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Sassy Mama’s Guide to the National Gallery of Singapore

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Been to the stunning new National Gallery yet, mama? Our museum guru Pooja lets you know whether it’s worth braving the crowds for families!

Singapore’s long-awaited National Gallery opened in late 2015 and I had the distinct pleasure of previewing it before it opened to the public. The gallery is housed in the restored former British colonial-era Supreme Court and City Hall buildings, and is home to the largest public collection of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art in the region. The SG$536 million reconstruction project is a truly spectacular architectural marvel and is, in and of itself, worth a walk through.

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The National Gallery houses two permanent galleries: the DBS Singapore Gallery and the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery. A tad confusingly, these two “permanent” galleries currently host special exhibitions—Siapa Nama Kamu: Art in Singapore Since the 19th Century and Between Declarations and Dreams: Art of Southeast Asia Since the 19th Century, respectively—which collectively showcase about 800 pieces drawn from the museum’s collection of 8,000 works.

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Siapa Nama Kamu displays an amazing breadth of Singapore art works, from early 19th-century drawings, prints, and watercolors to present-day installations, sculptures, and videos. Most familiar to most, even art novices, are works by the city state’s Nanyang artists—Chinese migrants who arrived in Singapore and adapted Western styles of painting, such as the use of oil, to portray local subjects. Between Declarations and Dreams presents an eclectic selection of artists from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Cambodia, and showcases a variety of techniques, from traditional Chinese brush painting to abstract expressionist collages.

Both galleries warn visitors: “Please note parts of this exhibition deal with potentially sensitive content on race and religion, violence, nudity, alternative social norms, sexual content or coarse language. Viewer discretion is advised.” I, speaking as a parent, was not scandalized by any works of art here, however, YMMV.

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Also now on view are Wu Guanzhong: Beauty Beyond Form, oil and ink works by a major advocate and forerunner of synthesizing Chinese art and Western modernism, and Chua Ek Kay: After The Rain, 38 works by one of Singapore’s leading ink painters.

Yet, because only a tenth of the National Gallery’s collection is on its walls and in its galleries, the 689,000-square-foot space feels rather empty and, ironically, low on art. (In contrast, National Gallery Singapore houses eight restaurants, Altimate Gastrobar, Aura Restaurant & Sky Lounge, National Kitchen by Violet Oon, Odette, Saha Signature Restaurant and Bar, Smoke & Mirrors, and Yan!) In 2016, the National Gallery will be staging temporary exhibits to further explore the links between the art of Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. The first, which begins in April, is Reframing Modernism, a collaboration with the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and we hope to return for these roving exhibitions, in the hopes they “fill up” the vastness a bit more.

Of particular note to families are the “Gallery Explorer” app and the Keppel Centre for Art Education. The app provides some novelty to older children, and gives families access to 100 highlights of modern Singapore and Southeast Asian art, including images, audio, and related materials; provides turn-by-turn directions to points of interest; and allows young people to dialogue with fellow arts enthusiasts through the Gallery’s private social network within the Gallery and on Facebook. I just hope that that app users “discover” the museum on their own as well; there is a special sort of serendipity in an unplanned, unstructured museum visit.

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The Keppel Centre for Art Education, more so in 2016, will host various innovative programs, including commissioned artworks designed for younger audiences and their caregivers. The Centre features a number of specially designed gallery spaces to enable children to make and curate, and my preschooler and I hope to check out the Centre more leisurely once the crowds have lessened. (Look for our review on Sassy Mama Singapore soon!)

How Much: General Admission (which includes admission into the DBS Singapore Gallery, the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery, the Wu Guanzhong Gallery, the Chua Ek Kay Exhibition, and the Keppel Centre for Art Education) is free for Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents, and $20 for other Singapore residents and tourists. Children (ages seven to 12), full-time students, teachers and full-time National Service personnel, and seniors (with valid identification) are $15. Children under six are always free.

Opening Hours: The National Gallery of Singapore is open from 10AM to 7PM from Sunday to Thursday and on public holidays, and from 10AM to 10PM on Fridays, Saturdays, and the eves of public holidays. Admission ends 30 minutes before closing time.

The National Gallery of Singapore, 1 St. Andrew’s Road, Singapore 178957, Tel: (+65) 6271 7000, www.nationalgallery.sg

All images sourced via National Gallery Singapore.

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