Few artworks are as fiercely, angrily literal as Vincent Leow’s Money Suit, a sculptural object which is presently on display in the National Gallery Singapore:
The artwork says what it is, and is what it says.
When Leow first donned the suit in 1992, it was incorporated into his work of performance art entitled Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: The Three-Legged Toad. This piece was performed at a show called The Space, which featured 40 local and 20 international artists. It was an initiative of The Artist’s Village, a collective founded by artist Tang Da Wu in 1988. National Gallery curator Charmaine Toh in her essay Shifting Grounds, observes that:
“Beyond painting and sculpture, The Artists Village also initiated significant debates about how art may be understood and what functions it could play in an increasingly materialistic society. Artists had a role to play in bridging the gap between art and everyday life. As a result, many works were time and site-specific, created in the spirit of the new avant-garde that sought to resist the dominant ideologies of the state.”
Accordingly, The Space was held at an old warehouse in Robertson Quay. (The Artists Village had to vacate their rural premises in Sembawang in 1990). Building on the symbol in Chinese Feng Shui principles of the three-legged toad, which is said to represent prosperity and have the power to enhance wealth, Leow put on his suit made entirely of fake American dollars and leapt around the performance space pretending to be such a toad. His mouth too was stuffed with yet more fake American dollars.
We weren’t there to witness it ourselves but it seemed like the performance would have been riotously funny, the ridiculousness of Leow’s acts quite masterfully juxtaposed against the acerbic statement made by the artist about the toxic culture of materialism and consumerism in Singapore.
As mentioned, the suit was later lacquered and converted into a sculptural object which is on display in the National Gallery Singapore. It’s a curious piece, a moment of defiance against societal norms and White Cube exhibition spaces, preserved forever in what might be the most solidly mainstream institution in Singapore.
When we asked if Leow had any immediate plans to recreate the performance, he indicated that there were no such plans, but did not rule out the possibility of a future performance. Indeed, more than 25 years after Leow’s original performance, it seems little has changed in Singapore, with our preoccupation with all things bright and shiny. Speaking on the relevance of Money Suit in today’s world, Leow told us that he feels that the work will always be significant as long as the concept of money exists, and may even be more relevant in today’s context than ever before.