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The Opening of National Gallery Singapore Sheds Light on the World’s Largest Public Collection of Southeast Asian Art

November 25, 2015
Anika Dačić graduated in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory from the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade and is currently pursuing MA in Literary and Cultural Studies. Her interests lie in social and cultural aspects of contemporary art production and she especially enjoys writing about street and urban art. Likes to knit, play adventure video games and host quiz nights at a local bar.

In 2005, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the government plans to restore two old colonial buildings and convert them into a new gallery. Yesterday on November 24th, ten years after the idea was initiated, National Gallery Singapore opened its doors to the first visitors. New National Gallery is now a home to the largest collection of modern art from Singapore and Southeast Asia in the world, and it is also the largest visual arts venue in the region. The greenest city in Asia and one of the few sustainable cities in the world also has the vision of becoming one of the leading art centers and the opening of the National Gallery is the latest step on that path.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with elementary school children at the opening november, city, public, supreme, hall, court
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with elementary school children at the opening (courtesy of NGS via Facebook)

Reinvention of the Colonial Buildings

As mentioned previously, the gallery took 10 years to be completed and $375 million has been invested into its development. The 64,000 square meter structure which is now the National Museum building comprises of two colonial landmarks – the former City Hall and the Supreme Court which have been renovated and connected to one another with a golden aluminum canopy. The merger of two buildings was a complicated architectural task, but in the end, the initiative turned out to be an impressive one. Two of the historic landmarks were restored and repurposed to become the host to the most significant collection of Southeast Asian and Singapore art from the nineteenth century to the present day.

National Gallery Singapore november, city, public, supreme, hall, court (2)
National Gallery Singapore building (Courtesy of NGS via Facebook)

National Gallery Singapore Collections

National Gallery was established with an aim to provide the insight into the cultural, economic and social histories of Singapore and its region. There are two permanent galleries within the building: DBS Singapore Gallery which showcases the work of the local artists and UOB Southeast Asia Gallery, a platform for Southeast Asian art, focusing on the shared artistic tendencies across the region. National Singapore Gallery collection comprises of approximately 8000 works mainly drawing from Singapore’s National Collection and encompassing a variety of media, from photography, painting, and sculptures to video works. The focus on the local art is truly praiseworthy if we consider the latest trends in Asia in general, where the majority of collectors are migrating to the Western art market following their newly found appreciation of modern and contemporary Western art. The National Gallery Singapore thus becomes a significant venue for those who appreciate modern art regardless of the market trends.

DBS Singapore Gallery november, city, public, supreme, hall court
DBS Singapore Gallery (courtesy of NGS via Facebook)

Focus on the Regional Artists

National Gallery Singapore displays the work of some of the most significant Singapore artists including Georgette Chen, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi, Cheong Soo Pieng and Liu Kang. In the Southeast Asia Gallery, there are some important works by the leading artists from across ten other countries including Raden Saleh from Indonesia, Malaysian Latiff Mohidin , Montien Boonma of Thailand, U Ba Nyan of Myanmar, Nguyen Gia Tri of Vietnam, Svay Ken of Cambodia and Fernando Cueto Amorsolo of the Philippines. By encompassing the period from colonial times to the present day curators who have worked on the selection in over five years are hoping to provide a historical view on the regional art production, but to also highlight the significance of modern and contemporary Southeast Asian art in the global context.

National Gallery Singapore opening court
The first visitors at the National Gallery opening. Photo via todayonline.com

Gallery Opening and Future Plans

The National Gallery drew more than 4,500 visitors on the first day from students and schoolchildren to gallerists who flew in from different corners of the globe. Certainly a good start with hopefully an even better future. Given the recent announcements of curatorial collaborations between National Gallery Singapore and art institutions like Centre Pompidou and Tate Britain in 2016, we can expect Singapore to become an important destination for modern art lovers.

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Featured images: National Gallery Singapore. Photo via channelnewsasia.com; National Gallery Singapore. Photo via wallpaper.com. All images used for illustrative purposes.