U and I were back in KL for a flying visit in July, some 5 months after my last trip, and we saw some really great art, discovered interesting new art spaces, met some cool art people and, as always, ate some delicious food. I thought I would present this second piece on KL a little differently and try to give you a sense of what our crazy art-hopping trips are like. So I’m writing this piece photo-journal-style, setting out what we did, in the exact order that we did it, mostly in photos. I hope you enjoy this “Diary of our Trip to KL”.

Day One

The Balai

U had arrived in KL a day earlier and although we had planned to meet only later, she Whatsapped from The National Visual Arts Gallery (Balai Seni Negara, or Balai, for short) excitedly raving about some of the awesome Malaysian art on show at their main exhibition, Negaraku. So as soon as I got to the hotel, I dumped my bag, got in an Uber and hot-footed it over. We later heard from some KL art friends who thought the patriotic and overtly nationalistic tones of the show a little over-the-top, but for U and I, fresh from art history school, it was quite a delight to see some well-known works by eminent Malaysian artists that we’d only read about. It would take a whole article to do the exhibition justice, but here are some canonical works we were happy to get the chance to see, along with some newer works we really liked.

Cheong Soo Pieng, Tropical Life, 1959

Redza Piyadasa, The Great Malaysian Landscape, 1972

Mohd Suhaimi Tohid, Journey, 2001

Ali Nurazmal, Imitation Master After Caravaggio – Time and Space, 2013

Lunch at Taste Bud

We couldn’t stay as long as we would have liked at the Balai as we had several more places to go to and people to meet that day. Besides I was absolutely starving by then, having not eaten all day. Our next stop was A+ Works of Art in Sentul and Taste Bud, we were told, was five minutes away and would provide me with the sustenance I desperately needed. Dear reader, I will only say, it did not disappoint.

U presides over a sumptuous spread at Taste Bud in Sentul

A+Works of Art

A+ Works of Art had only just opened when we visited, so we got to view the first installment of its ongoing series of exhibitions called Kadang Kadang Dekat Dekat Akan Datang and chat with gallery director Joshua Lim. (Note: The rather curious title of the series refers to a riddle from the 1959 P. Ramlee movie Nujum Pa’ Blalang.) Lim has deep roots in the regional art scene but running a gallery is a new project for him. He aims to proffer something new and different rather than merely expanding on what is already on offer in the KL gallery scene, with an artist-led and collaborative approach to exhibition-making. He also hopes to show more photographic and video works and wants A+ to be an integral part of the Sentul neighbourhood where it is located, reaching out to residents and schools in the area. Watch this space – we are expecting lots of exciting things from Joshua and A+!

Tan Zi Hao’s Skeleton of Makara (Myth of a Myth), last seen at the 2016 Singapore Biennale, greets visitors as they step into the gallery

Joshua Lim and U contemplate Agus Suwage’s Pause/Replay, 2004 – 2009

Chatting with our hospitable host, Joshua Lim, in the library space soon to be occupied by RogueArt

Tea & Conversation at Trace

No rest for the weary, we were due next at Ilham Tower to meet with author, journalist and BFM89.9 radio host Sharaad Kuttan and Lee Weng Choy, art critic and former artistic co-director of the Substation.  Lee has been particularly interested, of late, in the evolving role of art criticism and the digital future of art-writing, so we knew we were in for an interesting and lively chat with these two gentlemen.

What we didn’t expect was to catch sight of a sprightly and energetic Dr Mahathir Mohamad, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, exiting the building and into a waiting car, while we were waiting at the lobby of Ilham Tower! Yes, I’m embarrassed to say, we did gape and gawk … but only a little …

Trace Restauarant & Bar, situated 40 floors above the ground at the Element KL, offers a birds’ eye view of the city

ILHAM Contemporary Forum

The Ilham Gallery has become a must-visit destination on our trips to KL – impressive for its intelligent curation and its thought-provoking exhibitions. We were fortunate this time as Weng Choy had, together with Gallery Director Rahel Joseph, co-facilitated the exhibition currently on display at the gallery, the ILHAM Contemporary Forum, and kindly gave us a quick introduction.

Seven young Project Curators (all under 40) were invited to work collaboratively to curate an exhibition of selected Malaysian visual artworks or cultural projects created within the last eight years. Unlike a typical museum exhibition, which might adopt a more authoritative, survey approach, the Project Curators were asked not to assume a top-down vantage point. Rather, the exhibition was meant to be constructed through a series of enquiries and lateral conversations among different voices, on the ground. What we thought was most interesting about the show was the proposed re-hang of the works in the exhibition, midway through its run, to allow the curators to re-think the groupings of the same artworks and to consider other possible ways of organising the show. It will certainly be interesting to re-visit the exhibition before it closes and see what the curators have chosen to do.

Play, Negotiation, Resistance

One of the four initial groupings of works in the show: Play, Negotiation, Resistance

Liew Seng Tat & collaborators, Projek Angkat Rumah, 2010

Explanatory wall text for Projek Angkat Rumah

Sharon Chin, Weeds/Rumpai Series, 2013

Explanatory wall text for Weeds/Rumpai series

Dinner at Oversea Restaurant

Oversea Restaurant is a KL institution, established in the 1970s, well-known for its delicious Cantonese cuisine and also for its infamous long waits for a table  (reservations are a must) and busy, harried, wait-staff. After our exciting, frenetic day and a drive through KL rush-hour traffic, we arrived at its Jalan Imbi main restaurant ready for a good meal. Sometimes, a picture (or two, or more) is worth a thousand words so here goes …

Day Two

In the interests of brevity, I am not going to describe in detail the amazing massage treatments available at our hotel’s spa, The Majestic Spa, except to say that they are highly recommended. If you’re ever in KL and have the opportunity, go! It was a great way to recharge and a very welcome treat after our exertions of the previous day. We emerged relaxed, rejuvenated and ready to plunge back into another day doing the rounds of KL’s art spaces.

Zhongshan Building

Once a row of derelict circa 1950s shophouses on Jalan Kampong Attap, the Zhongshan Building is now the coolest new independent communal arts space in town. I’d been there on my previous visit to KL but had heard that more tenants had moved in, so I was keen check them out and to introduce U to this awesome space, dedicated to all things arty. There wasn’t time to see everyone and do everything, but we visited art gallery OUR Art Projects, which was showing works by Singapore’s Yeo Tze Yang, checked out the Malaysia Design Archive, a dedicated space that focuses on Malaysia’s design heritage, browsed the cleverly curated selection of new and vintage books at bookstore TintaBudi, recharged with ice-cold lemon sours at Piu Piu Piu while hanging out with my thesis supervisor Simon Soon (who has a finger in more than one pie at Zhongshan), bespoke menswear designer Joshua Fitton of Atelier Fitton and Joanne Chew of the Fictionist.

So many others, so little time – there’s an as-yet-unnamed lounge/speakeasy (although some have suggested “Too Soon”, after its co-founders); a cinematheque, Cinephelia; a rock’n’roll music archive, The Ricecooker Archives and music store, The Tandang Store; to name just a few. If you’re up in KL, plan on spending a delightful day exploring every nook and cranny of this very cool space. They’ve been known to throw a rather happening block party every now and then too!

A law firm in an arts space?

The Malaysia Design Archive

Piu Piu Piu

Cool and breezy outdoor seating at Piu Piu Piu

Bookstore Tinta Budi

Old school style at Atelier Fitton

Drinks available at the speakeasy

To round off our two-day whirlwind tour of KL, we headed to Wei-Ling Gallery, for the opening of illustrious Malaysian contemporary artist Anurendra Jegadeva‘s solo exhibition, On the Way to The Airport – New Australian Paintings. The artist, who now divides his time between Malaysia and Australia, presented a series of 35 contemporary portraits on pages taken from The Picturesque Atlas of Australasia, a vintage London based publication from the 1880s. Each image was presented in locked wooden cabinets, reminiscent of notice boards in public buildings, hospitals and schools.

Wei Ling  knows how to throw a good party and this one was no different, with delicious Indian food, free-flowing wine and champagne and a lively crowd.

Guests at the exhibition opening

The evening also saw the launch of Sacred Altars, a monograph documenting the artist’s 30-year career

We were meant to head back to Zhongshan for more partying but, by this time, a hot shower, room service, some reality TV and the uber-comfortable bed at The Majestic Hotel were all we wanted.

Thanks for a great time, Kuala Lumpur, we’ll be back again soon.