Three museums to visit in Singapore
Emma Chong tours the museums of Singapore and brings home a report.
1) While museums in our homeland are still finding their feet, just 200 miles away there are institutions that mesh the classic and contemporary with panache, managing to be both educational and entertaining, where the acquisition of knowledge is a joy and wedding couples pose for photographs on the stairs. Where is this Mecca of museums? Singapore, of course. A recent visit to a trifecta of Singapore museums brought this revelation home, and here are our thoughts.
In the middle of the city and within the old St Joseph’s Institution, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) couples its breezy old world charm with serious contemporary Singaporean art. Originally built in 1867, its courtyards and corridors evince that colonial feel, and they’ve used the space as cleverly as you’d expect – combining classrooms to create spacious galleries, turning the chapel into a distinctive auditorium (still retaining the Stations of the Cross and holy water stoop) and converting the school hall into a function hall. The steady stream of secondary school and college students is evidence enough that they’re doing something right.
Singapore Art Museum 71 Bras Basah Road, Singapore (+65 6332 3222/www.singaporeartmuseum. sg). Open Sat – Thur, 10am – 7pm; Fri, 10am – 9pm. Entry from S$5.
2) Second stop is the ridiculously modern ArtScience Museum at the Marina Bay Sands. You’ve seen it, even if at the time you didn’t know you were looking at a museum – it’s that futuristic, lotusshaped structure sitting just below the equally futuristic Marina Bay Sands SkyPark. Impressive on the outside, it is impressively confusing on the inside – each of the ‘petals’ is of different proportions and houses a wing of the museum.
ArtScience Museum 10 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore. Open daily, 10am – 10pm. Entry from S$8.
3) Evening brought us to the National Museum of Singapore. This place is a testament to the fact that heritage can be preserved, celebrated and brought into the 21st century. The original building, built in 1887, remains intact and carefully maintained with only thoughtful concessions to modernity, like the glass passage that connects the old building to the new, and allows a hitherto unseen view of the famous dome. The result is a beautifully light, bright area in the day, and cool, starlit space at night. It leads into the extension proper which has been excavated out of the backing Fort Canning hill (so as not to interfere with the existing silhouette of the place). The resulting excavated rock was then used by Han Sai Por to create ‘Seeds’, one of the museum’s permanent installations.
But what really impresses about the museum are its contents. The permanent Living Galleries alone are worth visiting, with the disciplines of Food, Fashion, Film, History and Photography each warranting their own creative space. At the Food gallery, you’ll be surrounded by the sounds, sights and smells of chopping, cooking, and selling, with close up videos of laksa paste being ground, audio playbacks of cooking and interactive stop and smell counters. (Singaporean food may not be as good as Malaysian, but they do a better job of celebrating it.)
The Fashion gallery is dimmed to protect the glass cases of dresses and accessories from the 1950s to 1970s, many of which were donated by generous patrons. Cheongsams, baju kurung, ’50s style poodle skirts and bustling crinolines stand side-byside, loading fashion with the status of a societal litmus test. A specially commissioned Royston Tan short film greets you when you enter the Film gallery, which focuses on the history of Malay film production in Singapore in the mid 20th Century. The first known photograph of Singapore, ‘Daguerrotype of Singapore Town’, hangs in the Photography gallery while the History Gallery tells the tale of Singapore through all its major events and characters.
National Museum of Singapore 93 Stamford Road, Singapore (+65 6332 3659/www.nationalmuseum. sg). Open daily, 10am – 8pm. Entry from S$5.