one of those deceptively simple remarks that sits at the heart of the “what makes good art” debate. And likewise, the question of what makes a good curator.

In the past four years June has emerged as one of the most sought after curators out of Singapore, most notably being handpicked for a two-year residency by the Guggenheim Museum in New York. During her stint there in 2012, she acquired 40 South East Asian works for its collection and conceptualized the exhibition No Country: Contemporary Art for South and South East Asia currently touring in Hong Kong. Her projects have varied from the curation of the Singapore Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale to a video programme for the Centre for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv. Yet what each has consistently championed is South East Asian art, bringing it to the attention of international critics and collectors.

June’s interests however are bound by far more than mere geography. She responds to works not because they are South East Asian, but because they satisfy her own philosophical reflections. “I gravitate towards art which deals with trying to untangle ideas of how we perceive life to be. The artists I do know and talk to are not producing art because they want to but because they can’t do anything else. It’s intrinsic to their existence.”

A philosopher at heart, June’s approach to art can be traced back to her undergraduate degree. When she tells me that she started out studying Philosophy and Sociology at the National University of Singapore, the references that naturally roll off the tip of her tongue and her zen attitude to life fall into place. Her career in curation was not so much a pre-meditated choice as the outcome of simply allowing her life to go with the flow. “To be frank, I just did a Masters in art history after my degree so I could get back to school and academia,” she admits matter-of-factly. “It didn’t seem to imply that there had to be a path. After that I wondered around for a bit and at some point had to do something so I joined the art museum. I wasn’t even thinking about curating, I just wanted to be able to continue interacting with artists and looking at art all the time. That’s still the purpose. It doesn’t even feel like work most of the time.”

Read more in The U Press N˚5 (Singapore edition).