This is part three of a three-part post, consisting of my reviews of the 2011 Singapore Biennale written for Asian Art News. Note these are the unedited versions of those reviews, with related images - not taken from the edited and published versions in the magazine.
Michael Lee at SB2011
Michael Lee (b. 1972) brings much respect to the host nation at this year’s Singapore Biennale, doing well to stand out amongst a lineup of more than 60 artists mostly invited from elsewhere in the world. Lee did something new in his commission for the event, but nothing unusual in terms of playing with skill and wit, the very same attributes with which the artist’s work Vertical Serpentine (2010) (in the Chan Hampe booth) charmed many of us at Art Stage Singapore. The SB2011 commission Office Orchitect centers on a fictional architect named KS Wong, and showcases models of the poor guy’s unrealized building projects. After striving for success Lee’s invented character is forced to be content with having never reached it, left instead with only miniature realizations of the mere shapes of his ideas. Here there is slight conflict in the delivery of Lee’s concept because to general visiting public KS Wong’s architecture is fun, exciting, beautiful to look at and (dare I say so) not implausible when viewed in colourless, precision-cut model form. Indeed, at that scale one can take in the buildings in their entirety, and this affects things, much like viewing a photograph of the whole Hagia Sofia can have more impact on a person than standing outside its front entrance. But anyway, KS Wong is a failed Singaporean. On the back wall, a mind map tells the story of KS Wong in another (also visual) way, giving insight into awareness as lofty as the Grand Canyon and Guggenheim Bilbao and as mundane as Crest toothpaste. Thus the installation is so close to the possible internal struggle of any person – indeed, anybody who was ever inspired by something, took action with applied effort, and failed - as to be unsettling. But it wins the viewer over with heavily researched, quiet sensitivity towards human nature and an injected sense of humour - both elements bringing light where there is dark. For example, Slug Towers, an unfurling, organic blob of a building, was designed, quite seriously, in the form of ‘love’. The result, in the context of the project, is very moving to behold. A Jarlsberg cheese-looking SpongeBob SquarePlaza and another entitled God’s Villa, which ingeniously makes the famous monster inhabitable (it is after all very tall), draw on popular culture, and make us all laugh. So the impact of Michael Lee is clearly two-fold; the mature and profound way that he approaches art, which allows him to acknowledge its depth and whimsy simultaneously, and the borderline perfect, clean way in which he manufactures his ideas and presents them to audiences. His visuals contain the polish of the media-savvy advertising creative; the style and relevancy of forward-thinking PR. In the surroundings of the Biennale it raises the question as to whether this may be a Singapore-born aesthetic. The city itself is clean, organized and does things, even creativity, in a very proper way. It is more likely of course that it is a matter of Lee’s personal taste, proven at this event to continue to be incredibly appealing, uber-cool, and put to good use in the world of contemporary art.