The thing about galleries is that it evokes images of paintings, sculptures etc. Not all folks appreciate the arts. Well least of all Mel and Suan, who both failed miserably at arts class in school.
So what is the big deal about the National Gallery in Singapore?
For one, it’s free. For Singaporeans and Permanent residents at least. Foreign visitors pay a nominal fee to access the exhibits that are spread across.
First, some ground notes.
The gallery is located in the grand old city hall built in the late 1920s and officially opened in 1929 as a Municipal building. The Supreme court was built and commissioned about a decade later. These buildings have seen through the tumult of Singapore’s ascent : from declaration of city status, the world war and the independence movement that eventually led to the creation of a tiny city state. Both were built in the classical architectural style.
Over the years as the country grew and the workload increased, judiciary and government roles were moved to newer premise. And the two buildings became less of an administrative center, eventually vacated in 2006. We recall using the steps of the city hall as one of our outdoor wedding photography sites.
Monuments and Galleries
In between 2011 and 2015, the buildings were refurbished to house well over 8000 pieces of art not just from Singapore and Southeast Asia, but also around the world. It demonstrate how this little city state is connected to many countries and cultures around the world. Not just through the Diaspora of the various ethnic groups, but also the intense pot of diversity that came to this island seeking a better life.
These two buildings are now “connected”, by way of bridges that link the floors on both sides. A canopy covers the space between the two buildings, so you’d think they are one.
Not surprising, the Galleries are in part sponsored by two local financial institutions. The DBS Singapore gallery houses works that traces the cultural identity of Singapore from colonial times till today. Despite a slow start, art in Singapore has progressively made new inroads towards modernity. Today some of the exhibits demonstrate how ideas have been borrowed, morphed and evolved into something very uniquely Singaporean.
The Southeast Asian collection is housed under the UOB gallery in the former supreme court building. Here, works from the region are showcased illustrating how expressions or interpretations of traditions have been adapted and even re-invented over course of the last few decades.
At the basement level, there are actually two smaller galleries. These frequently exhibit the work of various artists. The latest when we visited was a rare display of clay ceramics by a leading son of Singapore.
If one were to tire from viewing the exhibits, there are numerous resting points on each floor of the galleries. One place not to miss is the rooftop garden.
In the city hall building, make you way to the fifth storey either by escalator or the lift. Take the stairs and soon you will be on the roof of the City Hall. The open expanse of the roof had been turned into a place with green and water spaces. But the real treat is the viewing platform that overlooks the Padang.
The viewing platform affords a panorama of the entire Marina Bay with its iconic buildings in the distant. The Singapore flyer on the left behind the “durian” like esplanade, and the CBD with its sky scraping buildings looming tall.
Imagine the view here when the national day parades were held, the sea of contingents marching across the Padang. Or when there are events such as rugby or cricket. It is good to know that in the 1920s, the Padang was then used as a plain to exercise horses. This was a time when the combustion engine had not made these animals completely obsolete.
It is good to know that the entrance ticket of S$20 for foreign visitors is only for the exhibits. Both the former supreme court and City Hall buildings are free for one and all to visit. Spending a half day here can a really nice way to enrich yourself (arts-wise) and see yet something in Singapore.