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How to Find the Best Artworks in the National Gallery Singapore

By Maureen Courcenet, Finder Blogger: The Art Maven, and founder of Signé Design.

Whether you’re feeling a little lost at the new National Gallery Singapore or want to keep the kids engaged, this step-by-step art hunt is sure to make your visit an enjoyable one!

With its 64,000-square meters, Singapore’s new art museum rivals Paris’ Musée d’Orsay at about nine football pitches in size!

To navigate your way around the venue, try this National Gallery Art Hunt! If lost, hop on a free-guided tour or use this excellent app.

Start

In the City Hall Wing – level 2.

Housing the world’s largest collection of Southeast Asian modern art, the National Gallery brings together two of Singapore’s historic colonial buildings: the City Hall and the former Supreme Court. Look up the stairs at the City Hall Chamber, where the Japanese surrendered in 1945 and Singapore’s first Prime Minister was sworn in in 1959.

1. Spot the Tiger 

At Gallery One’s entrance.

Suddenly from the jungle’s very depths a tiger lunges sending everyone screaming for their lives. Like the tiger, 19th century Singapore wasn’t so easy to tame, as the British colonials discovered! They certainly did not give Singapore its name. 

Derived from Singapura (in Malay), Singapore means Lion City. According to a legend, prince Sang Nila Utama spotted a strange animal while hunting on the island. He was told it was a lion and seeing it as a good omen, he founded his city. As lions never roamed Singapore, he most likely spotted our tiger!

One newcomer who also made Singapore her forever home and became its star artist is Georgette Chen

2. Meet the South Sea Star

Turning right, her portraits take pride of place in the middle of Gallery One.

From an upper-class family, Georgette Chen lived an adventurous life in Shanghai, Paris and New York. Her 1946 self-portrait was painted two years after the death of her first love (Eugene Chen) portrayed on the left. Her second love was Singapore, where she arrived in the 1950s, becoming one of its pioneer Nanyang artists.

Nanyang means “South Seas”, an old Chinese term for Southeast Asia. Coming from China, our Nanyang artists – educated in Asian and Western art – mixed both techniques to depict the exotic land they now called home. Discover the local fruit, people and landscapes throughout the gallery.

One local scene by another Nanyang artist, Cheong Soo Pieng, is still ubiquitous even in Singapore today. 

3. Win $50 

Take out a Singapore $50 bill. Cheong Soo Pieng’s artwork is printed on it! Find it at Gallery One’s very end – the first to it pockets the bill!

Drying Salted Fish is a typical Nanyang painting:

  • It’s a local subject and shows a Malay community in batik clothing.
  • See the precise dark outlines? This is Chinese ink technique!
  • However, the horizontal format and perspective are Western.

To print a bill, you need a nation. Our next artwork shows Singapore’s beginnings as an independent one.

4. Back to School

At Gallery Two’s entrance.

National Language Class by Chua Mia Tee is social-realist art favoured by a Second Generation of Singaporean-born artists to highlight political issues.

  • We’re in 1959 – a time, when Singapore had just been granted self-governance from the British.
  • Read what’s on the board. It’s Malay for “What is your name?” and “Where do you live?” – crucial questions when aspiring to be a fully independent nation with a common identity.

With nation building came progress, for better or worse…

5. Go Fishing 

Catch the huge net hanging in the middle of Gallery Two.

What’s caught in it? Trash!

This is a critique of the Singapore River’s pollution during the nation’s intense modernisation.

By the 1970s the river stank so much, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew launched a nation-wide programme to make it clean again.

Art isn’t about aesthetic merits alone here. The key is in the message, like our final artwork.

6. Protect the Tiger 

Finish with another pouncing tiger in Gallery Three.

The red cloth strips symbolise the tiger’s blood: a condemnation of their poaching for supposed aphrodisiac benefits in Chinese Traditional Medicine.

This brings our Art Hunt to an end!

About Maureen Courcenet

A global brand manager for prestigious homecare and beauty brands turned passionate advocate for culture and the arts, Maureen now heads Signé Design Interior Decorating. Signé Design is French for Signed By Design, and the interiors that Maureen creates are a subtle blend of your unique personal style with the studio’s own signature – it’s as delicate a labour of love as the branding of a bottle of perfume. While Maureen’s decorating projects often take her from Europe to Asia and back, this Parisian art-lover also co-heads docent ongoing training and special events at the Singapore Art Museum. Join her on Design Musings.

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