SIN­GA­PORE:

New artis­tic de­lights

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

As part of the cel­e­bra­tions to mark 50 years of in­de­pen­dence in Sin­ga­pore, the Arts Coun­cil de­cided that they wanted this tiny is­land in South­east Asia to be a fo­cal point for art and artists in the re­gion. To that end, they em­barked on a num­ber of am­bi­tious projects which cul­mi­nated in the open­ing of the Sin­ga­pore Pi­na­cothèque de Paris in May 2015 and their new Na­tional Gallery which opened on the 24 Novem­ber 2015.

The Na­tional Gallery

The aim of the Na­tional Gallery is to be the lead­ing arts in­sti­tu­tion in the re­gion which en­gages, ex­cites and in­spires vis­i­tors with the art of Sin­ga­pore and South­east Asia. But be­fore the col­lec­tions are even seen, it could be said that their vi­sion has al­ready come true - by pro­duc­ing a build­ing that is so beau­ti­ful it com­pletes the brief of en­gage­ment, ex­cite­ment and in­spi­ra­tion.

Un­usu­ally for Sin­ga­pore, which ex­cels in build­ing new in­sti­tu­tions, the Na­tional Gallery oc­cu­pies the former Supreme Court and City Hall which stand side by side in the Civic District area of the city. The build­ings are two of Sin­ga­pore’s most sig­nif­i­cant mon­u­ments which have both wit­nessed key events in the his­tory of Sin­ga­pore, in­clud­ing the sur­ren­der of the Ja­panese to the Al­lied Forces in World War II and the dec­la­ra­tion of Sin­ga­pore’s in­de­pen­dence in 1965.

A com­pe­ti­tion was ini­ti­ated in 2005 to source the design needed to trans­form these two build­ings into the new Na­tional Gallery. There were 111 en­tries, and the com­pe­ti­tion was won in 2007 by French ar­chi­tect Jean-Fran­cois Milou, the lead de­signer and founder of Stu­dio Milou. An ar­chi­tec­tural com­pany recog­nised for its skills in re-pur­pos­ing her­itage build­ings for con­tem­po­rary users, their design has both united and trans­formed the former his­tor­i­cal build­ings into an amaz­ing space to show­case the na­tional col­lec­tion of art.

This has been achieved by us­ing a spec­tac­u­lar fil­i­gree metal and glass roof­ing struc­ture which drapes it­self over the build­ings (‘ like an old lady

cov­ered in lace’, com­mented Wen­min Ho, one of the ar­chi­tec­tural team) and this is sup­ported by stun­ning steel tree-like struc­tures uni­fy­ing the build­ings with one sim­ple rooftop line, and which also pre­serves the in­tegrity of the orig­i­nal build­ings. A new base­ment has been added that runs the length of both build­ings, which in the

fu­ture will link to the MRT (sub­way) net­work and also to the Vic­to­ria Con­cert Hall nearby.

Through­out the gallery there is a sense of space and light which is en­hanced by a beau­ti­ful teak fin­ish, all of which pro­duces a sense of calm and unity. The en­trance is housed in the space be­tween the two build­ings, where the vis­i­tor is first di­rected to the lower level to buy tick­ets, and then given the choice to visit ei­ther the old Supreme Court or City Hall gallery spa­ces. On en­ter­ing this part of the build­ing the vis­i­tor is im­me­di­ately wowed by this sense of space and light and the steel tree struc­tures - in fact it could be said that the build­ing it­self is as much a work of art as the col­lec­tions it houses.

Built in just four years (con­struc­tion started in 2011), there were prob­lems to over­come such as the fact that the City Hall was sink­ing, the build­ings were of dif­fer­ent heights and there was a need to con­serve the mon­u­ments. The lat­ter meant that all the re­quire­ments of a so­phis­ti­cated gallery in­fra­struc­ture had to be in­te­grated into the build­ing. Tech­ni­cal re­quire­ments such as load­ing, se­cu­rity, tem­per­a­ture con­trols, light­ing and acous­tics had to be hid­den from view at all times in or­der to pre­serve the his­tor­i­cal fab­ric of both build­ings and to en­hance the sim­plic­ity of the feel and flow of the gallery. The City Hall is also ten years older than the Supreme Court and suf­fered from un­sta­ble foun­da­tions. This meant that while build­ing the base­ment, key walls and parts of the build­ing had to be lit­er­ally sus­pended and sup­ported while the foun­da­tions were sta­bilised us­ing so­phis­ti­cated pil­ing tech­niques.

The col­lec­tion

The City Hall houses two per­ma­nent col­lec­tions of art. The first, dis­played in the DBS Sin­ga­pore Gallery, pro­vides an over­view of art in Sin­ga­pore from the 19th cen­tury to the present day. The sec­ond col­lec­tion com­ple­ments this by of­fer­ing a the­matic and more in-depth chrono­log­i­cal fo­cus on South­east Asian art of the same pe­riod, through re­gional spot­lights. To­gether the gal­leries show­case the in­ter­con­nec­tions be­tween Sin­ga­pore and South­east Asian art within an in­ter­na­tional con­text.

The paint­ings on dis­play come from the Na­tional Col­lec­tion of Sin­ga­pore, one of the world’s largest pub­lic col­lec­tions of South­east Asian works of art. There are over 10,000 pieces to choose from with about 1,000 works ac­tu­ally on dis­play. Works in­clude both rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Sin­ga­pore in art and also Sin­ga­pore artists in­clud­ing Cheong Soor Pieng, Liu Kang, Chua Mia Tee, Gor­getta Chen, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen His and Tang Da Wu. The col­lec­tion also in­cludes pieces from South­east Asian artists from In­done­sia, Myan­mar, Viet­nam, Malaysia, the Philip­pines, Thai­land and Cam­bo­dia.

The Supreme Court houses a mod­ern art col­lec­tion dat­ing from 1990, again of South­east Asian artists, early draw­ings (to be found in the old Supreme Court it­self ) and some con­tem­po­rary works (although these are mainly to be seen in the Art Mu­seum). ‘ As the first mu­seum in the world ded­i­cated to South­east Asian mod­ern art, the Na­tional Gallery Sin­ga­pore hopes to cap­ti­vate and kin­dle a cu­rios­ity for art, from art his­to­ries to the sto­ries be­hind the art, from the dis­cov­er­ies we un­cover about South­east Asia and the world, to sto­ries about our­selves’, Chong Siak Ching, CEO of the Na­tional Gallery said re­cently.

The Gallery also plans to show­case South­east Asian art by work­ing closely with in­ter­na­tional gal­leries. In 2016 there will be a col­lab­o­ra­tion with both the Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou and Tate Bri­tain, with works dis­played from their col­lec­tions.

The Pi­na­cothèque de Paris

As part of the art plan for Sin­ga­pore, the Pi­na­cothèque de Paris (PdP) opened a sec­ond branch in Sin­ga­pore in May of this year. The PdP is France’s largest pri­vate fine arts mu­seum and founder, Marc Restellini, had wanted to es­tab­lish a venue in this area of the world for some time. It is lo­cated in the re­fur­bished Fort Can­ning Arts Cen­tre, which is in Fort Can­ning Park, over­look­ing the cen­tral busi­ness district.

This was where Stam­ford Ra es built his first res­i­dence over­look­ing his new colony and where he es­tab­lished the first botan­i­cal gar­dens in 1822. Se­cu­rity con­cerns in 1859 led to the gov­er­nor’s res­i­dence be­ing torn down and a fort es­tab­lished

in­stead. The fort was named af­ter Vis­count Charles John Can­ning, the then Gov­er­nor Gen­eral and Viceroy of In­dia.

So the Sin­ga­pore Pi­na­cothèque de Paris is the first global ex­pan­sion of the in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned mu­seum and its aim is to bring ex­tra­or­di­nary art and cul­tural con­tent to Sin­ga­pore. There are three main gallery spa­ces: one fea­tures a per­ma­nent col­lec­tion of over 40 mas­ter­pieces in­clud­ing works by Pi­casso, Rem­brandt, van Dyke, Modigliani, Sou­tine, and Pol­lock; the Her­itage Gallery traces the his­tory and civil­i­sa­tions of South­east Asia and Sin­ga­pore through its arte­facts; and the third gallery houses tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions.

The tribal col­lec­tion in the Her­itage gallery was cu­rated by the world­wide spe­cial­ist on In­done­sian an­tique arts, Bruce W. Car­pen­ter. He has gath­ered his­tor­i­cal relics and arte­facts from col­lec­tors all around the world in­clud­ing some stun­ning pieces of jew­ellery as well as im­pres­sive stat­ues. The paint­ings in the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion have been loaned by pri­vate donors and they were cho­sen to of­fer a di­a­logue be­tween western mas­ter­pieces and South­east Asian tribal art and sculp­tures. They are not grouped by artists or genre, but by un­usual con­nec­tions - and they have been dis­played in such a man­ner as to make you look care­fully for that con­nec­tion. Marc Restellini be­lieves that mod­ern artists are of­ten thought to have looked to Africa for their in­spi­ra­tion, but he be­lieves it is ac­tu­ally Asian art that has in­spired them and so has grouped pieces to­gether to en­cour­age vis­i­tors to pon­der if there is in­deed a link.

Men­tion must also be made of the in­ter­ac­tive ‘Mu­seum of the Fu­ture’ at the gallery, de­signed to en­cour­age the idea that art can be fun. If our group was any­thing to go by, the in­ter­ac­tive walls proved a great hit and are in­deed a fun way to ex­plore what is in the gallery.

Near to the Sin­ga­pore PdP is the Sin­ga­pore Art Mu­seum, which houses con­tem­po­rary Sin­ga­pore and South­east Asian art, as well as the Na­tional Mu­seum of Sin­ga­pore which tells the his­tory of Sin­ga­pore (all three mu­se­ums are linked by a free shut­tle bus which makes for very easy ac­cess). There are also a num­ber of pri­vate gal­leries through­out the city show­cas­ing South­east Asian artists. And don’t for­get Sin­ga­pore Art Week from 16 - 24 Jan­uary 2016. It is clear that Sin­ga­pore’s am­bi­tion of be­com­ing a des­ti­na­tion for art in the re­gion is cer­tainly well on track. There is so much to see in this city and not just on the art trail - but that is a story for another day.

Above: The large gar­den on the rooftop of City Hall (Im­age © Fer­nando Javier Urquijo/ stu­dioMilou sin­ga­pore)

Right: In­te­rior view of the en­trance to the gallery show­ing the fa­cade of the old City Hall and the steel tree sup­ports of the roof line

Left, top: Chen Wen Hsi, Sea­side, 1951. Oil on board

Right, bot­tom right: The curved veil above the en­trance of the Gallery be­tween the two mon­u­ments (Im­age © Fer­nando Javier Urquijo/ stu­dioMilou sin­ga­pore) Right, bot­tom left: View of the Na­tional Gallery (right) within the Civic District of Sin­ga­pore (Im­age © Fer­nando Javier Urquijo/ stu­dioMilou sin­ga­pore) Right, top: The new Na­tional Gallery (on the right) and the Padang (Im­age © Fer­nando Javier Urquijo/ stu­dioMilou sin­ga­pore) Left, bot­tom: Lee Man Fong Self-Por­trait 1958. Oil on board

Left, mid­dle: Ge­or­gette Chen, Lo­tus

in a Breeze, c. 1970. Oil on can­vas

Left, top: Ve­ran­dah of the pri­vate RED­SEA Gallery in the Dempsey Hill district

Left, bot­tom: Wooden sculp­ture by Korean artist Cha Jong-Rye

Right: Mer­lion statue at Sin­ga­pore har­bour

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