C. J. W.-L. Wee


We live in what appears to be a distinctive moment in which the contemporary arts, new museums and art biennales have become linked to what is called ‘commodity reification’ and a near-frenzied consumerism that are part of the free-market capitalism that became pronounced after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the city-state of Singapore, culture once used to mean race and the ethnic cultures linked to the so-called CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian, Other) model of ethic-cultural management in the city-state. Since the early 1990s, though, cultural policy has expanded to include the more recognisable arts policy. This ‘moment’ of culture – essentially from the 1990s for Singapore – has led to a seemingly overnight establishment of institutionalised art markets, museums and performing arts centres, notably The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, opened on 12 October 2002. Such developments have contributed to transforming the puritanical and (that long-favoured People’s Action Party [PAP] adjective) pragmatic city-state from a purported cultural desert into … what exactly? A Global City for the Arts (the title of a 1992 policy paper)? A cultural hub through which other people’s cultural products flow through, where sometimes expression can be a problem, and where ‘hip’ capitalism is celebrated? Singapore wants to be contemporary urban chic now, replacing the old stentorian urban modern of the late 1960s and 1970s – an ‘old’ that is still not too far away in the past.

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