Speech By Dr Lee Boon Yang at the Gala Reception Of Singapore Biennale 2006 at The National Museum Of Singapore

04/09/2006

Mr Edmund Cheng; Chairman National Arts Council,
A/P Kwok Kian Woon, Co-Chairman, Singapore Biennale 2006
Mr Lee Suan Hiang, CEO, National Arts Council and Co-Chairman, Singapore Biennale 2006
Mr Fumio Nanjo, Artistic Director, Singapore Biennale 2006
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1.      Good evening. Welcome to the Gala Reception for the inaugural Singapore Biennale 2006. I am glad that many international guests and visitors are able to join us in this celebration of contemporary art. We have among us artists, art critics, journalists, curators and museum directors. I wish each and everyone a pleasant and interesting stay in Singapore.

2.      Over the next 10 weeks, both Singaporeans and international visitors will have the chance of experiencing artworks by some of the most prominent and promising contemporary artists from around the world. Almost 200 works will be presented, of which 112 were specially commissioned for the Biennale. We hope that the works will speak to Singaporeans and visitors from all walks of life.

3.      The Biennale is a new milestone for the arts and culture in Singapore. The event is significant for a number of reasons. It is the largest arts events held in Singapore. It presents an extensive collection of works by 95 artists and artist collectives coming from 38 countries.

Singapore Biennale - A Place in the World

4.      The globalisation of art and culture has contributed to an international contemporary art world that increasingly draws inspiration, talent and audience from around the world. With the growing number of art biennales being organised around the world these days, one may question the need for a Singapore Biennale. Indeed, the phenomenon of the ‘biennialisation’ of the international art scene has been much discussed, even here at the Singapore Biennale. We believe the language of contemporary art transcends borders and that Singapore can add an important voice to the ongoing narrative.

5.      As a new Biennale, the organisers have aimed to create an impactful and differentiated Biennale from those already in existence. The diverse selection of artworks in the Biennale presents both Asian and international art practices, with a focus on Asia. The curatorial team has also chosen to focus their selection geographically around the equatorial belt. This offers a new perspective on contemporary visual arts developments. Another key aspect of the Biennale is the range of venues and sites which include museums, places of worship, public institutions and disused buildings. In doing so, the Singapore Biennale is connecting with Singapore’s multi-religious and multi-cultural heritage.

The Development of Singapore’s Art Scene

6.      This Biennale is also intrinsically linked to Singapore’s arts development. Singapore is undergoing one of the most exciting times in our cultural history. We have put in place of a wide range of world-class arts infrastructure, such as the iconic Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay for the performing arts. This is just one aspect of this development. Through the years, our arts activities have also been increasing steadily. Over the last decade, total arts activities in Singapore in terms of total performances and exhibition days have more then trebled. Attendances to arts events have also increased at the same rate. In the last 5 years, the Singapore government has invested some $120 million (US$76 million) per year in arts and culture. This amount goes towards supporting arts development through grants for arts programmes, the running of museums and museum programmes and the promotion of arts and heritage to the community.

7.      The Singapore Biennale is strong encouragement and support for the visual arts at home and on the international stage. It will contribute to the continued growth of our visual arts sector and signals our intention to further develop th is sector. It will provide new opportunities for Singapore artists, curators and arts entrepreneurs. Last but not least, it will also serve as a key enabler of exchange and collaborations for the global arts community.

8.      Beyond organising the Singapore Biennale, we are also continuing with our plan to enhance the arts infrastructure in our city. The very museum we are in this evening had been our National Museum for the past 118 years. It used to house the National Museum Art Gallery.. Today it stands refurbished and expanded, ready for a re-launch in December this year. Besides restoring the historical grandeur and elegance of the building, adding modern facilities enable us to host technically-demanding exhibitions and performances of international standard thus contributing to the increasing space needed by our arts community. You may have also heard a bout our plans to transform the City Hall and the Old Supreme Court into a National Art Gallery to showcase our collection of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art. This project is already in progress. In the years ahead, Singaporeans and visitors can look forward to an even more vibrant and diversified arts and cultural scene here.

Conclusion

9.      In a large-scale event like the Biennale, there are always countless people to thank for turning plans into reality. Firstly, I would like to thank everyone here for coming on board this journey with us, in sharing the BELIEF that contemporary art is meaningful and important in the development of our society. To all participating artists and international visitors, thank you for the confidence in Singapore to showcase your creative works.

10.    To all our partners, whose belief that contemporary art has a place in our society has encouraged us. Your generous contributions have made this Biennale possible. We look forward to your continued partnerships in promoting the arts in Singapore. I would also like to thank Artistic Director Mr. Fumio Nanjo and his curatorial team for putting together an exceptional range of contemporary art works in very interesting and thoughtful presentations.

11.    I wish all of you a pleasant evening.