Pretty tiles at the entrance to the Singapore Art Museum
I’ve been gallery going, partly to shake off a spot of homesickness and partly because I felt I owed it to the city that is temporarily housing me to do some research. I threw in some art for good measure and have managed to get three recent visits under my belt, one of which I did with Dad and two just on my own. It was definitely more fun with Dad but I do find that being alone allows you to lose yourself entirely if you so wish, or to get out quick if it’s rubbish. The following list must be added to and expanded if I am to make any sense of the place that I currently call home.
Peranakan Museum, Armenian Street
I had high hopes for this one, which was was nicely laid out in a proper old schoolhouse down an arty street, but it didn’t quite do it for me. Telling the history of the bubbling social melting pot that is Peranakan culture in Singapore, the museum uses stories to discuss what the term ‘Peranakan’ means. In a pub quiz I now think I could do it: the term describes the descendants of Chinese and Indian immigrants to Malaysia and Singapore, is it? The fact that I’m still not sure perhaps indicates a need for clearer slides next to the photos. Either that or I wasn’t concentrating.
Most rooms offer simple examples of family trees that weave in and out of neighbouring countries and cultures and the room that starts you off has photos of modern-day Peranakans all around the walls, with a quote under each one. This was a nice intro but would have been a great chance to really explore how each family collaboration occurred and to dig about beneath the roots of each family tree. Instead we have simple items under glass (a cloak here, a wedding tiara there), single signposts towards the blend of cultures that has formed Singapore, but the descriptions are only surface. More details please.
The exhibition is slightly uneven, with an entire floor dedicated to weddings and a funeral room with a wailing soundtrack that could have been shared with last year’s Harry Potter exhibition down at the Arts & Science Museum. I will go back for another look because I really do want to crack this subject, but I might take some earplugs.
Singapore Art Museum, Queen Street
I went to art college for four years and I’ve always been a bit sad that I never got on well. I wasn’t very good at it and didn’t much like going to art shows and it’s put me off, on the whole. This place, though: what a find. I loved the building and I loved the current show, President’s Young Talents – doing just what it said on the tin and showing off rising stars.
You can never really tell, with modern art, how seriously you are meant to take things. Should you nod sagely, squint-eyed, or can you just shrug things off and head next door if you don’t like it? Such is the beauty of lone visits: do what you want. So it was that I stared for hours at the flock of birds drifting up into the air from a line of Chinese text on the floor; giggled at the emergency box that asks you to break the glass if you have a ‘good idea’; peered hard at a room full of would-be pop art before doing an about-turn (not on my wall, mate). Another beauty of an old building, peaceful and cool, and a team of helpful, happy staff. I’ll be back here too.
Asian Civilisations Museum, Empress Place
This is the winning entry so far, just along from the Fullerton Hotel. Up the grand staircase and to the left is a little set of rooms that houses the ‘Singapore River’ exhibition, and here I was lost in pages of books and little wooden cases showing snippets of colour and noise from the short river that gave Singapore its long story. This is a compelling and gentle start to an amazing collection of artefacts, and I need to go back because an hour and a half in and I’d still only been down the river and back, let alone crossed the border to other countries in the main rooms of the museum. I’ll have to give it at least a day next time because there was so obviously a huge amount more to see.
Singapore houses its art so well and just hanging out in these places is a treat. Watch this space: I could get quite cultured.