A Local Explains Singapore’s Art Boom

Once criticized for favoring commerce over creativity, Singapore is poised to become the region’s hub for Southeast Asian art. Chong Siak Ching, CEO of the soon-to-open National Gallery Singapore, offers her perspective on why.

“In the immediate post-World War II years, art collecting in Singapore was largely limited to the expatriate and tourist market. Today, the city has emerged as a global center for art, with a dynamic mix of private and public museums, local and international galleries, and creative workshops and artist studios.

See all in “The Next Great Art Cities.”

When the National Gallery Singapore debuts in November, it will house the world’s largest permanent collection of Southeast Asian art. It will round out such existing institutions as the National Museum, the first public space for art established in 1976 to showcase local history, and the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), which opened its doors in 1996 to promote Southeast Asian contemporary art. Similarly in the commercial realm, the gallery scene has grown by leaps and bounds, most notably at the Gillman Barracks gallery hub. We’ve also seen an influx of prestigious private museums, such as the new Singapore Pinacothèque de Paris.

The 8,000 works in our purview will be housed in the former Supreme Court and City Hall, which underwent a $530 million transformation. While our collection will focus primarily on 19th and 20th century modern Southeast Asian art, we will have works from the classical to the contemporary periods, as we believe that great art can have a dialogue across space and time. Prominent Southeast Asian names in our collection include Raden Saleh (Indonesia), Fernando Cueto Amorsolo (Philippines), U Ba Nyan (Myanmar), Nguyen Gia Tri (Vietnam), Latiff Mohidin (Malaysia), Montien Boonma (Thailand), and Svay Ken (Cambodia).

In addition to housing Southeast Asian art, the National Gallery Singapore also aims to create a platform for the cultural and aesthetic identity of Singapore, and because of that, half of our collection is made up of local art. The DBS Singapore Gallery will be dedicated to Singaporean works from the 19th century to the present. Featured artists will include Cheong Soo Pieng, who comes from the Nanyang School, noted for integrating techniques from Chinese pictorial traditions and the School of Paris, and the late Georgette Chen, one of the most accomplished female painters from the early 20th century who painted in a Post-Impressionist style.“

Jennifer Flowers is an award-winning journalist and the senior deputy editor of AFAR.
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