[Singapore Biennale '11] No one likes the art …
The Life! section in today’s Straits Times ran a lead article on the attendance woes plaguing the Biennale (reproduced below).
So they finally clued in.
There are several reasons for the low numbers apparently, with the relative inaccessibility of the main site, the Old Kallang Airport, being cited as numero uno. I don’t get this. The OKA is a stone’s throw from Kallang station: one exits from the right, crosses the street (where there’s a ginormous orange sign pointing the way), walks a block, crosses another street (where there’s another sign), and voila! the street leading into the complex is right there. It takes all of three minutes.
If one drives, Google Map it beforehand. If one takes a cab, Google Map it beforehand.
Singaporeans sure are a whiny bunch.
Another reason seems to be the art itself. The major cause of complaint: it’s perceived to be about as accessible as the Kallang Airport site, which is to say not terribly. (See image below.) Is that a bad thing ? Perhaps, from the organizers’ point of view. Avant-garde contemporary art, though, needs to be a. novel, b. difficult, c. controversial or d. all of the above, to get its point across. Or a point anyways. You know, challenge assumptions, push boundaries, explore possibilities – all those tired-sounding cliches that nonetheless hold true. In most cases, head-scratching or outrage on the part of the general viewing public is almost a predetermined corollary to what often turns out to be the most effective stuff. Manet, Turner, Picasso, Duchamp, Fluxus, Warhol – all pioneers, all on the receiving end of vilification in their day.
Perhaps the comparison to established names may be presumptuous, but my point is, incomprehension doesn’t necessarily suggest inadequacy.
Oh, and then of course there’s the Fujiwara scandal – but I’m sure most of us are tired of hearing about it by now.
The third instalment of the Singapore Biennale is attracting fewer visitors this year. By Deepika Shetty.
The third edition of the Singapore Biennale does not seem to be a great crowd-puller.
Over 100,000 people have gone to see the top contemporary art show, which started on March 13 and ends on May 15.
The numbers include visitors to the three main venues – Old Kallang Airport, Singapore Art Museum and SAM at 8Q, the National Museum of Singapore – and excludes the outdoor figures for the most popular site, the Merlion Hotel in Marina Bay. The luxurious hotel room created by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi has been drawing over 1,000 visitors a day.
Unless there is a stampede in the next few weeks, the final visitor tally may fall short of the 650,000 target set by the organizers, even though they say they are on track to hit the numbers.
The 100,000 figure is well short of the 325,000 people which the 2008 edition drew by the time it hit the midway mark. Overall, 502,000 people attended the show in 2008, compared to 883,000 in the inaugural edition in 2006.
This year’s biennale was postponed twice, first to avoid clashes with last year’s Youth Olympic Games and Grand Prix Season and then to align with the school holidays.
After it opened, it was mired in controversy over an installation by award-winning British artist Simon Fujiwara titled Welcome To The Hotel Munber. The installation with pornographic gay content was censored by the Singapore Art Museum before being temporarily closed. The museum and artist are still trying to work out hwo to change it. By press time, it remained closed and the museum said it is still in discussion with the artist on how to modify the work.
The low visitorship could be attributed to a few factors. One common complaint by visitors is the location of Old Kallang Airport which artgoers found far removed from the museum venues.
Writer Jams Ong, 38, said: “I felt the last Biennale was better because the locations were closer, making it easier to go from one to the other. I feel Old Kallang Airport is too out of the way and a bit distant from the museums.”
Although there are shuttle services to Old Kallang Airport as well as the Merlion Hotel sites from the Singapore Art Museum and the National Museum, they operate on an hourly loop taking about 15 minutes between each venue.
Another issues which has cropped up is the art, which this year has not resonated as well with both the layman and the more well-informed visitor.
Local art collector Colin Lim, who has attended all three editions of the contemporary art event, says he remembers the previous biennales for their artworks.
“Unfortunately, this one will be remembered for the shortcomings of the curatorial team. From the environment in which the art was displayed, to the selection of the artist and hence the artworks, to the way the Simon Fujiwara installation was (mis)handled, one cannot help but feel that the curators had not been up their task. The spotlight should always be on the art,” he says.
Making art accessible to the public was one of the key considerations of the Biennale but several visitors interviewed by Life! over two weekends found the art too abstract and tough to relate to.
Mr Joseph Estrada [?!], 52, an engineer, felt there were too many video works. “The video installations are just too long. Most people do not have the time to wait for things to happen in the video,” he said.
Student Ng Xiao Yan, 20, found the last edition of the Biennale better. “There were more visually arresting works in 2008,” she said.
Another student Sydney Ho, 23, felt that while the art was interesting, many of the works were very hard to understand.
Led by artistic director Matthew Ngui and his curatorial team, which includes Canadian Trevor Smith and Australian Russell Storer, this Biennale explores artistic journeys in relation to ordinary encounters and activities such as shopping and eating.
Works centered on the latter themes are the ones which have been most appreciated by visitors. Apart form Nishi’s hotel room, other popular artworks are Malaysian artist Roslisham Ismail aka Ise’s refrigerator installation titled Secret Affair and Mexican artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s interactive installation titled Frequency and Volume: Relational Architecture 9, 2003 (see side stories).
Lecturer Cindy Tan, 33, enjoyed looking at the various media used to create the art. “The use of multimedia shows that the Singapore Biennale is embracing technology and keeping up with the times.”
But some art connoisseurs such as Doctor Lim felt some artforms had been ignored in their entirety.
“I know painting as a medium is somewhat shunned by practitioners and curators of contemporary art but the dearth of paintings in this Biennale – I only spotted the wonderful ‘family’ portrait by Navin Rawanchaikul in the National Museum – makes me wonder if this was done on purpose,” he said.
Organisers say that discussions like these add to the character of the island’s premier visual arts event. Says Mr Tan Boon Hui, director of the Singapore Art Museum: “One of the goals of contemporary art and of a large scale exhibition like the Singapore Biennale is to start conversations and this Biennale has certainly sparked off much discussion on a range of topics, from the debate on the Merlion’s status or significance as a national icon, to what is good art.”