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Five ways to understand modern art at the National Gallery Singapore

See modernism in a whole new light at the National Gallery Singapore’s 'Reframing Modernism' exhibition

Credit: Centre Pompidou
'Impression V (Park)' by Vassily Kandinsky (1911), collection of Centre Pompidou Paris

While modernism is typically associated with the work of European masters like Pablo Picasso and Vassily Kandinsky, the art movement flourished in South-East Asia, too. And a new exhibition at the National Gallery Singapore, co-curated with France’s Centre Pompidou, explores the connection between the two regions. Reframing Modernism – it’s also the Gallery’s first international collaboration – comprises more than 200 iconic works by European and South-East Asian artists, highlighting their similarities and differences. If you’re still scratching your head over what ‘modernism’ really means, here’s how you can make the best of the exhibition.

Listen to the experts speak

Take part in the talks, symposium and forums that the Gallery is putting on throughout the exhibition run, and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the modernism movement. Reframing Modernism: Connections and Ruptures is a symposium, featuring academics and curators, that gives an insight into the themes and concerns of the exhibition. There’s also a programme of free talks by arts practitioners in the region, including Indonesian artist Kartika Affandi, Ateneo Art Gallery’s director Victoria Herrera and fashion stylist consultant and lecturer at Thammasat University, Isr Upa-In.

Talks are on May 21, Jun 18, Jul 16. 3pm. Symposium is on Jun 8. 11am-6pm. Pre-registration for talks and symposium required.

Malay Woman by Cheong Soo Pieng (1950)
Collection of National Gallery Singapore; image courtesy of National Heritage Board

Go on a guided tour

If you’re not sure where to start, go on a semi-solo exploration with the help of the Gallery Explorer App, or opt for the guided tours led by expert curators Lisa Horikawa, Dr Phoebe Scott or even museum director Dr Eugene Tan. On the trail, you can appreciate modernist masterpieces by South-East Asian artists such as Le Pho, S Sudjojono and Georgette Chen, alongside treasures from the Centre Pompidou collection by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, and Vassily Kandinsky.

Tours are on Apr 8, May 13, Jun 10 and Jul 8. 7.30pm-8.45pm. $25-$30. Pre-registration required. 


Get engaged with art puzzles and music stations

Nestled between the galleries are art puzzles, peep-boxes and music stations for the younger visitors. For an added educational experience, peer into peep-boxes to discover more about artists and artworks, or listen to original music compositions inspired by artworks in the exhibition, composed by music students from the School of the Arts. For more family fun, piece together puzzles to create pictures inspired by artworks on show.

Braised chicken leg in mustard sauce with mushrooms and sage

Try out the special menus at Gallery & Co or SAHA

The café and retail space that is Gallery & Co is launching a special French menu inspired by Reframing Modernism. Dishes include the Beef Daube en Provençal a hearty stew only available on weekends; braised chicken leg in mustard sauce with mushrooms and sage; and the classic beef bourguignon in red wine sauce with pickled pearl onion and roasted carrots on homemade mash. For dessert, head to SAHA for a twist on the classic crème brûlée, spiked with Indian tea and spices.

Wind down with artist-inspired cocktails at Aura

After a day spent trawling the Gallery, head over to Aura to put up your feet, soak in the view of the Civic District, and sip a cocktail inspired by three great modern artists: Kandinsky, Matisse and Chagall. Kandinsky’s Abstract takes inspiration from the artist’s Russian roots, mixing vodka with white crème de cacao, blue curaçao, flambéed banana meringue and geometric chocolate. Matisse’s Dance, on the other hand, recalls the painter’s fluid and bold style with Dom Benedictine, Lillet Blanc, vanilla cognac and honey cashew Crusta. And rounding up the line-up is Chagall’s Fiddler, a heady mix of Maker’s Mark, Pernod Fils absinthe, maple syrup, soda and the Italian restaurant’s very own bitters.