An art installation – Simon Fujiwara’s “Welcome to the Hotel in Munber” – at the Singapore Art Museum has been censored (click ‘here‘). The ‘offensive’ materials were gay porn mags that were part of the installation.
Personally, censorship in art does not make sense as it goes against the idea of ‘free’ artistic expression of ideas. But before you beat your chest and denounce the evils of art-censorship en masse, it happens more regularly than we care to count, may the offensive art be dealing with contemporary Nazi symbols in European museums (click ‘here‘) or just plain, ol’ boring nudity-slash-porn in art museums (click ‘here‘).
But even though censorship in art itself is common and not something done exclusively at SAM or in Singapore, the lack of communication leading to an utter lack of respect for artist-integrity pissed me off. SAM took down the magazines WITHOUT telling the artist even though he was still in Singapore at that time. The artist eventually found out from a 3rd-party. From the artist’s point of view, it must have been what van Gogh would have felt if someone used thinner to remove the vase from his Sunflowers AFTER the painting has been put on display at a museum.
Another thing pissed me off: SAM has done this exact same thing before! In 1998, a Hong Kong artist – Zunzi Wong – who had his political cartoon hung up at SAM before the opening was NOT informed that his work was taken down and, get this, destroyed!! If I remember correctly, the artist only knew of his sudden ejection from the exhibition when he found his work all torn-up and crumpled in a thrash bag… His offence? The cartoon depicted Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong unflatteringly. And guess what? Till today, I still can’t find the offensive artwork online. Who has ‘censored’ it forever?
In 1998, the Director of SAM was Kwok Kian Chow. I don’t suppose that he got ‘punished’ too severely; he’s now one of the directors of the new National Art Gallery of Singapore. Let’s see where this new debacle will take the new director of SAM, Tan Boon Hui….
On a different level, such ineptitude in our national art institutions regarding ‘copyrights’ of artists, and something more basic; their ‘feelings’, must not bode well for Singapore’s ambition to be the art hub of Asia (click ‘here‘). I’m reminded of Palin here: So it is true that no matter how much lipstick you put on a pit bull (a.k.a. $$$ thrown at the local fine-art museums), the proverbial pit bulls (a.k.a. government-paid art administrators) are still ‘dogs’ at heart??