First published in print and digital editions of The Art Newspaper, February 2011 issue.

© Copyright 2011 Patricia Chen

Compound, Sopheap Pich, 2011, 400 x 250 x 250 cm approx. Bamboo, rattan, plywood, metal wire, 83 units. Located at National Museum.

Singapore. Conceived by artistic director Matthew Ngui with curators Russell Storer and Trevor Smith, Open House, the third edition of the Singapore Biennial (until 15 May) has taken contemporary artists, and placed them in an everyday urban context. The curators have decided on four site-specific themes : the home, the city, the ports and other public places.

They have chosen 35 international artists, including Candice Breitz and Martin Creed, to exhibit alongside 27 artists from Asia. Organised by the Singapore Art Museum and funded by the National Arts Council with S$ 6m (US$ 4.72m), the museum's director Tan Boon Hui hopes that "the Biennial can effectively educate the public about contemporary art".

Around half the works on show are new and site-specific. Elmgreen & Dragset's recreation of a giant German barn in a disused airport, for example, is a refreshing response to the city's urban environment. "When we first arrived, we had a strong feeling of the artificiality of the city; there is no ‘nature’ nor any rural culture," says Ingar Dragset.

Tatzu Nishi, on the other hand, has worked with the urban cityscape. He has covered the Merlion, Singapore's landmark sculpture of a mythical, lion-headed beast, with a temporary, 100 sq.m "hotel room". Needless to say, the public has jumped at the chance of having the Merlion at the head of their bed. All 32 nights were booked within an hour, forcing the organisers to issue an apology for only making one phone line available.

Less successful is the fringe outreach project, Self-Portrait, Our Landscape, for which 3,000 school children were asked to make a drawing. Walls and walls of blue skies, mobile phones and laptops paint a picture that speaks more of advertising than the "creativity and critical thinking" that the organisers intended to cultivate.

© Copyright 2011 Patricia Chen. All rights reserved. No part of this writing may be reprinted, reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including printing, recording or information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission in writing from the author.

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