Brendon Moore (far right), curator in the Department of International Engagement at the British Museum, explaining the origins of the mummy of an adolescent boy from Hawara, Egypt, during a media preview of the Treasures Of The World exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore.
Singapore’s National Museum and National Gallery partner the world’s leading institutions to bring in exhibitions that cut across cultural boundaries.
BY DOUGLAS CHEW
PHOTOS SPH LIBRARY, NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE, NATIONAL GALLERY SINGAPORE
n the spirit of deepening connections across borders, two of Singapore’s major art and heritage institutions have partnered foreign museums and galleries to promote cross-cultural understanding through the sharing of art and cultural artefacts.
The National Museum of Singapore has collaborated with the British Museum to bring the Treasures Of The World exhibition to our shores, while the National Gallery Singapore has worked with key art institutions in China and Hong Kong to feature works from famed Chinese artist Wu Guanzhong.
As Singapore’s oldest museum, dating back to 1887, the National Museum is more than just a place to learn. It aims to create meaningful experiences for its visitors, bringing together stories, objects and knowledge in a relevant and engaging way.
Its director Angelita Teo says: “The museum experience is about connecting people across geography, language and culture.”
In addition to giving its visitors a view of Singapore’s history, the museum hopes they go away with a better understanding of the broader connections between Singapore and the world. In view of this, its collaboration with the British Museum – the world’s oldest museum, with a rich collection of objects from all over the globe – makes perfect sense.
To stage Treasures Of The World, which started its run in December and ends in May, National Museum senior curator Szan Tan and Brendan Moore from the British Museum worked together for about two years developing the storyline, selecting the artefacts and designing the exhibition.
From the 239 treasures from Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, the Americas and Oceania selected, the oldest is a stone handaxe from Tanzania made 800,000 years ago, while the most recent is a faceted vase made by Japanese artist Maeta Akihiro in 2013.
In recognition of the long-standing friendship between Singapore and Britain, items collected by Sir Stamford Raffles – a British statesman best known as the founder of modern Singapore – are also on display. These include a painting of Java’s Borobudur temple, a piece of batik cloth, a ritual staff, a Javanese mask, and a set of kris (an asymmetrical dagger) and scabbard dating back to the 19th century.
“Partnerships encourage meaningful exchanges about arts and culture in a broader, borderless context. Perspectives from other cultural institutions often help to enrich the dialogue and thinking of complex issues.”
Low Sze Wee, National Gallery Singaporeʼs director of curatorial and collections
“Through the exhibition, visitors get a closer look at the varied and complex ways people have organised their societies, forged identities, negotiated life and confronted death,” adds Teo.
“It highlights the accomplishments of civilisations and the universally enduring themes of life... that connect all people across geography and time, providing visitors with an overview of human cultural achievement across history.”
Also included in the exhibition are two artworks from Singapore’s national collection: W-White On 2P Waves by abstract artist and sculptor Anthony Poon; and Blue Vessel by ceramicist Iskandar Jalil. Their works place Singapore art in the wider context of the world.
Although it only opened its doors in November last year, the National Gallery Singapore has already started on building cultural understanding with other countries, with an opening exhibition on the last Chinese master Wu Guanzhong.
Of the more than 80 artworks featured in its Wu Guanzhong Gallery, 22 are on loan from the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, the China Art Museum in Shanghai, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the Zhejiang Art Museum and the Nanjing Museum, with many of the pieces on display for the first time in Singapore.
Until his death in 2010, Wu was a leading Chinese modern artist, and a major advocate and forerunner of synthesising Chinese art with Western modernism. He was among the first Chinese artists to enjoy acclaim in both China and the West. In 1992, his paintings were exhibited at the British Museum, the first time such an honour was accorded to a living Chinese artist. His works on display at the Gallery include Hometown Morning (1960), A Mountain Village Of Guilin (1973), The Hometown Of Luxun (1976), Mulberry Grove (1981), Two Swallows (1981) and Delicate Reflection (2009).
The National Gallery is also working with Centre Pompidou in Paris for an exhibition in April, followed by another in collaboration with the Tate Britain in October.
“Partnerships encourage meaningful exchanges about arts and culture in a broader, borderless context. Perspectives from other cultural institutions often help to enrich the dialogue and thinking of complex issues,” says Low Sze Wee, National Gallery’s director of curatorial and collections.
He hopes that by bringing in such valuable collections, the National Gallery can contribute to a more vibrant art scene, increase its visitors’ engagement with art and nurture future generations of art lovers.
A visitor admiring Wu Guanzhongʼs LʼArc de Triomphe at the National Gallery Singapore.
At 800,000 years old, the stone handaxe from Tanzania is the oldest artefact in the Treasures Of The World exhibition.
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