Sunday, 1 May 2016

Singapore's Newest Landmark

The two buildings are joined together with a canopy
I spent about three days in Singapore this past week having been there about five years ago and the Lion City is quite impressive in its infrastructure and soft skills, though it is h not even close to the edginess of Hong Kong.

Nevertheless there were some new landmarks we checked out and old favourites.

Wu's dynamic painting of the Great Wall
First up was the National Gallery of Singapore, which opened a few months ago. Located walking distance from the Fullerton Hotel, the gallery is housed in two national monuments, the former Supreme Court and City Hall.

We went during a weekday and it was quite quiet, so staff were very helpful and friendly with any inquiries we had. We went through practically the entire thing, which is quite a lot to cover, but when it's hot outside, it's a nice respite.

One of the special exhibitions is the late artist Wu Guanzhong, who donated a number of works to the National Collection, similar to him gifting several pieces to Hong Kong. Here, the show, entitled "Wu Guanzhong: Beauty Beyond Form", shows his early works, small realism paintings in oil, then his move to ink painting that soon became more abstract in nature.

Another show is "Chua Ek Kay: After the Rain", where the Singaporean artist was born in Guangdong but settled in Singapore. He did some fantastic large ink paintings that are so evocative and contemporary. As he traveled extensively, he realized he needed to create new art forms to express what he saw in places like Australia.

Beautiful wood ceiling detail in the former Supreme Court
His work evolved from big brush ink works to intricate paintings that focused more on texture of dry versus wet to create effects that he wanted to convey.

I don't know many Singaporean artists, and so it was interesting to see a few, such as Georgette Chen who migrated there, capturing everyday life in the city. An interesting piece of trivia is that on the back of the 50 dollar bill is the work of artist Cheong Soo Pieng called Drying Salted Fish, and the original work can be seen in the gallery.

A special exhibition on until July 17 is "Reframing Modernism: Painting from Southeast Asia, Europe and Beyond". Co-organized by the National Gallery and the Centre Pompidou, it's an interesting exploration of 20th century art, seeing the similarities of what was going on with Pablo Picasso, Vassily Kandinsky as well as Vietnamese and Brazilian artists at the same time.

Our attempt to sketch works in the Modernism exhibition
One gallery staff member was very keen to get us to participate and gave us a work sheet and pencil to copy some of the works on the walls... Admittedly none of them were really inspiring, but we copied one or two (very badly) for fun.

The space in the Supreme Court was a bit odd to house works of art, and seemed more like it should be a museum dedicated to the judiciary than a gallery. That's because the chairs for judges and the dock for the accused were still in their original places, while art was added on the walls. Some of the rooms were quite small too, making it hard to put the works together in a logical fashion.

Xu Beihong's Put Down Your Whip
But one of the highlights of this landmark is the rooftop (of the City Hall), where you can get a panoramic view of the downtown area, Marina Bay Sands and the five-star hotels in the vicinity.

The gallery is smart to have a bar up there called Aura Sky Lounge, where visitors can take in the view and enjoy a drink and snack.

National Gallery of Singapore
1 St. Andrew's Road
Singapore 178957
Tel: +65 6690 9400

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