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Date [ 2016-02-16, 05:53 ]

This arts centre grows from strength to strength as a showcase of the city’s art community.

(Singapore=Koreanpress) Jun Boon-Hwa = The National Gallery Singapore (NGS) had its official opening on November 2015. This makes it just a very young four months. But in this short space of time it has built a reputation for having valuable as well as entertaining information of the island’s history and Southeast Asian art.

With the aim of becoming a global city for the arts, Singapore carefully nurtured its arts and culture scene over the past two decades. Increasing attendance and participation in key events and festivals such as the Singapore Biennale, Singapore Arts Festival and Singapore Art Show, propelled Singapore onto the international scene. It lighted her as an international arts hub – a place where the global arts community.

But it took close to ten years and a hefty S$374 million to spruce up the gallery for its new role as a keeper of Singapore’s history and the region’s art. The NGS occupies buildings that once held the Supreme Court and City Hall. Today the place has been transformed into a thriving cultural centre of past, present and future.

The last will happen in the Year 3000. That is when the time capsule laid beneath the foundation stone of the Supreme Court Building by the then-governor Sir Thomas Shenton Whitelegge Thomas on April 1, 1937, is scheduled to be uncapped. It is said the capsule holds newspapers and currency of that time.

The two buildings making up the NGS were designed by the British in the 1920s and reflect its colonial past... The neo-classical City Hall began its existence as the Municipal Building in 1929. A decade later the Supreme Court stood beside it.

Visitors to the gallery need not wander aimlessly through room after room. It has been conceptualised in such a way that it takes visitors in a smooth flow of events and exhibits.

So what better way than to start with Time Travel. The buildings which make NGS up have witnessed a plethora of historical events and personages. Drawing immediate attention is Lord Louis Mountbatten's 1945 announcement of the surrender of the Japanese forces. What is more natural than to bring the Japanese army officers to justice with the war crime trials a year late in 1946. Something more pleasant and proud to ponder is Founding Father, Lee Kuan Yew's swearing in as Singapore's first prime minister in 1959.

For those inclined towards a sedate visit, the Rotunda Library is the place to go. It is now part of the Resource Centre and is the guardian of archival materials and documents. And the best things about it, is that it is accessible for the public.

The gallery officials were wise enough to retain the studious feel of the former library of the Supreme Court while renovating its high columns and domed roof. It was the perfect setting for the restored bookshelves.

But the library is not just books and more books. It also holds the Indonesian Visual Art Archive (1857-1965). Make sure you stand and gape in front of the artwork, "Boschbrand" (Forest Fire) by Indonesian painter Raden Saleh. Steadily mounted on the wall and measuring 396 x 300 centimeters, it is the largest painting in the gallery. Completed in 1849, this dramatic art catches a hot, steaming bush fire blazing its way through a forest as its denizens race to keep ahead of certain death. The painting sits in Gallery 2 of the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery.

National Gallery Singapore possesses more than 8,000 modern artworks of Singaporean and Southeast Asian artists, from the 19th and 20th centuries. This makes it the owner of the biggest collection of Southeast Asian artworks.

The style and content is varied, Nguyen Van Nhan's 1902 "Grande tenue de la Courd'Annam" (Official Dress of the Vietnamese Imperial Court), is a gathering of watercolor and gouache paintings of the Vietnamese Court’s exquisite ceremonial outfits.

Politics too come into play with the "National Language Class" painted in 1959 by the then young pioneering Singaporean artist, Chua Mia Tee.

Closer to this century, there is the American-Thai artist Michael Shaowanasai’s contemporary pieces, done in 1997. His "Exotic 101" consists of just a metal pole, a circular platform and a performance video.

Currently, the exhibition going on is “Between Declarations and Dream: Art of Southeast Asia from the 19th century.” Four main themes  critically examine the impulse of the region for each period: Authority and Anxiety, Imagining Country and Self, Manifesting the Nation, and Re:Defining Art.

The gallery has not forgotten the little people. A large portion of NGS has been dedicated to arts education for children and young people. This is the Keppel Centre for Art Education which has been divided into four sections.

First there is the Interactive Art Corridor which teaches youngsters about patterns, colors and rhythms through the use of puzzles. Art Playscape has the kids squealing in delight with its "tree house," which is like an oversized fairytale book that the children can wander through. They can also move to the children's museum where they can take a close look at the workings of an artist's studio.

Talk about inanimate objects coming to life. Then head for the Project Gallery which is sure to make children delirious with joy as they have a giant ark and a bus with wings hanging from the ceiling, yes, Wings.

The children’s section is a very hands-on place. It has opened itself to events and workshops and thrown in paper and crayons for imaginations to run wild.

After all that tours and with feet arching, plonking down at a table with something to eat and drink would be ideal. Not to worry, the gallery has dining outlets that have become dining destinations in their own right.

The National Kitchen stands out with cosine created by no less a culinary legend then Violet Oon. For those wishing to dine with a view, the rooftop bar Smoke and Mirrors and the Aura Restaurant are the places to go to. Both of these outlets spill over onto the Padang Deck which overlooks the Padang. This important patch of green is history itself, where under British rule, national parades were held.

Admission is free for Singaporeans and permanent residents (except for certain special exhibitions) while non-citizens are charged S$20.


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