Feature

Singapore – Where to go, art to see

01 Feb 2019

by ArtRabbit

Last week, we headed to the other side of the world to experience Singapore Art Week, an annual celebration of this island’s vibrant art scene. Tropical and culturally blooming, this city-state showcases its vast array of talent and its depth of both traditional and contemporary arts in a week-long event that connects all corners of its geography.

The theme of this year’s Art Week was “Art Takes Over”, and it was meant quite literally as every participating district presented its own take on the phrase. From the Civic District and Marina Bay up through Bras Basah and Bugis, into Jalan Besar and Little India and into the epicentre of gallery haven in Gillman Barracks, each area has its own flavour of contributions to the city’s cultural scene.

Read on to take a tour through Singapore’s dazzling boroughs and get acquainted with their most significant art institutions.

Marina Bay Sands & ArtScience Museum (Marina Bay)

Marina Bay Sands, as its name suggests, graces the seaside Marina Bay of Singapore. A structure of three cascading towers topped with a futuristic looking mix between a spaceship and a cruise ship, no promo shot of Singapore is complete without inclusion of this business and leisure destination. The Sands SkyPark perched above the towers boasts spectacular views, and at 12,400 m2, is longer than the height of the Eiffel Tower. Beyond its impressive amenities, including an open-air infinity pool nearly 200 metres above the ground, the resort is also home to the ArtScience Museum, a lotus-shaped building that houses a main collection as well as a rotation of international exhibitions. Contemporaneous to Singapore Art Week, Minimalism is an exhibition that spans the ArtScience Museum to the Singapore National Gallery and features works by contemporary art’s most renowned names like Olafur Eliasson and Anish Kapoor. As a part of SAW, the ArtScience museum also features the IMPART Collectors’ Show: Fabulous Monsters, an exhibition that borrows from private collections throughout Singapore to show the uncanny and sublime taste of the island’s collectors. 

ArtScience Museum Singapore
6 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore 018974
Open daily: 10am – 7pm

Artwalk Little India (Little India)

Little India is a buzzing microcosm of what makes India such a popular tourist destination, from stalls of aromatic street food to colourful shop fronts with even more colourful merchandise packed inside. And it’s no secret: this bustling district is one of the most visited destinations in Singapore, with over 20% of visitors stopping by. A staple in the culture of the city, this neighbourhood is even better explored via the Artwalk Little India, where several of the white walls in this area are adorned with murals and street art portraying its vibrant history. Curated by Milenko Prvacki, senior fellow at LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore, in collaboration with the Singapore Tourism Board and Ultra Super New Gallery, the Artwalk presented during Singapore Art Week featured several artists talking about and performing stories of Little India’s history.

STPI - Creative Workshop and Gallery (River Valley)

An interesting concept the likes of which is rarely seen elsewhere, STPI is not only an internationally renowned gallery specialising in print and paperwork; it also works with artists in building them up from early career and produce work together with the artists in their on-site workshop. For SAW, we saw an exhibition featuring Singaporean artist Soo Pieng, an inaugural figure in the city’s cultural and aesthetic identity.

STPI Gallery
41 Robertson Quay, Singapore 238236
Open Monday – Friday: 10am – 7pm; Saturday: 9am – 6pm; Closed on Sunday and Public Holidays

National Gallery Singapore (Downtown)

Home to the world’s largest public collection of Southeast Asian art, the National Gallery has both impressive permanent exhibitions as well as a rotating programme of international exhibitions, partnering with global institutions such as Centre Pompidou, Musée d'Orsay and Tate Britain. Currently on show and in partnership with the ArtScience Museum, is Minimalism: Space. Light. Object. The first of its kind to be displayed in the region, this show brings together some of contemporary art’s most well known, including James Turrell, Yayoi Kusama, Martin Creed, and many more.

National Gallery Singapore
1 St. Andrew's Road, Singapore 178957
Open Saturday - Thursday: 10am – 7pm; Friday: 10am – 9pm

S.E.A. Focus at Gillman Barracks (Gillman Barracks)

Gillman Barracks is the art and culture cluster of Singapore, set in former military barracks repurposed to house some of the most exciting galleries of the city. Amidst the programme of interesting art exhibitions featured at the pavilion, a new initiative by STPI has been launched contemporaneous to Singapore Art Week. S.E.A. Focus is a new platform aimed at fostering deeper appreciation and increased demand for Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art. For SAW, the platform produced a boutique art fair which featured 25 galleries, both local and international, with a similarly aligned ethos. As Art Stage, Singapore’s key fair was cancelled 9 days prior to the launch, the spotlight landed on S.E.A Focus this year.

Art Porters Gallery (Outram Park & Tiong Bahru)

Housed in a charming Peranakan shophouse in one of Singapore’s quaintest neighbourhoods on Spottiswoode Park Rd, Art Porters Gallery is a collector’s haven with unique international finds harboured through their meticulous nurturing of relationships with artists around the world. Their aim is to share happiness through art, a deeply personal sentiment that the founder, Guillaume Levy-Lambert had experienced first hand.

One of our favourites from Singapore Art Week was its current exhibition, Domestication II by New York-based Singaporean artist Su-en Wong. Her large scale pencil drawings are beautifully crafted and take on themes of the self as other, cultivation of culture and assimilation among others. They pay homage to (or perhaps satirically take the piss out of?) certain works by Damien Hirst, including his Medicine Cabinets. In line with his goal of spreading happiness through art, at the end of our tour of Art Porters Gallery, Levy-Lambert took us next door to his home, where he showed us the art from his spectacular private collection. Drop by to say hi when you’re in town.

Art Porters Gallery
64 Spottiswoode Park Road, Singapore 088652
Open Tuesday - Sunday: 10:30am – 7pm; Monday by appointment

National Museum of Singapore and the Ryan Foundation (Colonial District, the Quays & Marina Bay)

Ryan Su is an art lawyer and avid collector, whose sizeable collection of works has been growing since 2012. But art isn’t done any justice being stored away collecting dust, and Ryan himself was growing increasingly frustrated with never being able to see the works he collected. Out of a desire to allow the artworks to be seen, the Ryan Foundation was founded, a non-profit organisation whose mission can be read twofold: to make art accessible for the younger generation, and to build bridges between Singapore and the rest of the world. By approaching different institutions and offering a share of space and resources, his quest resulted in the Foundation’s current collaboration with the National Museum of Singapore

The exhibition, contemporaneous to the Singapore Art Week, is called Lucy Liu and Shubigi Rao: Unhomed Belongings. One of our highlights of the week, this work brings together award-winning Hollywood actress Lucy Liu (yes, that Lucy Liu) and Singapore native Shubigi Rao in an example of organic manifestations of art.

Prior to the exhibition, the two artists had yet to meet in person. Once paired together, a series of conversations led them to find resonances in their practices. From a distance, perhaps similarities between the two may seem far fetched. Rao, after all, is an academic who facilitates university lectures, while Liu is known for her films and TV series appearances. But what people don’t know is that before Liu ever started acting, she was creating art. Throughout her life, she has continually done so, sometimes under a pseudonym. They discovered common ground in the repurposing of found objects in their art, as these objects trouvés become narrators to their creations and conduits to their expression. Unhomed Belongings at the National Museum Singapore shows the dialogue between these two minds with the repurposed object as a point of entry.

National Museum of Singapore
93 Stamford Road, Singapore 178897
Open daily: 10am - 6pm; Last admission at 5:30pm

SAM - Singapore Art Museum (Bras Basah)

While the first art museum in Singapore was closed for redevelopment during this year’s Singapore Art Week, a full programme by the institution was running at partner venues throughout the week. Singapore Art Museum, affectionately shortened to SAM, is housed in a restored 19th-century mission school. Opened in 1996, it has since built one of the most important public collections of Southeast Asian contemporary art, with frequent collaborations with international art institutions. As well as bringing in contemporary art from the rest of the world, the art of the Singapore scene gains international attention through SAM’s travelling exhibitions and collection loans. They’re also the organisers of 2019’s Singapore Biennale, in partnership with the National Arts Council of Singapore.

While the museum building undergoes its revamp, a travelling art exhibition by the name of the SAM Mini Mobile Museum will be held in partnership with the regional libraries of Tampines, Woodlands and Jurong. The works presented will range from painting to sound and video to installation, all by Southeast Asian artists and each work adapted for non-traditional spaces.

Singapore Art Museum
71 Bras Basah Road, Singapore 189555
Open Monday - Sunday: 10am - 7pm; Enjoy complimentary entry on Friday evenings from 6pm - 9pm

Design Orchard (Orchard)

While it’s often contended that design is the commercial counterpart to art, and although Design Orchard is in the middle of the commercial district of Orchard, we felt that this interesting design company deserves a little rabbit love. A one-stop shop for everything of local design, the venue also operates as an incubation space for Singaporean designers along with a public outdoor rooftop/amphitheatre. Spearheaded by Enterprise Singapore, JTC Corporation and Singapore Tourism Board aimed to showcase Singapore brands and products while dedicating space for local designers to develop their skills and learn from mentors.

Like most creative ventures in Singapore, Design Orchard is the government’s effort to groom new and emerging talents and prepare them to take their products overseas. Designed by local firm WOHA Architects, the building adds diversity to Orchard Road (Singapore’s equivalent to Oxford Street). The rooftop with its lush greenery and generous space is a little oasis that offers visitors some peace and tranquillity from the shopping frenzy of Orchard Road.

Other things we learned

  • Don’t miss out on a chance to soak of art and culture in 26-degree weather in January.

  • Poppy seeds are banned in Singapore due to their morphine content, and for fear that they will be used to grow opium poppies.

  • In 2017, Singapore, attracted 17.4 million international tourists, more than 3 times of Singapore's total population. 

  • As a part of their economic strategy, there is a huge effort from the government to groom and nurture the arts and creative industries. In a time when we’re seeing a consistent decrease in UK arts funding, this is something that has our mouths watering.

  • Thanks to friends, colleagues and the team at Singapore Tourism Board, we got to eat, drink and party at some of Singapore’s gems and best kept secrets. Places we loved, we saved on this Google Map.

What to look forward to in Singapore

Singapore Art Week may have wound to a close, but there’s more than just delicious street food and tropical weather to keep you busy in Singapore. Just around the corner is Singapore International Festival of Arts in May, the 6th Singapore Biennale in November and more to be announced. Be sure to check in regularly on our dedicated Singapore events page to never miss an exhibition or event.

>> Explore more shows in Singapore

We have the organisers of Singapore Art Week to thank for a spectacular few days, including the Singapore Tourism Board, the National Arts Council of Singapore and the Singapore Economic Development Board, both for putting together this significant event and for inviting us to experience all that Singapore has to offer. If next year’s programme is anything like this one, Singapore should be at the top of everyone’s list for January destinations. 

About the writers

Sandy Di Yu, London-based writer, art theorist and artist. Follow her on Instagram or visit her website.

Vivi Kallinikou, London-based art practitioner, producer and ArtRabbit's editor-in-chief. Find her on Twitter or Instagram.