“What you do here? You see museums? Oh god, you see nothing. Go to the clubs, go dancing, drinking, so many beautiful pussies in Manhattan. You see nothing.”
That is my Albanian limo driver, Rafek, in his late fifties yet clearly without any dysfunction. Perched above the Manhattan traffic on his carriage, the Cadillac SUV, he peers out at the pedestrians, howling whenever we drive past an angelically proportioned lady of the night.
New York City, a renowned safe harbor for immigrants seeking a brighter future, gave Rafek his chance of starting a new life. A decade back, he arrived in New York and applied for political asylum. A court hearing and five years of no-travel commitment later, he brought his family over and lived the American dream.
I didn’t have it as hard as Rafek. Moving to the States was fun times for me, though going home was another story altogether. Though I struggled a little moving my nine years of baggage from Buffalo back to Singapore, I won’t deny that my heart had always belong in this tropical city. I just needed a really good reason to return… and the job was it.
I really wanted to do the East to West coast roadtrip as a personal farewell, but I chose on a tour of museums around New York City instead. Thanks to my professor mentor, Alex Halavais, I was able to stay comfortably yet frugally in a relatively expensive city.
What Rafek didn’t realize, which I didn’t want to dive headlong into, were the real-life pussies and boobs I got to see… at a live nude performance-art piece in the Museum of Modern Art. This was significant for two particular reasons: 1) Visitors were overheard commending how MoMA was willing to challenge conventions, 2) Being single for several years, it was a vice-free way for me to get visually reacquainted with the physical female form.
The exhibition which ended yesterday (May 31st), is none other than Artist Marina Abramovic’s retrospective performance-art piece entitled “The Artist is Present“. Since opening March this year, this show alone has drawn more than half a million visitors to MoMA.
Read about the exhibition at your pleasure, then take a mental flight across the other side of the planet to our fair (relatively oil-free) shores of Singapore. Would we ever see such gratuitous art exhibitions in Singapore? Possibly, but definitely not now.
From my month long exposure to what Singaporeans have to say about themselves, there’s a widespread belief that we lack the cultural maturity needed to create dialogue about the arts. Simply put, as a tiny economic powerhouse, Singapore’s initial focus on financial prowess may have cost the nation in cultural criticality. The government recognizes this, but it will take a generation or two before we see society’s appreciation of the art grow. The myth that art is only for the affluent remains invincible.
While local museums have been carefully making art relevant and accessible to the everyday man, they may also have to provide the challenge for those of us who seek a deeper connection with exhibited art pieces. In order to establish Singapore as a cultural capital, there’s a need to graduate museum visitors over time (even years!) in terms of the the thematic complexity of exhibitions. That said, some could argue that such complexity would naturally occur within any context, even simplistic one, not necessarily requiring predetermination. Either way, we have to keep asking what works best.
The National Art Gallery, Singapore, where I now work is staffed by some of the most talented museum curators, educators, and management talents around. They are in the phase of testbedding exhibitions at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), in preparation of when the new galleries open at the former Supreme Court & City Hall.
Over the course of my new life in Singapore, my personal mission here would be to stay curious. As a fresh pair of eyes in musuem scene, I hope to reveal and question traditions to seek sustainable approaches to conversing about the arts. If you’re so inclined, I do keep a blog for interesting ideas at http://museumism.tumblr.com. Join me there.
Before I go, we have to ask… what is Art?
My favorite quote comes from Andy Warhol who once said “Art is what you can get away with” (Thx Liz!)