Well, Singapore could be small, but the Southeast Asian thriving metropolis has a vibrant modern art scene. I appreciate Singaporean’s effort to realize their forward-thinking vision and act fast on their feet. In merely a decade, the country has transformed its waterfront and rejuvenated various historic landmarks, turning them into tourist attractions and hotspots. With support from the government, many young, passionate, and up-and-coming contemporary artists in the region were provided a platform to showcase their creativity and innovation to the world. So here are some contemporary art spaces in the country that art lovers shouldn’t miss!
Red Dot Design Museum
I always remembered the first Red Dot Design Museum – it was strikingly red. Located just a block away from the Maxwell Food Centre, I always visit the museum after a satisfying dish of Hainanese chicken rice and barley. Today, the red building is being renovated and it will turn into a heritage hotel. The last time I visited there the signboard outside the scaffolding indicated that the wall of the historic building will go back to white… The new Red Dot Design Museum (opened in October 2017) has moved to Marina Bay. It sits in a full glass facade building right beside the Marina Bay Sands shopping mall along the Waterfront Promenade. The architecture was a collaboration between an Australian and a Singapore architect, and it takes a strong geometrical form and comprises a playful composition of structural steel elements and large overhanging roofs.
The two levels of exhibition space showcase Red Dot Design’s award-winning works from all over the world. Even if you are not in the mood to walk through the exhibition, I would still recommend the design museum shop. The shop offers some good design and visitors could always count on the shop if they are in search of a good gift. The products combine innovative ideas and functionally, unique aesthetics, and thoughtfulness – and it is what good product design is all about.
The Parkview Museum Singapore is a privately-owned museum (by the Parkview group) and it is located on the third floor of Parkview Square. The art space hosts temporary contemporary art exhibitions by artists from all over the world. It was exciting to know that a real estate conglomerate shows support for the development of art and created a space that truly combines art and business; and yes, art is everywhere. Before entering the museum, I had immediately noticed the art-deco style architecture and it was all over the place (if you are interested to know more about art deco, check out: A SOBE Travel Guide in Miami for the Best Art Deco Buildings), the lobby of the office building is filled with contemporary art sculptures and exhibit.
Check out the Atlas Bar, a wine bar in the lobby of Parkview Square. Although it was not exactly a historic building, I admire the group’s ambition and their recreation of an era of the Great Gatsby.
Positioning as the “Southeast Asian Art Museum”, National Gallery Singapore dedicates to the development of contemporary art in Southeast Asia. By revamping two national monuments, the former Supreme Court Building and City Hall, in the Civic District, the S$532 million National Gallery is the last piece of the puzzle of Singapore’s project of becoming a regional and international art powerhouse. The museum houses the largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asia art, consisting of over 8,000 contemporary artworks from the 19th century to the present day.
What I love about the design of the National Gallery is that it makes art more attainable. Art is not just an abstract painting or item, but also a communication tool that evokes emotions induces insights, reports history, or conveys a compelling message. Through multi-media and new technologies, visitors (to those even less fond of art) could experience and get to know the interesting stories and history behind these impressive collections in a fun, new way. Don’t forget to visit the designer’s market on the top floor of the museum and the rooftop offers a stunning view of Marina Bay and Singapore’s dramatic skyline.
Singapore Art Museum
Among the new additions of art galleries, Singapore Art Museum, or SAM, was the first art museum and has been on Singapore’s art scene since 1996. The museum is a stylish restoration of the mission school in the 19th century and is located in a prime location of Bras Basah. Both National Gallery and SAM are dedicated to contemporary art in Asia, but SAM also hosted themed exhibitions of prestigious contemporary artists across the world. Big names include Stephanie Blanquet from France and Yayoi Kusama from Japan. The museum also supports a range of local art foundations, commissions, and awards that recognizes promising young talents, like the Signature Art Prize and President’s Young Talents program. These rising stars are offered a platform to showcase their works to the public eye.
SAM at 8Q
SAM at 8Q is an annex of the Singapore Art Museum and is located just across the street from SAM’s main building. The new wing opened in 2008 and provided additional exhibition space for larger installation works from sound, and video, to performance art. It is not difficult (from the look of it) to notice that SAM at 8Q is originally a primary school; the rather lively restoration had the building painted in vibrant and warm colors, which in a sense makes it a proper home of the popular annual children’s contemporary art exhibition. SAM at 8Q could be an extension of the existing themed exhibition or host a themed temporary exhibition on its own. Although the 4-story building is not big, I have seen some of the most interesting and impressive contemporary art pieces there, including works by my favorite Japanese artists, Yayoi Kusama, and Takashi Murakami.
ArtScience Museum (and teamLab)
Those who visit here regularly may have already read something I shared about the ArtScinece Museum in Best Things to See and Do in Marina Bay. The museum itself is an art piece – a giant lotus flower that stood at the waterfront of Marina Bay, designed by the architect Moshe Safdie.
This is also the world’s first (and to my knowledge, only) ArtScience museum. Owned by Marina Bay Sands, the ArtScience Museum hosts touring exhibitions curated by other museums and explores where art, science culture, and technology come together. In other words, the museum is unveiling the future and exhibits both art and science with new ideas and innovative ways. Since its opening in 2011, the museum has housed exhibitions of many big names like Leonardo da Vinci, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Vincent van Gogh, and M.C. Escher; and also explored scientific aspects like big data, particle physics, paleontology, cosmology, and space exploration.
Being part of the I Light Marina Bay 2018 event, the 3D projection mapping on the ArtScience Museum was spectacular and unique. Artist Limelight created patterns and projected them on the facade of ArtScience Museum with a high level of precision to the curves of the building, and to the companion music, and it is a perfect example of creating amazing things when art and science are incorporated.
The new permanent teamLab exhibition has only made the museum so much more exciting. Titled “Future World. Where Art Meets Science”, the exhibition truly showcases the beauty of lights which combines art and science. With state-of-the-art and cutting-edge technologies, teamLab realized unimaginable art displays through visual art installations and projections. These exhibits are not just projections. They can interact and respond to visitors, offering a truly immersive experience.
Future World. Where Art Meets Science: https://www.teamlab.art/e/artsciencemuseum/
Jewel Changi – The Rain Vortex
This feature is not an art museum – but for sure it has drawn huge attention among media, bloggers and travelers for a period of time when it was opened in 2019.
Jewel Changi is a nature-themed entertainment and retail complex on the inside of Changi Airport. It’s not a new terminal, but it is a new hot spot that makes transiting or visiting Singapore so much more fun. The complex itself features gardens, attractions, over 300 retail and dining outlets (with some of them unique in the country), and even a hotel. Among all these, I bet you may have seen some photos of a rainfall and it’s the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.
The Rain Vortex, to me, can be seen as an art feature and it is impossible to not putting it on the list of the best instagram spots in Singapore. The waterfall is 40-meters high, dropping up to 38,000 liters of water per minute to the base pool after recirculating rain water that is pumped to the roof. The Jewel itself is a giant funnel and it’s creatively designed to produce an wonderous visual impact, but reduce noise and splashes, and control humidity at the same time as the water falls.
The Changi Airport Skytrain connecting the terminals passes above ground near the waterfall, allowing passengers remaining airside to see the Vortex and Jewel itself.
Unlike other fellow art museums, Gillman Barracks is a contemporary arts cluster that is home to celebrated art galleries, the NTU Center for Contemporary Art Singapore, and more. Set in a former military barracks dating back to 1936 and surrounded by lush tropical greenery, the Gillman Barracks may be less known to international travelers, yet It still has its shocking value in terms of contemporary art. The arts cluster is home to leading international and local galleries, which host art exhibits on a wide range of themes, I had once seen a creepy artform exhibition – watching a spider weave its net. The background music was punctuated by the mics detecting the vibration of the web threads. And if you still have time after visiting the barracks, unwind in the nearby cafes, visit the shops, or take a walk in the nearby Silver Garden and Butterfly Garden.