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It costs money to see money but art is free! You had to pay $4 to see MoneyWorld Asia but it was free admission to Singapore Art 97 when both exhibitions are held concurrently at Suntec City.

Singapore Art sets out to be the most comprehensive exhibition and forum for current visual arts in Singapore. The first exhibition was organised in 1969 by what was then known as the Ministry of Culture. It was held to commemorate National Day. Since then it has evolved into a biennial national art exhibition organised by the National Arts Council and the National Heritage Board.

For Singapore Art 97, some 557 works by 343 artists were presented without frills and pomp (no wine on opening night). Except for 53 works by 27 invited artists, the rest of the exhibition was selected by four panels of judges based on an open submission. This year has seen the inclusion of installations as well as an increase in number of three-dimensional works (105 were exhibited), but these were still overshadowed by the bulk of paintings shown.

If this is a national art exhibition that has been going on for 28 years, there's been little progress in its evolution except for its comprehensiveness. If we are true to our ambitions of attempting to present "world class artists" in a "world class exhibition" as the Guest of Honour, Mr. Abdullah Tarmugi mentioned in his opening speech, there is much that has to be looked into and changed.

For a start, the presentation of works in such a manner and space is questionable, especially for installation art. Installation art has still to be understood in its proper perspective not only by the artists but also the exhibition organisers. Being a newly accepted genre here (despite having been accepted in the contemporary art scene for over two decades elsewhere), doesn't mean we shouldn't afford it the same level of judgement we give to works in any other medium.

Jason Lim's "Web" was a humorous piece which uses rubber bands to make a web, bringing us nostalgically back to the low-tech games of bygone days. However some of its implications were lost in the sober surroundings of the Convention Centre's grey carpets and short pristine panel walls. Web - Jason LimThe impact of the piece would have been greater had it made more use of the venue's large space, perhaps having the web start from all the way up on the high ceiling. The only other noteworthy installation was Ming Wong's "Green Snake". Unfortunately its placement seemed insensitive, added to which the commercial nature of the trade fair exhibition booth itself, spoiled one's enjoyment completely. This suggests there are questions to be asked about the organiser's and artists' understanding of the presentation and intention of installation art. I wonder if it would be more appropriate if artists were invited to critically respond to the Convention Centre as a site and material for installation in itself.

Some other 3-D works that deserve a second look include the fresh perspectives offered by newcomers in Michael Loke's "Where's the Way Out", Zainudin Samsuri's "Minus-1", Bejamin Puah's "Its raining, do you have a bandage?" and Victor Tan's "Humble". Wong Kin Whye use of industrial brass and metal nuts and bolts, plus Tan Wee Lit's innovative use of plywood in "Untitled Series #3", also made for some amusing transgressions. Lim Hua Choon's "Microcosm" in claywork together with Liew Koi Neng's three pieces in stoneware were curious abstractions of organic forms.