The Ministry of Artistic Affairs
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Spread across the city, the third Singapore Biennale officially opens to the public this evening.

Featuring 63 artists from 30 countries, the art festival is one of the largest cultural events to occur in Singapore and definitely the most important contemporary art festival in the entire Southeast Asia region. With contemporary art a relatively new phenomenon in this part of the world, the significance of this event is enhanced by the fact that over 40% of the participating artists are of Asian decent.

Three main venues host the exhibition; the Singapore Art Museum (the organizers of the entire event), the National Museum of Singapore, and the Old Kallang Airport. There is also an impressive installation at the city's downtown Marina Bay where Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi has encased Singapore's iconic landmark Merlion sculpture in a temporary luxury hotel structure. One of many works specially commissioned for the biennale, the Merlion Hotel provides a functioning hotel room where each evening a lucky guest will check in and spend the night eye-to-eye with an internationally recognized monument that usually towers far overhead and looks out to the bay.

The most interesting of the venues is the Old Kallang Airport. Singapore’s first civil airport, which opened in 1937, Kallang was described at the time as the finest airport in the British Empire. It served as a military airbase during World War II, and reverted to its civil function after the war until 1955, when it was replaced by a new airport at Paya Lebar. In a glorious state of disrepair and disheveled glamour, the various buildings on this campus house many of the most interesting pieces in the festival including films by internationally recognized artists Tracey Moffat, Ming Wong, and Phil Collins.

At the Singapore Art Museum, the standout piece is by Louie Cordero. Inspired by a recent spate of violence in Cordero's hometown of Manilla where people are attacked and sometimes killed at Filipino karaoke bars for singing Frank Sinatra's "My Way", this installation of sculpture, painting and a karaoke machine offers Cordero's reflection of his chaotic country and a thunderkiss tribute to horror films, comic aesthetics, heavy metal music and foolish real life atrocities.

The Singapore Biennale runs from March 13 through May 15, 2011 and provides an excellent opportunity to see new work from leading contemporary artists from Southeast Asia and to experience works from some of the leading international artists in this region for the first time.

By Randy Gladman for The Ministry of Artistic Affairs, reporting from Singapore.