Featuring heritage jewellery flown in direct from Cartier’s archives in Paris, and 10 pieces of art curated by Singaporean creative Alvin Tan in collaboration with Singapore-based design firm LAANK, Cartier, Icon of Style is an exhibition which took place in December last year to commemorate Cartier’s new three-storey Singapore boutique, the largest in Southeast Asia. Now, Tan’s work has been put on permanent display at the brand’s ultra-exclusive Le Salon Cartier at the said store.
As the co-founder of art and design collective PHUNK, Alvin has over 25 years of experience in Asia’s art and design industry so it’s no surprise the French luxury house worked with him for the project. Working closely with the brand’s Store, Design & Planning and Visual Merchandising teams, the art curation took Alvin four months from conception to fruition and it has been one of his favourite commissioned projects to date. Below, BAZAAR speaks exclusively to Alvin about his selection and how the collaboration came about.
What was the inspiration behind your showcase for Cartier’s flagship Singapore store?
My driving inspiration was to tell a story of how age old cultures meet new world sensibilities because Cartier embraces Singapore as a “true cultural crossroad”- a cosmopolitan city rooted in traditions. The challenge was to let this narrative come through a curation of modern art objects with strong Asian values, keeping it forward-thinking, fresh, but not forgetting its traditional roots.
Do you have a favourite piece from the display?
“Fragments of the Heart” holds a special place for me. It’s a golden heart that’s encased in a bell jar, its faceted surface expresses beauty in complexity and diversity. The heart is a symbol that transcends all cultures as the archetype of love.
Can you tell us a little about the process from conception to fruition?
I initially proposed a series of objects which were presented and shortlisted by the Cartier team in Paris. Every piece had to invoke a sense of Asia or Singapore with a contemporary twist, so you get a modern art object with a traditional essence.
How did the collaboration between yourself and Cartier initially come about?
The opportunity came when my friends at Laank Design, Cherin and Jason, approached me to take on this art curation. The curation theme was right up our alley, so we couldn’t wait to start the art hunting. It’s pretty amazing to curate art for a luxury brand, but it’s even more special when you get to do it with your friends.
What’s next for Alvin Tan?
I’m working on a new series of art-inspired jewellery called “Fragments Of”. I wanted to create wearable sculptures, and a fellow artist, Shimin, joined me in giving it life through 3D printing. We’ve created a series with Mr Sabotage and will be launching a new collection at Boutique Fairs. Think postmodern art with a punk ethos rolled into costume jewellery. It is also PHUNK’s 25th anniversary next year, we’re currently working on a museum art commission and planning on a travelling exhibition to all our favourite cities.
A still life conversation between two kindred spirits. In Feng Shui, Agate is a crystal that possesses grounding energy that will calm, elevate and uplift its surroundings. The crane, an amulet against exhaustion and tiredness, is admired for its untiring strength in flight, a true soaring spirit. In a leftfield arrangement, the oriental crane sits below the blue agate, an unbashful take on appropriating the unconventional style of Cartier.
A cross-cultural rarity, this French antique bowl from the 1860s is a perfect example of how east meets west artistically. Crafted in France with influence from China’s Qing dynasty, the sculpted brass bowl with cloisonne enamels features 2 unique dragon handles. The Chinese dragon is a symbol of imperial power and strength.
Inspired by pagoda architecture which has several tiers that circulate from the bottom to the top, this Thai vase has of strips of bamboo and brass intertwined to create coils of texture and colour. Pagodas are associated with protection and education, here it sits aptly a stone’s throw away from Le Salon Cartier’s bookshelf.
With white marble reminiscent of Kopi-tiam table tops in Singapore, this Beirut vase made from Italian marble is a cross-cultural example on how materiality connects cultures in defiance of distance.
To-pi is a transformation of clay into a visual idiom, in Malay, To-pi means ‘Hat’. The Malays were the first indigenous people in Singapore, and clayworks are an integral part of their cultural heritage. Singaporean potter Aida Khalid crafted a timber stirrer that shot through a ceramic hat, painting traditional forms against a luxe backdrop.
A faceted heart, broken pieces that comes in a whole, protected by a glass bell jar. Our heart is a vibrational energy, in Asia, this energy is known as ‘Chi’. The heart represents the ‘central wisdom of feeling’ rather than ‘reason’, it transcends all cultures as the archetype of love. The golden heart encased in a jar sits centerpiece at Le Salon Cartier’s emitting tenderness and affection.
A modern relic inspired by an ancient instrument, this is a contemporary sundial with patterns of a geometrical mandala. Mandalas are diagrams that represents the universe, they originate from Tibet and bring about awareness to the self. Time may pass, but like Cartier Panthere, traditions stay.
Art deco buildings have become a part of Singapore’s urban heritage, with many colonial shophouses falling under conservation. The site-specific placement of an art deco lamp in a local store draws reference to an era when western settlers brought artistic influence to a burgeoning city.
This European palm tree lamp has a distinctive element which comes in the form of a surreal bamboo trunk. Bamboo is commonly found in Asian landscapes, and in this lamp, it has made its way into the stem of a light that shines. This eccentric union of cultural symbols makes it a rarity, befitting the space it inhabits.