Museum’s ham-fisted censorship of Hotel Munber

From ‘Museum censors explicit art work’, 28 March 2011, article by Corrie Tan, Life! ST

An installation with graphic homosexual content at the ongoing 2011 Singapore Biennale has been altered by the Singapore Art Museum without the artist’s consent.

The installation (Welcome to the Hotel Munber) by award-winning British artist Simon Fujiwara converted a gallery in the museum into a Spanish hotel bar with a bar counter, bar stools, barrels of wine and legs of ham hanging from the ceiling. But a row of gay pornographic magazines that were placed on top of a cupboard behind the bar counter…have been removed.

(Tan Boon Hui, Singapore Art Museum director): Given the diversity of visitors at SAM, including audiences who may not appreciate seeing such material in full view, we made the decision to remove it…The museum will always work with the curators and artists whose works deal with, or contain, potentially sensitive subject matter to determine how to best display their works for our audiences, without altering their artistic intent.

…(Oliver Henry, photographer and gallery owner):..It’s entirely unacceptable for a museum to change a work like that. You might change the work’s integrity and message. ..I find it extremely alarming that someone else can just take the responsibility and creative freedom to change an artists’ message and work.


Fate of artwork well hung in the balance. Pic from

Well I wouldn’t know about the significance of gay porn and Iberian ham in a Spanish bar, but how’s this any less sleazier than building an entire bedroom around the Merlion, knowing damn well the kind of activity that would go on in there beyond getting an up-close, hands on experience with our icon’s wet nozzle? Since the Merlion hotel is an installation in itself, and its occupants are, in a lewd, abstract sense, part of the artwork too, shouldn’t the ‘art police’ do some live action censoring there too and barge in with pails of icy water whenever they sense the slightest fooling around? Surely SAM should have done their homework and at least some preliminary vetting of Hotel Munber before even putting it for show. It’s such witless interventions which convince internationally renown artists that the only way to draw a crowd in Singapore is to build your masterpiece around monuments, be it the Merlion, the Raffles Statue, or some famous forefather’s tombstone in Lim Chu Kang cemetery.

Pulling such objectionable items off the shelf is akin to dabbing the cleavage off the Mona Lisa, or chipping the testicles off David’s statue with a hammer. Some would go so far to even deem it as an act of vandalism, rather than censorship, since the artist owns the materials and has been allocated design space to showcase his work on his own terms. Especially so coming from professionals who should know better considering how their job entails setting up ‘DO NOT TOUCH’ signs on all their exhibits. This comes as no surprise, of course, following the Board of Censors’ clamping down of ‘homoerotic’ films like the Kids Are Alright. The only difference though, is Kids remained unscathed despite being severely restricted in exposure, but Munber has become the unfortunate victim of a visual emasculation, and SAM still expects audiences to treat the piece as if the ‘artistic intent was not altered’. It’s a shame that there has been so much fanfare over the Biennale, that even the shabbiness of Old Kallang Airport exuded enough charm to entice the most spoilt Singaporeans, only to be dampened by some overzealous swiping of gay porn mags by the prying, itchy hands of the same people trying to promote the arts in the first place.


2 Responses

  1. I don’t know why our curators/museums give so much space and attention to installation “art”. Frankly, mum’s maid’s room n its contents could be considered art, judging by what’s being presented as installation art!

    And G2S: disappointed u cld say installation art in same breath as the Mona Lisa and David! Y don’t u throw in the Birth of Venus? 😛

  2. I’m just thinking that’s how Leonardo would have felt if anyone tampered with his pride and joy, like any modern artist would too, even if his or her work were just an unmade bed (actual installation) and you have some kid jumping on it.

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