The National Gallery Singapore organizes a Wu Guanzhong exhibition co-created by guides

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SINGAPORE — British housewife Tina Nixon has been guiding museum visitors for nearly 30 years. But this Saturday (July 9), for the first time, she will direct an exhibition in which she participated in the curating.

Ms. Nixon, 58, is one of four professors who co-curated National Gallery Singapore’s Wu Guanzhong: Traveling with the Master.

This is the first time the museum has involved docents – volunteer guides who have an interest, but not necessarily a professional background, in art – in curating an exhibition.

The showcase features 47 works of art by Wu from the National Collection and rare archival materials alongside the personal stories and memorabilia of the curator-guides.

According to Dr. Eugene Tan, Director of the National Gallery Singapore: “As an inclusive and welcoming museum for all, the gallery continues to explore new formats to allow us to present diverse perspectives.

“Guides are an integral part of the museum experience and it was natural to invite them to participate in our co-created inaugural exhibition.”

Ms Nixon, who has guided exhibitions around the world from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the Royal Academy of Arts in London, said: “We could just give people headphones and let them listen to the official version of ‘a tour. But as guides, we do more than that – we give them a sense of how we feel, encouraging people to interpret and think for themselves.”

Wu was a pioneering Chinese artist who has been featured in numerous exhibitions at the gallery, including Learning From The Master last year (2021) and Expressions Of Pen & Palette in 2018.

The next presentation will be the sixth edition of an ongoing series devoted to the study of the life and work of the Chinese painter.

It takes visitors through a journey in four sections, titled Daydreaming, Exploring, Beyond The Horizon and Rhapsodies. For each section, one of the four hosts shares her knowledge and thoughts on the works, some of which are accompanied by a postcard with the host’s personal story, written in English and Chinese.

Docent Queenie Chow, 61, a freelance Chinese teacher, says of the postcards: “When we first wrote them, we tried hard to sound professional and institutional. And then the feedback we got was: “It’s not your voice. want guiding voices.'”

Paintings such as A Tibetan Buddha Wall (1961) in the Exploring section caused Ms Chow to reminisce about her own experiences traveling to Tibet.

“At around 5,000 meters, the high altitude hurt a lot in our chests. I was on the train with my lips all purple, a sign of a lack of oxygen.”

She believes other visitors with similar experiences may find resonance or solace in Wu’s paintings, and hopes to inspire them to draw parallels between their lives and the painter’s difficult and tireless search for artistic inspiration through the China.

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