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7 things non-art lovers can appreciate about the new National Gallery Singapore
Nov 24, 2015 7:10pm
BY JENNIFER DHANARAJ
Much has been said about the opening of the brand new National Gallery, which was created from two historical landmarks - the former Supreme Court and City Hall.
The $532-million museum, which has been 10 years in the making, is larger than the renowned Tate Modern in London and New York's Museum of Modern Art.
Additionally, it is particularly crucial for Singapore and its identity that the Singapore art at the gallery spans from the 19th century to the present.
On Monday evening (Nov 23), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "Up till now, we have not had a dedicated visual arts museum of this scale... a museum that we can point to and say: 'This is truly a National Gallery.' So today, we open our very own National Gallery Singapore in two historic buildings."
In a Facebook post earlier today about the opening of the gallery, Mr Lee also said: "The exhibitions and activities at the Gallery will help us to appreciate where we come from and inspire a new generation to paint and create new canvasses. I hope that in time Singaporeans will grow to love the Gallery and that it will become the pride of Singapore."
Whether it will become the pride of Singapore has yet to be seen.
But one question we can answer is: "Will people who are not art enthusiasts enjoy the museum?"
The New Paper visited the National Gallery on opening day, and the answer is a resounding yes.
Retiree Eng Jee Keow (below, left), 67, visited the National Gallery with his friends earlier today and greatly enjoyed their visit despite not being art enthusiasts.
"The building itself is beautiful, and it has been interesting learning about Singapore's art history. It's been a very fun experience especially with some of the more interactive elements," said Mr Eng.
Below are some of the reasons why non-art lovers may enjoy the museum.
1. The jail experience
The former Supreme Court forms part of the gallery and the history of the building has been incorporated into the gallery.
Visitors are able to go into what was formerly the holding cells for suspects just before their trials.
They were also able to see some of the court chambers - like the impressive chief justice's chambers.
2. Art can be fun?
The National Gallery proves to be very accessible, providing different elements that make art fun for the average visitor.
The gallery has a "social table", an interactive element that was popular with visitors on the gallery's opening day.
Its touch screen platform allows curious visitors to know more about famous artists and their art works. It even has a map to chart the connection between these artists.
Visitors can also create their own poster of their favourite art works and then e-mail it to themselves after.
There were other 'interactive' art works too.
One was a deconstructed chair at the DBS Singapore Gallery. By standing at a certain point, the chair seemed to be whole again.
There were also many multimedia pieces from more contemporary artists - especially ones responding to the government when it stopped the funding for performance arts for a period of time in the 1980s.
At the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery, there is also a stereoscope station that gave visitors a look into 3-D images of history.
3. Instagrammable spots
Even if you aren't keen on the art exhibits available, the beautifully restored building is a marvel to behold.
And let's just say it's perfect for those artsy Instagram shots.
Some of the more unique places to snap a quick photo would be the futuristic-looking Rotunda (below) as well as the court chambers.
Remember to look up as well! Some of the ceilings are gorgeous.
4. Singapore's art history
Even for non-art lovers, the galleries are enriching because of the way it presents a cohesive narrative of Singapore's art history, which many may choose to neglect.
This narrative can be seen with the 400 Singapore masterpieces at the DBS Singapore Gallery.
The long-term, Siapa Nama Kamu ('What's your name' in Malay) exhibition will examine "Singapore's identity and links to Southeast Asia and the rest of the world by reflecting how artists in Singapore grappled with diverse values, ideas and tensions since the 20th century".
And the gallery divides Singapore's art history into different, easy-to-follow time periods.
These categories are: Tropical Tapestry (1890s – 1930s) (below), Nanyang Reverie (1930s – 1970s), Real Concerns (1950s – 1970s), New Languages (1960s – 1980s), Tradition Unfettered (1940s – 1980s), Shifting Grounds (1980s – Present).
The different themes have a clear write-up that explains the different time periods such as the formation of art groups resulting from anti-colonial sentiments in the 1950s.
5. The National Gallery Explorer App
If you're not an art enthusiast but willing to learn more about Singaporean and Southeast Asian art history, the National Gallery Explorer app is a great guide.
It has a pretty good navigator guide so you never get lost and it also lets you know the different artworks nearby.
But more importantly, the app has three tours: Building History highlights, DBS Singapore Gallery highlights and UOB Southeast Asia Gallery highlights.
It has audio commentary, which you can also follow along with the English transcript in the app.
It explains in detail some of the more important artworks in the exhibits and their influence and impact on the art world.
Some artworks also have related material like newspaper articles that give more context to the artist or the art piece.
It even has tours curated by the community. But as the Gallery is new, we haven't seen many of that but I hope to see art lovers share their passion with visitors who may be interested.
6. Food & Drinks
Proving that the National Gallery is the place to be, it also has a few reputable eateries.
Many of the restaurants like Saha Signature Restaurant and Bar and Altimate Gastrobar have yet to open.
But rooftop bar Smoke & Mirrors is - and offers a fantastic, undisturbed view of the beautiful, famous Singapore skyline.
7. Exit through the gift shop
It's a beautiful retail space by Gallery & Co but be warned that the items here are pricey.
An umbrella, albeit a nice one, cost $55.90.
And a stuffed dinosaur, which was admittedly cute, cost $109.