[Singapore Biennale '11] No one likes the art, Part II
The official rejoinder to ST’s report on dwindling attendance numbers at the Biennale.
SAM’s director, Tan Boon Hui, wrote a rather strange-sounding letter in response to the article, and it appeared in Life! today (23 April).
My comments at the end of the post.
BIENNALE WILL CLOSE WITH FULL HOUSE
We refer to the article (Biennale Blues, Life!, April 21) and would like to thank Life! for its continued wide coverage of and support for the Singapore Biennale 2011.
Since the Biennale opened, we have seen a healthy visitorship of over 100,000 at the main venues: Old Kallang Airport, The Merlion Hotel at Marina Bay, National Museum of Singapore, Singapore Art Museum and SAM at 8Q.
This number tracks only indoor visitorship or venue admissions. It does not include outdoor visitorship at the Merlion Hotel and parallel events, which are still being tabulated. It is not possible to compare this with 2008’s mid-point visitorship of 325,000 which included both indoor and outdoor visitor numbers.
Based on preliminary projections, we are confident this Biennale will come close to meeting its target visitorship.
We also found that many visitors are keen to learn more about the history of the Old Kallang Airport and have arranged a special tour on the topic. Conducted by Mr. S. S. Khaw, president of Flight Science, the tour takes places on May 1, 2 and 15, at 1pm.
As part of the Biennale’s Family Day Out programme, admission into all Biennale venues is free every Sunday and on public holidays.
There are still three weeks left before the Biennale closes.
The House is still Open and everyone is welcome to return, take part in the activities and revisit the works as often as they life and make Singapore Biennale 2011 a Full House.
Tan Boon Hui
Singapore Art Museum
First of all, why no response from Matthew Ngui, Artistic Director of the Biennale and a practicing artist himself, and the individual probably best-placed to answer queries on the curatorial choices made in this year’s Biennale ? Those concerns were as much a part of Deepika Shetty’s article as was the fact of falling visitor numbers, and for Tan to ignore them altogether seems to tacitly warrant public objection to the choice of art – the complaint about the lack of paintings, for one, which really bespeaks the need for wider education with regards to contemporary art and its practice. Of course, many artists today still paint and sculpt and draw and everything in between, but one goes to a biennale to witness the most interesting and cutting edge of contemporary artistic praxis, a category which isn’t necessarily centered on more traditional mediums. Someone needs to point this out, and it sounds like Tan just missed the opportunity.
Secondly, the tone of Tan’s reply strikes a rather bizarre note – not unlike a child stamping his foot and protesting, “No, no, no.” He sounds defensive on the one hand, and without proper justification on the other. His assertion about visitors to the Merlion Hotel, for instance, was already noted by Shetty; according to the figures she cites, the MH draws an average of a thousand visitors a day. Its been almost six weeks since the opening of the Biennale, which makes for some 40,000 visitors. Add that to the 100,000 figure, and it still doesn’t come even close to the 325,000 who apparently made it to the previous biennale by the time it was halfway through. As for the ‘parallel events’, some of them are so small-scale – e.g. the Post-Museum’s OPEN* exhibitions, those on at the NUS museum and Tyler Print Institute – that it seems hard to believe that their numbers could possibly make any substantial dent in the discrepancy. The biggest ancillary show is probably Negotiating Home, History and Nation: Two Decades of Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia, 1991 – 2010, which is on view at the SAM itself. The museum charges one admission rate for all exhibitions under its roof as well as that of 8Q’s, so how does it differentiate between visitors to Biennale displays and to er, ‘parallel’ shows ?
Nothing personal against Tan here – I’m sure he has the museum’s reputation to see to – but that argument smacks of disingenuousness or corporate PR mumbo jumbo, unconvincing and probably counter-productive on both scores.
His claim that the Biennale will “come close to meeting its target visitorship” doesn’t even come close to being a reasoned argument.
And then he segues into another publicity pitch for the event – don’t forget, folks, it’s only going to be around for another three weeks, and it’s free on Sundays and public holidays, PLUS we now have special tours, so come, come, come ! …
… cue eye-rolling.