Continue reading this on our app for a better experience

Open in App

How Dennis Ouyang is curating culture for a more approachable art world

Russell Marino Soh
Russell Marino Soh • 8 min read
How Dennis Ouyang is curating culture for a more approachable art world
Dennis Ouyang’s goal with LOY is to spark conversation and make art accessible to a wider audience (Pictures: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore)
Font Resizer
Share to Whatsapp
Share to Facebook
Share to LinkedIn
Scroll to top
Follow us on Facebook and join our Telegram channel for the latest updates.

Dennis Ouyang may be a fresh face in the art world, but he is by no means a novice when it comes to style and beauty. The entrepreneur and recently minted gallerist, who opened LOY Contemporary Art Gallery in January, is entering the scene with an informed yet individual perspective.

Having founded retail ventures in fields from loungewear to mattresses, and having collaborated with stalwarts in both the art and luxury space, the 37-year-old is keenly attuned to what inspires interest from a mass point of view, while remaining grounded by a desire to promote artistic expression.

It all boils down to pieces that spark conversation, he tells Options. “We want to create a unique gallery space that can be a platform for thoughtful shows that give expression to artists with a clear voice,” he says, adding that he seeks those that “speak to our moment in time”.

Located in Tudor Court along the Orchard Heritage Trail, LOY is among the newest entrants to the local arts scene. In just four months, it has held two exhibitions. The first, “Dragon is My Middle Name”, brought together artists for a feature on its eponymous mythical creature, leading into the Year of the Dragon.

Ouyang says that debut experience, which took place during Singapore Art Week, was exceptional, with visitors coming in from around the world. “It was inspiring to be a part of these conversations and to witness firsthand the exchange of ideas through engagement with art,” he says, adding that he wants to keep this going in the gallery’s future shows.

See also: Journeys across time

LOY’s second exhibition, “A Trail to Chase”, opened on April 12, and was curated by Objective Gallery’s Ansha Jin as a celebration of homeware with an artistic twist. Standout pieces include a lamp in the form of a contorted human body by Vinent Pocsik, and an amorphously shaped dining set by Charlotte Kingsnorth; we are told A$AP Rocky has a version in his home.

 “We’re not just focusing on contemporary art; here, we’re also looking at (the intersection of) art and design,” says Ouyang of the exhibition, which closes on June 15. “This line of intersectional thinking will continue to determine our programming ahead, bringing impactful and eclectic shows to our audiences,” he adds.

Walking into a gallery full of intricately designed pieces, one might expect to see an army of tiny placards, each with the same stern message: “DO NOT TOUCH”. But visitors at “A Trail to Chase” are encouraged to touch everything — pulling drawers, sitting in chairs, and everything in between.

See also: Hong Kong’s art scene is undergoing a renaissance sparked by a vibrant full-year programme at the M+ museum

The practice lends a sense of reality to the exhibition; the pieces are not simply aspirational artworks to be admired from afar, but actual pieces of furniture that one could reasonably imagine bringing home. That ability to touch art is perhaps specific to this kind of exhibition, Ouyang notes, but the “ambition here is to inspire fresh perspectives on creativity”.

“We’re making art more accessible by encouraging visitors to interact with the works physically,” he explains. “By allowing visitors to engage in ways that are not commonly found in other galleries, we hope to challenge the common perception of art as something inaccessible, and to create entry points for visitors to engage on a tactile and dynamic level.”

Entrepreneurial spirit

That urge to make good things available to the masses is something Ouyang seems to have picked up from his entrepreneurial days. Silky Miracle, a loungewear and bedding company he founded in 2016, was built on the idea of creating a premium product — made of all silk — for a global audience. The brand has stores in mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Another company Ouyang is involved with is Swedish luxury mattress brand Hästens, which opened its first Singapore showroom just a few years ago. Similarly anchored by a commitment to quality, the company specialises in handcrafted mattresses with ethically sourced natural materials.

Speaking on how he surfs the waves of art and commerce, Ouyang draws parallels between his various ventures. “People really appreciate craftsmanship,” he says, adding that in many ways a well-built mattress is like a piece of art. It’s this similarity, he explains, that has given him an understanding of how people look at art and what they zoom in on.

For more lifestyle, arts and fashion trends, click here for Options Section

“Art has always been a deep source of inspiration for me,” says Ouyang. The first piece he collected, about a decade ago, was a painting by Chinese artist Zhao Zhao. His journey exploring the art world led him to Art Basel in Miami in 2019. Here, inspired by the “eye-opening experience” of seeing art from all over consolidated in one massive fair, he started his journey to open LOY.

Asked about his choice of location, Ouyang explains that “finding and securing an ideal space for the gallery was one of the more challenging parts of the journey”. He says he ultimately landed on Tudor Court because he would visit the area regularly while working on Silky Miracle — the brand’s first store in Singapore was in the Dempsey area.

He fell in love with the colonial-era black-and-white building, which was built in the 1920s. “We think of Singapore’s strategic location as a meeting point for art between the region and the rest of the world, and we wanted a gallery space here that represented that,” he says, adding that he also liked the Tanglin locale as it is a “modern enclave”.

Of course, working in a heritage building comes with its own set of challenges. Renovations, especially to the exterior facade, had to be kept to a minimum to preserve the building’s structure and appearance.

Ouyang centred his efforts on sprucing up the inside, where it really counts. For each exhibition, the space is revamped over up to a week, to suit the theme and aesthetic. This goes beyond replacing carpets or set dressing, he says, pointing out that some of the walls had been painted specifically for “A Trail to Chase”. The daffodil hue adds a playful, young vibe to the gallery, furthering the idea that the exhibition is one where people can play and explore.

The next exhibition at LOY, Ouyang says, will feature works by Wang Xiaolin. He adds that the show, titled “Future is the Journey to the Past”, will home in on the Chinese multidisciplinary artist’s signature style of porcelain craft, and how traditional artisanal techniques are used to “create porcelain cavasses that explore discourses around modern life”.

Ouyang notes that this will require the space to be redesigned yet again — he’s already envisioning different types of wallpaper to enhance the viewing experience.

Passion project

Ouyang’s keen eye for detail when it comes to LOY betrays a deep interest in art.

Among the pieces in “A Trail to Chase”, he says his favourite is New York-based artist J McDonald’s Innersection Vanity. The wall-hanging mirror with a drawer is cast in steel, foam, bronze and gypsum cement, with a form that blends curved and straight lines.

Ouyang’s other favourites in the exhibition include those by Kingsnorth; he explains that he owns one of the London-based artist’s works, and so her pieces are “quite special” to him.

Running such a space is no easy feat, yet Ouyang makes it seem a breeze, even with his other ventures. He says a passion for the work keeps him going, even when things get tough. “I don’t feel tired because I’m doing the things I really like to do,” he adds with a laugh.

Perhaps it also helps that he’s a self-professed workaholic: “I enjoy being busy; I’m always afraid I’ll have nothing to do.”

To that end, he has already started work on expanding LOY’s presence in the local art scene. A second space is in the works at 36 Armenian Street, intended as a more intimate venue for art appreciation, particularly through solo shows. Ouyang was inspired by Parisian galleries that present unique installations in their windows.

While he declines to share more about the upcoming first exhibition at the Armenian Street space, he reveals that it will be called “Garden of Wonders”.

Ultimately, Ouyang sees his and LOY’s place in the art world as one focused on inspiring, bringing together and educating people — not just those already in tune with art, but also those just dipping their toes in the space.

“Singapore is growing as a global art hub, and a key destination for the arts in Southeast Asia,” he points out. “Opening a gallery in Singapore means bringing our unique offer, one that acknowledges this artistic confluence … We hope to bring to the Singapore art world greater artist representation, and be a springboard for dialogue.”

Loading next article...
The Edge Singapore
Download The Edge Singapore App
Google playApple store play
Keep updated
Follow our social media
© 2024 The Edge Publishing Pte Ltd. All rights reserved.