The art conversation largely pivots around the artworks and artists themselves. The venue, however, has largely been secondary. The venue in which art is exhibited should be awarded more attention, for it frames and unframes the artwork's message. "Exhibitions are the primary site of exchange in the political economy of art, where signification is constructed, maintained, and occasionally deconstructed," the book "Thinking About Exhibitions" explains.
In Singapore, the art exhibition institution has been stretching itself far and wide. Aside from the traditional museum and gallery, there has been a noticeable surge in hosting art exhibitions in unexpected places. For one, there is the restaurant SPRMRKT, where visitors dine in the presence of artworks. Singaporeans have found themselves bumping into sculptures in shopping malls, airports, paintings in hotels like Lloyds Inn and co-working spaces such as The Great Room. The institution has been on an evangelistic move — luring individuals and converting them into patrons of art.
Another case in point is the annual OH! Open House art exhibition which takes the seasoned and unseasoned eye through this very quotidian art trajectory. The arts organisation was founded in 2009, where the exhibition was held in six shophouses along Niven Road in the vicinity of Rochor. Local homeowners in the district were invited to open up their house for the artists' use. Selected artists will then drop by the house to first negotiate their creative intentions before installing their artworks in these homes. The houses eventually opened for guided tours.
In subsequent years, the art exhibition found its way to the eastern estates of Marine Parade and Joo Chiat, central Tiong Bahru and Holland Village amongst others. The idea was to place local artists' artworks alongside the storied histories of these neighbourhoods — provoking questions, and raising current issues for debate.
In certain areas such as Tiong Bahru, the art pieces called out the implications of gentrification. In particular, the artworks explored the tension between an influx of expats and independent cafés run by a younger generation, and the long-time residents of the vicinity. In 2016, the art exhibition arrived at Potong Pasir, and politics was brought to the table. "We went to the neighbourhood one year, and it used to be held by a known opposition party. They talked about what had and had not been developed in the neighbourhood," Aliza Knox, a patron of the art exhibition recalls.
This year, OH! Open House took their exhibition to the Emerald Hill district that sits off the shopping belt, Orchard Road. The artworks explored the subject of colonialism. While the previous instalments of the exhibition saw an average of 2,000 attendees, the footfall doubled this year.
The organising team began planning the exhibition last June, where they knocked on the doors of these houses along Emerald Hill, negotiating and matchmaking artists to homeowners. While most of the homeowners rejected them, the ones who did shared their their experiences with T — in particular, the differences between viewing art in galleries and viewing them in homes.