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Visual Arts

Constance Sheares

Arts administrator known for her significant curatorial work at the National Museum Art Gallery.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


Time taken : ~10mins

I'm heartened the Arts have received such a huge boost from both public and private funding since the start of this century. May it continue.

Constance Sheares is a respected arts administrator known for her significant curatorial work at the National Museum Art Gallery in the '70s and '80s, and then as a private curator and consultant for various organisations. She was the Land Transport Authority's art consultant for their Art in Transit programme that integrated public art meaningfully into the Mass Rapid Transit stations along the North East Line, an exercise that became the most geographically extensive public art project in Singapore. Sheares also curated numerous exhibitions and wrote several books and monographs on Singapore art and Southeast Asian textiles.

Born in Singapore in 1941, Constance Sheares grew up in a Singapore that was recovering from World War II. Her father, Benjamin Sheares, was a doctor at Kandang Kerbau Hospital who would later become the second president of Singapore in 1971.

At age 17, she moved to the UK to attend a private boarding school. She then enrolled in the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in European Art History. Returning to Singapore, she obtained her Masters in Asian Art History at the University of Singapore, doing extensive research in traditional Southeast Asian textiles. She then went to work at the National Museum where she became Curator of Anthropology.

The early '70s saw a major reorganisation of the National Museum when its natural history collection was moved to the newly formed Singapore Science Centre and the University of Singapore. The resulting vacant space in the Museum was converted into an art gallery, a facility that was lacking in Singapore at the time.

Work started on the development of the art gallery in 1973. Sheares took on the additional role of Curator of Art at the museum and planned the concept and design of the gallery together with museum director Christopher Hooi, the head of design Choy Weng Yang, and architects from the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The National Museum Art Gallery opened in 1976 with an inaugural exhibition curated by Sheares and featuring works by Singapore artists such as Ng Eng Teng, Goh Beng Kwan, Thomas Yeo, Teo Eng Seng and Anthony Poon.

Soon after, she left for the Netherlands and Choy Weng Yang took on her role as Curator of Art. When she returned to Singapore in 1982, she rejoined the museum as Curator of Southeast Asian Ethnology, resuming her role as Curator of Art when Choy retired in 1985.

Sheares was among the few in those early days who helped nurture the growth of visual arts in Singapore. With her at the helm, the National Museum Art Gallery became a leading platform for Singapore art, not only through its exhibitions and publications but also in its mission to build a national collection. Through the many exhibitions that she curated and the acquisitions she initiated, she helped form the wellspring of art in Singapore. Among the many exhibitions organised at the National Museum Art Gallery that year was the First National Sculpture Show that featured the works of seven artists, including Ng Eng Teng, Iskandar Jalil and Tan Teng Kee.

Sheares also had a keen eye for the new art that was emerging in Singapore in the '80s. She was one of the visitors to the first exhibitions at the Artists Village in Sembawang, an offbeat commune in a farming area where founder and performance artist Tang Da Wu resided with his family. Works by Tang, Vincent Leow and Wong Shih Yeow were acquired soon after her visit.

During her tenure as art curator, Sheares brought in half a million dollars worth of contemporary art for the museum through public funding and private donations. Her exhibitions, which encompassed a wide range of artistic styles and genres, were also praised by art scholar and critic T. K. Sabapathy as being "curated with purpose and direction…accompanied by catalogues and critical sheets and there’s an attempt to discern meaning, to animate the works." (The Straits Times, 1986) She was also involved in the renovation of the museum’s Southeast Asian Gallery in 1982.

Sheares left the National Museum in 1988 and went on to adopt various supporting roles in the burgeoning art scene in Singapore as a curator, critic, writer and consultant to art buyers. She curated several exhibitions, such as the Singapore painting component of Modern Art Travels East-West, organised by Stichting Onderneming en Kunst, Amsterdam, that was exhibited in several cities in the Netherlands and Germany in 1990. She also curated exhibitions for artists including Joseph McNally, Thomas Yeo, Chua Ek Kay and Chng Seok Tin.

She was consultant to Deutsche Bank in their acquisition of Singapore artworks for their local offices and curated their exhibitions of the Singapore artists whom they supported, such as Chen Kezhan, Eng Tow, Goh Beng Kwan, S. Chandrasekaran and Jimmy Ong. Apart from corporate clients, her other consultancy work was with public institutions such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Library.

For the Land Transport Authority, she helped implement the Art in Transit programme for the Mass Rapid Transport’s North East Line that began in 1997 and began operation in 2003, by recommending and working with the artists most likely to create art that could integrated successfully with the architectural structure of the stations. Featuring works by Singapore artists such as Tan Swie Hian, Chua Ek Kay and Teo Eng Seng, the Art In Transit programme contributed greatly to the interest in public art and became the largest and most geographically extensive public art project in Singapore, extending to the Circle Line that began operation in 2009.

Sheares also served as a member of the acquisition committees of the Singapore Art Museum and the National Museum, and was involved in the acquisition of art for Changi Airport Terminal 3. She also served in various panels, including a visual arts advisory panel for the development of the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, and is credited for the art on display at places such as the Istana and Parliament House.

Sheares wrote several books and monographs on Singapore art. Her publications include Batik in Singapore (1975), Contemporary Art in Singapore: Where East Meets West (1991), Bodies Transformed: Ng Eng Teng in the Nineties (1999) and Paintings by Chua Ek Kay: Collection of Merrill Lynch International Private Client Group Asia Pacific (2000). Her essay "Threads of Tradition, Dyed and Woven" was published in T. K. Sabapathy’s Past, Present, Beyond: Re-nascence of an Art Collection (2002).

Sheares has always worked for the recognition of the excellence of Singapore art at home and abroad.

Timeline

4 Oct 1941

Born in Singapore.

1947 to 1958

Attended Raffles Girls' School, Singapore.

1959 to 1960

Attended Roedean School, UK.

1962 to 1966

Attended Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. Graduated with Bachelor of Arts (Honours).

1967 to 1970

Attended University of Singapore. Graduated with Master of Arts, Asian Art History.

1971 to 1976

Curator of Anthropology, National Museum of Singapore.

1973 to 1976

Curator of Art, National Museum of Singapore.

1976

Moved to the Netherlands.

1982

Returned to Singapore.

1982 to 1988

Curator of Southeast Ethnology, National Museum of Singapore.

1985 to 1988

Curator of Art, National Museum of Singapore.

1987

Member, Artwork Committee, Mass Rapid Transport.

1988 to 2007

Art Consultant, Deutsche Bank, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Library.

1989

Member, judging panel, Art Competition and Exhibition 1989, Ministry of Communication and Information.

1991

Author, Contemporary Art in Singapore: Where East Meets West.

1989

Member, judging panel, Art Competition and Exhibition 1989, Ministry of Communication and Information.

1995

Author, Art in the City: The Raffles City Collection.

1997 to 1999

Consultant Curator, Ng Eng Teng Gallery, National University of Singapore.

1998

Author, interviews with Goh Ee Choo, Salleh Jaffar and S. Chandrasekaran in Trimurti and Ten Years After, edited by T. K. Sabapathy.

1999

Author, Bodies Transformed: Ng Eng Teng in the Nineties.

2000

Author, Paintings by Chua Ek Kay: Collection of Merrill Lynch International Private Client Group Asia Pacific.

2002

Author, Threads of Tradition: Dyed and Woven, in Past, Present, Beyond Re-nascence of an Art Collection, edited by T.K. Sabapathy

2008 to 2013

Member, acquisition committee, National Museum of Singapore.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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