French sculptor unveils work here

SINGAPORE - A twisting red glass sculpture by a French artist beloved of international fashion houses was unveiled Tuesday morning at the open foyer of Paragon mall, facing Orchard Road.

Jean-Michel Othoniel's Noeud Rouge, or Red Knot, is one of seven sculptures at Paragon, and the latest public artwork in town by a celebrated international artist. It was commissioned by the mall at a cost of $253,500.

The Parisian sculptor's art is in several public and private collections, including that of big luxury brands such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Gucci.

In 2000, he decked out a Paris metro station entrance with two canopies of jewelled glass globes and, last year, was commissioned to create four permanent sculptures on the grounds of the Versailles Palace.

His installation at Paragon comes after several high-profile corporate commissions of A-list artists, such as Anish Kapoor and Marc Quinn, in public areas around Marina Bay and the Central Business District. Last year, recently knighted British-Indian sculptor Kapoor had a work, Tall Tree In The Eye, installed at Ocean Financial Centre, while Quinn's sculpture of a giant baby, Planet, was placed at Gardens by the Bay.

Mrs Sng Ngoi May, Paragon's executive director, said Noeud Rouge was chosen as the sculpture "complements" what the mall has to offer.

"Jean-Michel Othoniel's works are well represented worldwide in major museums and are linked closely to the fashion industry. I am confident that this sculpture befits Paragon's image as a premium fashion mall and will raise Singapore's standing in the international art scene," she said.

Other artists whose works are in the mall are prominent Singapore sculptor Sun Yu Li and Spanish artist Rosa Serra.

Othoniel, 50, was present at the launch of his work on Wednesday. In his 25-year artistic career, he has gone from creating enigmatic works made of sulphur and wax to his recent large-scale glass sculptures. He is known for his intense visual explorations of themes surrounding that of the body, beauty, desire and metamorphosis.

In an e-mail interview ahead of the launch, he said: "The Red Knot is a piece about infinity and energy. In this piece, I love the connection with the body of the viewer. You can see yourself in an infinity of reflections.

"Through this piece, I try to connect with elements of Asian culture and Asians' fascination with the symbol of infinity."

The Red Knot is a fine example of his recent abstract sculptures. The mirrored glass used reflects the surrounding environment in a delicate cascade of deep garnet red to light pink and silver beads.

Depending on the viewer's perspective, the form that appears is different, evolving to infinity, making the knots seem endless.

Othoniel called this sculpture "multiple mise en able", literally, placed into an abyss. The term also means telling a story in a visually compelling way.

He added: "The knots are made of a blown mirror glass. They are also their own subjects as they reflect themselves in this particular material."

The artist worked on the piece for over six months, from the initial drawings to working with a glass blower. The creative process involved first drawing the shape and colouring it with watercolour. After that, photographs were taken and simulations done to connect the piece with the architecture of the mall.

This sculpture is part of a series of recent artworks he has been working on. "For the first time, it is realised in a very joyful colour, which I feel fits this part of the world well," Othoniel said.

While he has created artworks in places such as Britain, Italy, the United States, Japan and China, this is his first commissioned work in Singapore.

"Each time I create something, it is different. I like working with an understanding of the landscape, like an architect," he said.

The artist, known for his fairy-tale-like, accessible sculptures, called the Red Knot "a gift to the public".

"When the sculpture is going on the street, it is a way to find new viewers who are not art specialists. It needs to connect at a different level," he added.

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