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For all its ritzy Art Deco interiors and gin bar that’s become the hangout-of-choice for the fashionable set, Parkview Square is also trying to democratise contemporary art with possibly the first free museum in a commercial building in Singapore. Keng Ya
Parkview Square is where the art is.
F or the contemporary art aficionado with a love for iconic architecture, Singapore has a new destination somewhat off the beaten track. Its location: the third floor of Parkview Square, better known to some as that “Gotham” building on North Bridge Road.
Owned by the Hong Kong-based Parkview Group, the stately building underwent a three-year makeover, relaunching earlier this year. Running it now is its sophisticated yet unassuming managing director Vicky Hwang, whose previous stints include overseeing the reconstruction of a 19th century French chateau, and leasing at the trendy mixed-use London development Battersea Power Station – both properties are owned by the Parkview Group (her family is behind the empire). And new to the rebooted Parkview Square: Atlas, a ’20s-style, gin-focused bar/restaurant that’s quickly become the place to see, be seen and Instagram at; and the private contemporary art space Parkview Museum.
The latter might be a something of a headscratcher, given that the building’s also home to a number of embassies and multinational companies. Establishing a museum – nope, it’s not a gallery; nothing’s for sale – within a commercial space, however, is not uncharted territory for the Parkview Group. Its first was launched in 2014 at the Beijing mega complex Parkview Green Fangcaodi, which also hosts a mall, boutique hotel and office towers on site, and has won multiple awards for its ecoconscious architecture.
In fact, championing contemporary art (and sustainability, but more on this later) is something the company takes very seriously. Says Hwang: “Museums and spaces dedicated to art in commercial spaces embody (our) philosophy of bringing art into daily life, with the twofold aim of creating a better working and commercial environment, while strengthening the appreciation of art by the general public.”
There are dashes of art throughout Parkview Square. (Those Picassos lining the corridor to Hwang’s office? Yep, they’re real.) But it’s the museum that takes – and functions as – centre stage; a whopping 15,000 sq ft of uninterrupted space with 6m-high ceilings perfectly designed to showcase art of all genres.
George Wong, Hwang’s uncle and Parkview Group’s chairman, is the art collector in the family – he’s the one who decides on the exhibition themes, which are to change every four months or so. The man’s love for the arts runs deep: He reportedly owns the world’s largest collection of Salvador Dalis outside of Spain, and acts as a honorary professor at the Nanjing University of the Arts. (Hwang herself is into the younger generation of China-based contemporary artists like sculptor Ren Zhe and painter Yang Kai, and says art has the ability to let people “address existential questions through an imaginary world”.)
A highlight at Parkview Museum later this year is The Artist’s Voice, which opens in November and will focus on existentialist contemporary art by more than 30 artists from Europe, China, Korea and the United States. The majority of future exhibitions will be curated by Lorand Hegyi, formerly the director of Austria’s Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation and France’s Musee d’Art Moderne et Contemporain de Saint Etienne.
But it’s not just all about highfalutin art. At press time, the museum was filled with 33 large-scale multimedia works by local and international artists, all with a common theme: sharks. This debut exhibition On Sharks And Humanity – curated by independent Chinese curator Huang Du – was designed to raise awareness on the ills of shark fin consumption and encourage conservation efforts for the species. Hwang shares that the concept and several of the works have their roots in the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco, but her family got involved because it “felt that it was very science-based and could be expanded”.
And besides exhibitions, the museum organises a whole host of activities ranging from children’s art workshops to documentary screenings (up next month: a late night run of the Oscar-nominated Racing Extinction, which looks at how humans are causing the widespread extinction of animals). Ultimately, encouraging one and all to get excited about – not daunted by – art is what the Parkview Group hopes to do. Says Hwang: “Our aim is to involve and build the community. This is why the museum is and will always be free.”
Parkview Museum’s debut exhibition focuses on the negative impact of shark finning: (Below) “Tomb of Honour”, 2015, Zheng Lu. (Below left) “Seshyoumaru – We are the World”, 2015, Yang Kai.
Vicky Hwang (and her family, who own Parkview Square) is big on mixing contemporary art and environmental sustainability.