Thursday, November 30, 2017

singapore | the national gallery

 

A bright afternoon and a large, beautiful dome. Staircases made of wood and glass ceilings that give way to sunlight. Walls that stretch upward and make you feel incredibly small. The National Gallery of Singapore; a grand art museum showing us the best of Southeast Asia.

The large gallery shows many pieces of Singaporean and Southeast Asian modern art, all a part of Singapore's National Collection. It serves a free entry for Singaporeans, but for foreigners, general tickets are $20 each (with some discounts available). The visual artistry is undeniably astounding; not just in the paintings, but in their architecture as well. With over 1.5 million visitors in a year, the institution's aim is not only to make the art accessible, but also shared and redefined in a global context.


Upon entering, the first thing we actually looked at was the gift shop to our left. One of the things I'm a total sucker for, other than large art galleries, are creative gift shops. It was your typical museum souvenir store; well conceptualized, colorfully displayed, and somewhat overpriced. But I loved examining them; artsy bits and bobs that you want but don't actually need. 

Do I want these pretty illustrated children's books despite the fact that I'm 18? Yes. Do I want a stack of postcards decorated with random Mexican paintings? Yes. Do I want an oversized print T-shirt matched with a tote bag with some clever words on it? Yes(In my head I successfully purchase all of these things but in reality I walk away after looking at the price tags.)


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First advice is to never enter the gallery without taking a map. When I said it was a large gallery, I meant it was gigantic. It's housed inside two restored buildings (the City Hall and former Supreme Court) serving as the gallery's two separate wings. Six floors each, dozens of rooms, and an additional basement that connects the two. 

I never get tired walking around art museums but this time, I was completely overwhelmed by how big it was. The insides were so spacious, the hallways so mystical, that I nearly got lost a couple of times, even with a map in hand from the start. It was like a sanctuary that swallows you up in its largeness. Despite spending many hours inside, I still (sadly) didn't get to see all of the artwork or sections of the place. As beautiful as it was, you probably needed to spend at least a whole day inside to experience the entirety of it.

So second advice (which I apparently only knew of after my visit to the gallery) is to make use of their Gallery Explorer app for free audio guides and to help you with navigation. (You're gonna need it, I swear.) If you think I'm going to come back to this place a second time to explore more of it and this time with a self-guided tour, you are absolutely right.

Bananas in a Basket (a) and Still Life - Flowers (b)
Abstract pieces titled Gamelan Orchestra (a) and Skyline of New York (b).
Above: Scenery painting of East Java. Below: The famous Water Lily Pond by Claude Monet.
Right: Merapi (At Day) and Merapi (At Night).

Within that time, I did catch a glimpse of the most beautiful artworks shipped in from many different locations in Southeast Asia. There were objects and portraits collected from the colonial era (as most countries here were ruled by several different European nations for years before claiming independence), with paintings that show the people in revolution, and themes varying from hope, to despair. Other than that, there was also a wide range of more modern work to enjoy; abstract pieces, geometric sculptures, and more.

The ones that really caught my attention were paintings of my own home country, Indonesia. Done by various artists, the pieces portrayed incredibly detailed local sceneries, such as local farmers at work in the afternoon with a mountain overlooking them from a distance. Looking into them, especially the ones labeled "East Java", touched me in a way no other painting in the gallery did. I was fascinated at first, but after a while, it gave a sense of– calm. It was like looking at home; the views of sunsets and rice fields were imageries that my heart recognized all too well. Big cities are pretty, but home speaks to you in a different way.

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The institution has many partners and often works with international museums to hold special exhibitions. Fortunately, I came while they had just started holding a SingTel special exhibition called the Century of Light

The section I was most eager to see from that was Colours of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musee D'orsay. I've always been a big fan of Impressionism, so when there was a special exhibition dedicated to specifically that, I knew I had to see it. I grew even more excited knowing that among the works of 19th century European artists included in the collection, Monet was one of them. I was in awe from the second I walked in.

I'm no art history major, but I will say this was my most favorite collection to ever see for myself. There are really no words for it; the widest range of colors and settings and moods and all of it encapsulated so elegantly in this exhibition. From winters in the suburbs of France to individual subjects each with different emotions and stories to tell, I just loved every bit of it.


Despite not having enough time to explore each and every corner of the institution, The National Gallery of Singapore is a place I'm definitely willing to go back to someday. Providing a different feel of seeing art that belongs closer to home, somehow the National Gallery has become a modern attraction, that celebrates history and heritage. A globally acclaimed centerpiece, that highlights roots and tradition. So if any of you fellow art enthusiasts happen to find yourselves in Singapore, it's definitely worth the visit.

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More posts from my trip in Singapore coming soon. I know I haven't been writing much lately but some things have been keeping me pretty occupied, inside and out. Nevertheless, there are still so many photos stored from my trip, so I can't wait to share my experiences with you soon.

See you around.






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