Singapore is home to some of the most impressive art galleries and museums in the region. This certainly is not an accident. The government creates art programs accessible to its people and attractive to its visitors. Most museums are discounted if not free for its citizens.
I recently visited the new National Gallery Singapore. How they transformed the old City Hall and Supreme Court, buildings of great historical importance, into one modern museum is a feat that merits admiration.
NGS’s exhibit, the world largest collection of modern and classical SE Asian art, was just as impressive.
I feel like I’m already beating a dead horse in this blog when I say we need to emulate Singapore’s adaptive reuse of its old buildings. They’re under tremendous pressure to build and expand but they do so without knocking down their historic structures.
Now back to the museum.
For Filipinos, living or visiting the island, NGS is a must stop over. Put it on your to-do list paisanos.
Inside you’ll find works from our greatest painters: Juan Luna, Felix Resurrecion-Hidalgo, Fernando Amorsolo and Carlos “Botong” Francisco. Men hailed as art pioneers in the region. Their obra masetras—national symbols to us Filipinos.
Like Luna’s “España y Filipinas” that speaks of the Filipino past and identity. There’s so much symbolism in this obra. One could spend an entire day figuring out the concealed message it tries to convey.
There are three known “España y Filipinas,” all painted by Luna. I have seen the one in Lopez Museum 8 years ago. Another version is in Cadiz Spain. The one in the NGS’s collection appears to be the piece that was recently auctioned in Sotheby’s. I did check with a staff and I was told that the painting is on loan. So, I’m confused now. Maybe Ambeth Ocampo could help us figure this out.
Then there’s “The Christian Virgins Being Exposed to the Populace” by Félix Resurrección Hidalgo. This painting placed second to Luna’s massive “Spoliarium” in an art competition in Spain. I first saw this painting in Metropolitan Museum of Manila. The original was destroyed in a fire in Vallodolid.
The works of Fernando Amorsolo were so palpable you could feel his emotion. I learned about this painter in poster reproductions that adorned our elementary classrooms. I was too young to appreciate art then but those posters embedded in my mind the joyous nature of Filipinos, the beauty of our old barrio life and our great traditions.
Amorsolo’s painting during WWII are chilling reminders of a war that’s not that distant from us but many had already forgotten. NGS has two of his work during the occupation, “Defend Thy Honour” and “Marketplace during the Occupation”.
There were also art works from modern Filipino artists: Alfredo Manrique, Vicente Manansala, Ben Cabrera, Imelda Cajipe Endaya, Pablo Baens Santos, Romeo V Tabuena, Roberto Chabet, Hernando R Ocampo and Lee Aguinaldo.
The building that house’s NGS is in itself a great historical and architectural exhibit. I briefly joined the guided tour. The guide took the group around explaining its parts, history and even materials used. The visitors were entertained when she showed the temporary holding cells of the supreme court and later the trap door that opens to the courtroom upstairs.
The city hall is where Admiral Mountbatten accepted the surrender of the Japanese in 1945. Lee Kuan Yew, the island nation’s first prime minister, held office in this same building.
The National Gallery Singapore consists of two wings, the City Hall and the Supreme Court, connected by a link bridge. The DBS Singapore Gallery focuses on local artists while the UOB gallery features classic and contemporary SE Asian artists. Both buildings went under painstaking restoration work. The entire project is a text book effort in architectural reuse.
I look forward to seeing the museum again, hopefully some of you guys can join me!