Robert Zhao, the Sole Southeast Asian Finalist

Published on 1 July 2017

Singapore Artist Robert Zhao is the Sole Southeast Asian Finalist for Hugo Boss Asia Art Award 2017.

By Jo Tan

One of Singapore’s cheekiest contemporary artists, Robert Zhao Renhui has presented various works (often photographs) which seem to document real events, or Zhao’s collections of genuine objects …until you take a closer look. At the age of 18, Zhao, as part of a collective, presented an exhibition of photographs from the last roll of film belonging to one Wu Xiao Kang, a schizophrenic photographer who had committed suicide. In reality, it was all an elaborate hoax exploring the blurred lines between fiction and non-fiction, and also the conceptual artwork that launched Zhao into notoriety.

One thing he has actually been collecting is awards, including the Deutsche Bank Award in Photography (2011) by the University of the Arts London, The United Overseas Bank Painting of the Year Award (2009) Singapore, the Young Artist Award and a nomination for the 2015 Arles Discovery Award. This year, he scores another nomination as one of four finalists at the Hugo Boss Art Asia Award 2017, one of the top awards for contemporary art in Asia. He is the only Southeast Asian finalist for this biennial award organised by Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum and Hugo Boss, with its self-professed focus on art from the “’Greater China’ region (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau)” no less.

“My work is very strange lah. Fiction, non-fiction, often you can’t tell,” Zhao once told the A-List. Well, one confirmed truth is that audiences from all over the world will be able to glory in the supposed strangeness of Zhao’s work this October as he and the other finalists present their work at Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum. The award winner will be announced in November, and receive RMB300,000 (S$61,000). Alternatively, see Zhao’s oeuvres in Singapore as part of the ongoing HUMAN+ exhibition at the ArtScience Museum, the National Gallery Singapore’s Children’s Biennale, or his upcoming installation The Nature Museum as part of this year’s Singapore International Festival of Arts.

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