[Singapore Biennale '11] You’re NOT welcome to the Hotel Munber, part II
Singapore Biennale 2011: Open House
The censorship of Simon Fujiwara’s Biennale installation, Welcome to the Hotel Munber, continues to make waves. Hot on the heels of my post yesterday, the following piece appeared in The Straits Times‘ Life! section this morning.
Biennale exhibit which had porn magazines removed without artist’s knowledge is closed. By Adeline Chia.
A controversial art installation with pornographic gay content censored by the Singapore Art Museum is now temporarily closed, while the museum and artist try to work out how to change it.
The installation by award-winning British artist Simon Fujiwara titled Welcome to The Hotel Munber looks like a 1970s Spanish hotel bar with a bar counter, bar stools, wine barrels and legs of ham.
But it also contained with sexual images and innuendos which came in the form of erotic images and text, or in the way the fake sausages were arranged.
The museum had removed some gay pornographic magazines from the installation without informing Fujiwara, causing people to accuse the museum of unprofessionalism and censorship.
Now, the exhibit is closed while the artist and the museum discuss how to modify the installation, which is the artist’s fictionalized re-imagining of his father as a repressed gay man running a hotel under Spain’s fascist dictator General Francisco Franco’s regime.
The artwork is part of the ongoing Singapore Biennale, the island’s premier visual arts event. It had been shown in its entirety for two days at a private viewing for reporters and artists on March 11 and 12.
After the private viewing, the museum removed the pornographic magazines. The reason given was that the graphic material was within easy reach of visitors, and the museum had to protect audiences who did not want such graphic sexual material in their face.
In a letter to Life! Yesterday, Singapore Art Museum director Tan Boon Hui gave the background to the work, saying that many of the artworks in the Biennale were site-specific. He defines these as works “created from the constant negotiation and dialogue between the Biennale curators and artists, sometimes right up tot eh final moments of the installation.”
He said that the museum had known that Fujiwara’s work contained graphic and nude images, and so had put in place advisories and hired gallery sitters. But, he added, “given the ongoing creation process, it is not possible to view site-specific contemporary artworks until they are fully installed.”
Fujiwara’s Hotel Munber is an ongoing work that has been exhibited in cities such as Frankfurt in Germany. It won the prestigious Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel, the iconic Swiss art fair, last year.
Mr Tan said: “Contemporary art is unlike films, which are fully completed works and can be viewed ahead of time for rating assessments.”
As a result, he added, the museum was “not aware of the final configuration of Fujiwara’s artwork” until all its artefacts were in place and the installation was completed “just in time for the Biennale private viewing.”
“it was then that we noted that the artefacts took the form of sexually explicit magazines within the larger installation. One of these magazines was within easy reach of the public and the others could be discerned,” he said.
The museum then decided to remove the magazines but to keep the exhibit open, said Mr Tan. At the same time, the curators were informed and were asked to contact the artist.
He added that Fujiwara “has also conveyed his concern” about the installation, including the magazines, which belong to a collector, being handled by the public.
“in view of this and other feedback, the artist has proposed that we reconfigure the exhibit altogether,” said the museum director.
Singapore artist Ho Tzu Nyen, 34, was one of the people who caught the installation in full during the Biennale opening weekend.
He said that “such issues should have been ironed out way before the show opened, since the institution should be 100 per cent aware of what is showing within its walls.”
“Sexuality and the gay issue are a big part of Simon Fujiwara’s practice, so it’s not like this is something shocking and unexpected. Moreover, Hotel Munbar [sic] is an existing exhibition, it’s not like it came out of nowhere,” he added.
Fujiwara, 28, won the Frieze Art Fair’s prestigious annual Cartier Award for emerging artists last year. The artist, who is of Japanese-British heritage, did not respond to e-mail from Life! this week.
His works often deal with fictional narratives, sexuality and history, and have been exhibited at prestigious platforms such as the Venice Biennale, Manifesta and the Sao Paulo Biennale.