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A new exhibit explains how Singapore’s National Gallery chooses artwork for its shows.

With a vast and ever-growing collection, exactly how does Singapore’s National Gallery choose artwork for its shows? Of course, there’s currently an exhibit on to explain just that.

NOT YET THREE YEARS OLD, the National Gallery Singapore has etched its place on Asia’s art map already. The marriage of the city’s former supreme court and city hall with modern architectural touches is a design triumph that makes an appealing canvas on which to display masterpieces from across the region and the generations.

But how, with more than 8,600 artworks in its collection, does the gallery choose what the public gets to see? (Re)collect, The Making of Our Art Collection, which is on until August 19, aims to answer just that question. The 120 works on exhibit, including both recent acquisitions and pieces that have never been shown before, act as a guide to the changing landscape of Southeast Asian art—an evolution that informs every decision of what to hang on the walls.

As part of a four-person team that spent a year-and-a-half setting up (Re)collect, assistant curator Jennifer K.Y. Lam is the first to admit that this, like all shows, was a gargantuan task. While 70 percent of the gallery’s total collection is from Singapore, the rest of Southeast Asia also figures into the equation. “We’re not just looking at a piece of art, but at a reflection of ourselves,” Lam explains. Naturally, then, the beloved postImpressionistic painter Georgette Chen, a driving force behind the visual arts in Singapore, might spring to mind, but the curators also highlight the influence and importance of underappreciated artists such as Chuah Thean Teng, a Malaysian specialist in batik.

Tribute of course must be paid to Singapore’s multicultural nature. Says Lam: “A lot of our artists came from China and brought their medium and methods with them.” Think photographs incorporating the empty space found in scrolls of Chinese calligraphy. The exhibit, after all, does aim to surprise. nationalgallery.sg; tickets from S$20.

—CHRISTOPHER KUCWAY

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CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Works by Indonesia’s Affandi and Navin Rawanchaikul, from Thailand; assistant curator Jennifer K.Y. Lam with a Chuah Thean Teng selfportrait; work from Loke Wan Tho.

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