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Temples without gods

Art galleries in Singapore are like temples without gods. If you build the art space will they come? And then what will they see? From the newest art galleries in Singapore, to the commercial galleries, to the government funded institutions there are the spaces but not the content. And often what content there is has been imported.

Singapore’s commercial galleries import art from around the world to on sell it; not enough, of even the bland designer type art, is being produced locally. Like Ode to Art gallery, in the shopping mall connected to my hotel. The gallery only has three Singapore artists represented, the rest come from Turkey, Vietnam and the USA.

The Substation is a contemporary arts centre with a white rectangular gallery space and a theatre. When I visited the Substation there was an imported exhibition: Victoria Cattoni’s exhibition “What if I Want to Water Ski? And Other Questions”. Victoria Cattoni is an Australian artist and the Australian Government, Queensland Government and Australia Council supported her exhibition. Cattoni examines issues about wearing the hijab with portrait photographs of women wearing hijab, videos and books of questions and replies. It was the most well attended exhibition that I saw in Singapore, mostly by Moslem women wearing hijab. And why not, when it was basically fashion photography exhibition. And it did also have the added dimension of a pleasant dialogue between the non-Moslem artist and Moslem women about an allegedly ‘hot’ topic.

As well as providing excellent exhibition spaces Singapore is good at supporting its student artists; I always see a school art exhibition at SAM when I visit Singapore. This time it was Abstractus, at 8Q sam, an exhibition of the work of students from the SOTA arts programme. However, this reinforces the attitude in Singapore that art is a juvenile activity, as demonstrated by the denial in the very first sentence of 8Q sam’s press release on its target audience: “Audiences at 8Qsam are not only limited to the young.” After these student exhibitions there appears to be nothing, a few emerging artists but no great truly great Singaporean artist, no major artists.

The new contemporary art wing, 8Q sam, of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) appears to have no permanent collection. It is a great space in a converted old building but like the old wing of SAM it is largely empty space.

These are fragmentary observations, seen by a tourist and an editor who, in 1999, put together a directory of Singapore’s art and culture websites for LookSmart. But then no story is complete. What happens to all of these young Singaporean artists? Do they have to leave the country in order to continue an artistic career? Please leave a comment if you are one of these young Singaporean artists, have your say and you can help complete this story.

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

3 responses to “Temples without gods

  • Singapore Renaissance | Black Mark

    […] for street artists, as Singapore is a very small island city-state. However, as I have written in Temples without Gods, there is more gallery space in Singapore than art to exhibit in […]

  • sue Burke

    Interested to hear your views on the need for a cultural context and disposition to affect a contemporary art scene, something that singapore may need to acknowledge if it hopes for a natural and orgabic growth in this area. Also, your reference to the contemporary art scene in Vietnam was of great interest, particularly in light of the comment above. Can you suggest who to look out for??

    • Mark Holsworth

      I must get back to you about Vietnam’s art scene. I don’t know much about it only what I’ve gleamed from booths at the Melbourne art fair over a decade ago.

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