For two decades now, Singapore has been turning itself into a centre for arts, not only for local but particularly for all ASEAN artists. The city has two dozens of museums – many of them being world-class, art galleries, theatres and a dozen of annual festivals. The Singapore Art Festival, which takes place every year in June is the highlight of the cultural season in Southeast Asia.
New jewel in this vibrant cultural scene, the National Gallery Singapore opened its doors at the end of last year, opening to the public two of the city’s most iconic historical buildings: the former City Hall and the former Supreme Court. Both constructions were the last British buildings in neoclassical style. The City Hall was built between 1926 and 1929 while the Supreme Court was achieved a decade later in 1937. Both buildings offered limited access to the public and their transformation into the National Gallery has been an ambitious project.
“Singapore bold decision to transform two key monuments into a major visual arts institution, we saw the opportunity to create a spectacular design in the heart of the city, merging the buildings and giving visitors an experience of the collections, the monuments and its surrounds”, explained Jean-François Milou, the French architect who won the project.
The challenge was the merging of both buildings into one entity. “Both buildings have different levels and we found the solution by adding a new terraced roof over the city hall to offer a smooth transition from the City Hall Wing to the Supreme Court Wing, explains Jiarong Goh, Architectural Associate at Studio Milou, the architecture cabinet.
The roof is now welcoming a 3,000 m2 suspended garden, restaurants and provide magnificent views over Singapore’s civic district with its historical buildings around the old Padang – the parade field in British times. Walking inside the new Art Gallery, visitors will see reminiscences of the previous functions of both the City Hall and Supreme Court. Old cells have been preserved as well as courtrooms or the Municipal Main Hall. The blend between historical and contemporary architecture is visually stunning and is also a great way for visitors to approach Singapore’s history. Approach is the word as many of the buildings details – even columns or fries- can now be touched and seen from close.
With 19,000 m2 of exhibition space, the NG Singapore is one of the world’s largest art museum, bigger than Munich Pinacotheque. For visitors, it is now home to the most outstanding and comprehensive collection of art covering the entire Southeast Asia region. The collection contains over 10,000 items of artists from all across ASEAN with many historical painting going as far the early 19th century.
The Permanent Southeast Asia Gallery exhibits 400 items while the Singapore Art Gallery contains another 400 art works. Most spectacular is Indonesian artist Raden Saleh “Boschbrand” (Forest Fire), a monumental painting showing tigers attacking a buffalo in front of a fire. The painting can be considered as the icon of the National Gallery. Southeast Asia art galleries explore all the sides of painting evolution: from purely colonial and figurative under the influence of Europeans to the first painting manifesting their support against colonial powers, art being used to assert new independent nations and art movements of today, which also criticize Southeast Asian societies.
Currently a special exhibition organised in cooperation with Paris Centre Pompidou National Museum of Modern Art which show in parallel works from artists from both Southeast Asia and Europe. Famed ASEAN artists such as Nguyen Gia Tri (Vietnam), Galo B. Ocampo (Philippines), Latiff Mohidin (Malaysia) or Affandi (Indonesia) are confronted to Western art masters such as Kandinsky, Chagall, Picasso or Matisse among others. An exceptional and a first time exhibition of that scope which shows that modernism in art is universal and shares common values. The “Reframing Modernism” exhibition is to be discovered until July 17 (www.nationalgallery.sg).