Sixty-four thousand square metres, spread across two monumental buildings, with thousands of pieces of art on its walls. That’s the scale of the National Gallery Singapore, which has finally flung its doors open after five years of renovation works. The culture vultures in us are already salivating. We picked our jaws off from the ground to hear more about the Gallery’s grand plans from curator Adele Tan.
'I enjoy the uncovering of unexpected finds in the collection'
How will the two buildings - City Hall and the former Supreme Court – be used differently?
The Supreme Court building will be home to the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery, while the DBS Singapore Gallery will be featured in the City Hall building, along with the Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery.
The Keppel Centre for Art Education, Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Gallery and other F&B and retail spaces will also be housed in the City Hall building. In addition, there will also be smaller galleries and event spaces across both buildings.
What can we find in the permanent exhibitions?
We have more than 10,000 artworks in Singapore’s national collection, approximately 8,000 of which are to be displayed in the Gallery. At any one time, about 1,000 pieces from the collection will be on display. The Gallery will focus on displaying Singapore and South-East Asian art from the 19th century to the present day.
Some highlights include Chua Mia Tee’s 'Epic Poem of Malaya' and Raden Saleh's 'Wounded Lion', which will be featured in the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery, as well as Liu Kang's 'Artist and Model' and Cheong Soo Pieng’s 'Drying Salted Fish' in the DBS Singapore Gallery.
Tell us about the curatorial process.
Our team of curators work in full gear to put together the exhibitions - from researching new aspects of the art history of the region and selecting pieces for the exhibitions, to working closely with regional scholars, artists and curators.
We also establish relationships and build trust with art collectors and art institutions around the world to loan key artworks that complement our collection.
What temporary exhibitions will be hosted?
The Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery will feature exhibitions curated and presented in collaboration with art institutions from around the world. Our first collaboration with Centre Pompidou [from Paris] will be presented in April 2016, followed by our second international partnership with Tate Britain in October 2016.
What will the visitor experience be like?
Visitors can expect a unique experience that is inspiring, engaging and moving, through the Gallery's presentation of art perspectives that are meaningful and thought-provoking.
Other than showcasing one of the world’s largest collections of modern South-East Asian art from the 19th and 20th centuries, we also offer interactive art programmes and activities at the Keppel Centre for Art Education to nurture the next generation of art lovers, and for visitors to continue their art journey beyond the galleries.
What are some of your personal favourite pieces from the collection?
I don't like playing favourites, but I enjoy the uncovering of unexpected finds in the collection or the serendipity in the process of commissioning new or reconstructed works.
I was quite chuffed to discover the late Malaysian artist Ismail Zain’s 'From There to Now' (1986). I had encountered it by chance at our Heritage Conservation Centre (where the nation’s artworks are stored) and was surprised to realise the complexity of its pictorial composition and the vividness of its colours.
The work was badly photographed when it was accessioned into the collection database, which probably contributed to it being overlooked. At that point, it was the only work by Ismail Zain in our collection, although I am pleased to say that we have more now: a set of prints from his seminal series of digital collages.
So when is it opening, already!
The Gallery will open its doors on November 24, and a key highlight of the celebrations will be the National Gallery Opening Festival, titled Share the Hope.
The festival will be held at the Padang from November 27 to 29, with events and performances – including film screenings and a spectacular façade show – for both the young and old.
We will also be launching the Art Connector, and we will be holding tours, talks and discussions about the new galleries, as well as Singapore and South-East Asian art.
The former City Hall and Supreme Court buildings have been refurbished to become the National Gallery, which is due to open in November 24, 2015. It will be the largest visual art gallery in Singapore, and mostly dedicated to local and South-East Asian art from the 19th century to today. Many of the works on display will be drawn from the National Collection.