Monday, August 31, 2009

Drawing the common people to the art gallery

LAST Wednesday, I received an SMS inviting me to visit the National Art Gallery between then and today.

The 51st visitor of each day gets a surprise gift in one of the programmes held in conjunction with the premier galler y’s 51st anniversary.

While I am pleased that the gallery has jumped on the technology bandwagon to draw visitors to its premises, I recall a time a couple of years ago when it did so quite effortlessly on the first Saturday of each month.

In fact, the event — a monthly art fair — almost became a permanent feature on Kuala Lumpur’s list of happenings until it was discontinued.

Known as Laman Seni, the art fair was held at the grounds of the National Art Gallery to draw a wider audience and get common people to be interested in art.

Tents were set up and rented to artists, mostly painters, to work, display and sell their art.

It allowed the artists to interact not only among themselves but also with the man-in-the street.

But barely into its second year, the event was stopped when the gallery underwent a major renovation.

I did not remember reading any official statement why it was scrapped but I did recall coming across some people, including tourists, who had had by then heard about the art fair, asking for its location several times.

Rumours were rife on why it was stopped — logistics was one, finance was the other.

Some said the artists did not benefit much from it since everyone was allowed to rent the tents and sell.

Some also blamed the carnival-like atmosphere, completed with stage shows and the customary morning aerobics, the cacophony of which was hardly conducive for browsing or purchasing art work.

Probably, for fear that it would be - come a flea market, the event wa s scrapped.

While the true reason may not be known and the possibility of the Laman Seni being resurrected remote, from my observation, the art fair had drawn more visitors on Sat - urdays than the gallery ever did in a regular week.

The event may not have yielded all the results expected but if the organisation was refined through time, I think it could have been one the gallery would have been very proud of.

The premier gallery has the largest collection of Malaysian visual art that dates back to the nation’s pre-Independence days.

Though the gallery has done its share in support of artistic pursuits, and unless it can draw common people to its doorsteps and introduce them to artistic endeavours without being intimidated by formalities, its premises risks becoming scholarly landmark visited only by students and researchers.

Or it may become just another destination on the tour itinerary.

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