S-E Asian focus for National Gallery

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Tiger's Whip, a sculpture by Tang Da Wu.

South-east Asian and Singapore art will be in the spotlight when the National Gallery Singapore opens next year.

About 700 artworks drawn from Singapore's national collection and on loan from regional museums and collectors will go on display in the two permanent galleries at the museum of 19th century and modern art.

What looks set to be one of the largest visual arts venues in the region, at 64,000 sq m, is currently under construction. Two heritage buildings, the City Hall and the former Supreme Court, are being refurbished and converted into the National Gallery on a $530-million budget.

In an exclusive interview with Life!, its director Dr Eugene Tan says the focus will be on the "cross-cultural connections" shaped by art. Curatorially, the Gallery tracks the history of South-east Asian art from its beginnings in the 19th century to the present.

Apart from telling the story of South-east Asian art, which Dr Tan says is still "a very under-researched area", the Gallery also wants to look at the many influences contributing to the richness and diversity of art in the region.

To do this, discussions are ongoing with major museums in the world.

Aside from the permanent displays, expect to see blockbuster shows from collaborations with leading museums such as Paris' Centre Pompidou and Musee d'Orsay and New York's Museum of Modern Art.

These exhibitions will examine the development of contemporary art in different parts of the world and how artistic movements in the West had an impact on Asian artists.

The two permanent galleries are the DBS Singapore Gallery and the South-east Asia Gallery. The bank's $25-million donation was announced yesterday.

Dr Tan says these permanent spaces will provide "the contextual background for the Gallery's changing exhibitions programme which will examine other local and international art movements in depth".

The DBS Singapore Gallery, located in the City Hall, is about 2,000 sq m while the South-east Asia Gallery located in the former Supreme Court is about 4,000 sq m.

Children and families have not been forgotten. There is a Keppel Centre for Art Education, aided by a $12-million donation made by Keppel Corporation in August. It includes a Children's Museum with artworks picked and commissioned to appeal to children, and interactive facilties such as an Art Playscape which will allow children below the age of seven to play and interact with artworks.

The DBS Singapore Gallery will have several iconic home-grown works on display including Georgette Chen's 1946 Self Portrait, an oil on canvas measuring 22.5 by 17.5cm, as well as Tang Da Wu's 1991 installation Tiger's Whip.

The mixed media installation is among the most representative works of Singapore's contemporary art history. In the 1990s, Tang had dragged eight life-size papier mache tigers around Chinatown to protest against the killing of tigers for their sexual organs.

The installation shows one of the papier mache tigers pouncing on a rocking chair. The tiger is white to represent its ghost, pouncing on the rocking chair symbolising aged men.

Singapore has the world's biggest collection of South-east Asian art, with more than 10,000 works. The collection has been built up actively since 1996 by the Singapore Art Museum, now a contemporary art space. Since the announcement in 2006 of the setting up of the National Gallery to showcase the 19th-century and modern pieces, there are now several iconic works by regional masters including Hendra Gunawan and Malaysia's Redza Piyadasa.

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