Newsletter 315

Published December 2, 2019
Sci-fi Singapore.. Marina Bay Sands

Last week found me in Singapore for the opening weekend of the Singapore Biennale. Weather-wise it was a pretty good time to be there. At less congenial moments it can be so hot and sticky one can hardly breathe in the streets, and catch a cold from the sub-Arctic air conditioning.

The press was accommodated at the Marina Bay Sands hotel, which is about as big as Changi airport. In today’s typical globalised style it’s almost impossible to know where the hotel ends and the mega shopping mall begins, let alone the casino and the transport hub. I may be in the minority here, but the pervasive newness and conspicuous affluence of these things leaves me cold, even without the air conditioning.

Singapore, alas, is addicted to the new. The exception may be the heritage makeover that has transformed the former law courts and government buildings into the National Art Gallery (and previously, St. Joseph’s College into the Singapore Art Museum). A concern for heritage is obviously a good thing but the result is a labyrinthine structure that almost requires dropping a trail of breadcrumbs to find one’s way between floors and galleries. It’s a tangible sign of one of Singapore’s leading vices: over-organisation.

The most impressive feature of the National Gallery is the enthusiasm and dedication of the Singaporean curators, who are having a great time poring over the history of art in South-East Asia, undertaking dedicated research projects. The danger is that this can be more interesting for the curators than the viewers, but everyone I’ve met is so switched-on it would be churlish to complain. I’ve seen so many institutions in which the curators are insecure, browbeaten and disaffected (or occasionally arrogant, stupidly self-confident, and pretentious…) that it’s a pleasure to find a group that’s enjoying their work.

My other Singaporean frisson is the Art/Science Museum, which is one of the most innovative and unusual institutions to be found anywhere. It’s a great idea to combine art and science, and the shows are equally inspired. The current one is 2219: Futures Imagined, which is an idea that could be applied in many different parts of the world.

This week’s art column looks at Mike Parr’s performance marathon at Carriageworks, which glories in the title, The Eternal Opening. It may sound like a double entendre from a Carry On movie (Carry On Performing? Carry On Self-Mortification?), but there’s nothing funny about the hours of video documentation one is required to absorb. I did my best.

As an extra I’ve slipped in a profile pf New York collector, and former Andy Warhol superstar, Jane Holzer, into this week’s blog. This is a hangover from my trip to America in August, but as the Haring/Basquiat show at the National Gallery of Victoria looms, it’s been given a run in the Australian Financial Review.

This week’s movie was a trial that puts me out of step with the mainstream. Mirrah Foulkes’s directorial debut, Judy and Punch, has been widely praised, but I couldn’t join the chorus. To me it felt like a poorly-conceived production with a crude message about male violence and female empowerment. For those of us who don’t spend every day plotting how to advance male interests over the other half of the population, it becomes a bit tiresome having to be forcedly positive about a film because it was made by a woman or features some vaguely feminist theme. I don’t think the director’s intentions were so simplistic but that’s the way a lot of people have related to this film.

By way of contrast I’ve included in a few words about Suzi Q, an utterly disarming documentary about Suzi Quatro, a rock star who managed to break through numerous barriers in the course of a long career. The Countdown heartthrob of the 70s is now 69-years-old and still touring. On the strength of Liam Firmiger’s documentary I almost felt like getting along to the Enmore Theatre and taking a look – but then I remembered the last time I went to this unappealing venue, and thought better of it. I may have grown up with Pop music, but it’s less appealing to grow grey with it.