Published - The city-state at center stage in ArtNews

The Merlion Hotel project, part of the upcoming Biennale
With the opening on Mar 13 the third edition of the Singapore Biennale, the Southeast Asian city-state will find itself again at the center of the region’s burgeoning art scene. In January, Art Stage Singapore exceeded expectations, drawing 32,000 visitors in its inaugural outing. The fair came just two months after the launch of the Affordable Art Fair in November, and will be followed by yet another new gathering of international galleries, the Art & Design Pavillion Singapore, planned for late September. They join the annual ARTSingapore, a fair focused on Asian galleries and art, which, at ten years old, is the longest running in the region. These events are just part of the government’s larger strategy to position Singapore as a major hub for art trading in Asia. On the institutional front, the Singaporean government has established the most comprehensive collection of Southeast Asian art in a public facility, at the Singapore Art Museum, which includes SAM 8Q, an offshoot that is focused on contemporary-art exhibitions. The government last year commissioned the French firm Studio Milou Architecture to redesign the former City Hall and Supreme Court buildings and transform them into the National Art Gallery, at a projected cost of $200 million.

 “When the new National Art Gallery opens in 2013, it will allow for permanent galleries dedicated to 19th-and 20th-century Southeast Asian art and will enable more of the collection to be exhibited,” says the museum’s director Tan Boon Hui. The Singapore Art Museum also plays a role as co-organizer of the Biennale, which will run for two months and be spread over three venues. Pointing out that 9 of the 63 participants are Singaporean, Biennale cocurator Trevor Smith, the contemporary art curator at the Peabody-Essex Museum, says that one goal was to highlight the range of local artists, who have been both a force behind the country’s recent focus on the arts sector and beneficiaries of it. “When I first went there in the late 1990s, there was a real grassroots push for venues and opportunities for exhibiting,” says Smith. “It is really quite staggering to see the extent to which the infrastructure and the scene has developed since then.”  Read the whole story in Art News' March issue.