The second iteration of the Singapore Art Museum

19 01 2020

A set of buildings in Singapore close to my heart are those that belong to the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) on Bras Basah Road. I spent four memorable years at them at the end of the 1970s, when the structures that have been protected as a National Monument, belong to St. Joseph’s Institution (SJI). With the school vacating the site it had occupied since 1852 in 1987 and urban redevelopment having already then arrived at Bras Basah Road’s doorstep, the former campus and the world around it has changed almost beyond recognition. I am grateful for at least the familiar sight of the school’s protected façade, which with its curved wings appearing like the arms of a mother to embrace her children with a warmest of welcomes. Another thing that I am grateful for, is the dignified manner in which the school’s old buildings have been repurposed.

Singapore Art Museum, which is undergoing redevelopment, will only reopen in 2023.

We should soon seen a second iteration of SAM in the former SJI, since the first that came in its 1996 conversion.  Several structures of the old school were torn down in the 1996 iteration, which included the much loved Brothers’ Quarters on Queen Street. The quarters’ building, the bottom of which contained the school’s tuck shop, was replaced with a service block which has been demolished to accommodate the set of changes that will come next. The proposed interventions, which will perhaps take a bit of taking to, will include an entrance plaza at Queen Street, the addition of a floating box over the two courtyards known as the Sky Gallery, and a gallery bridge that will link the set of structures on the SJI side of the SAM to the SAM @ 8Q section on site of the former Catholic High School (CHS).

Mr Chan Soo Kian of SCDA Architects presenting the proposed new entrance plaza at Queen Street.

In isolation and on first impressions, the new additions will seem almost monstrous in proportions, and the gallery bridge does seem to give the impression of an archway into Queen Street — where several other structures that I refer to as “monsters in our midst”, now seem to dominate. Having had the opportunity to hear from the creators of the proposed new additions and a chance to look at the artist impressions of the structures together with the parts that make the National Monument up  – the conserved main façade, the former Anderson Building on Waterloo Street, and the chapel block, it does seem that as a whole the additions are for the better.

An artist impression of the proposed Queen Street entrance plaza with the Sky Gallery also seen (©Singapore Art Museum).

The Sky Gallery was the addition that grated most on the senses — at first glance and seemingly something that would stick out like the proverbial sore thumb that will overwhelm the monument’s landmark façade. On closer inspection, the feature does however serve to provide a backdrop that could help in neutralising the effect of clutter currently behind the SAM. This could have the effect of drawing greater focus on the façade. The gallery will also series of reflective glass panels running its length, with each angled towards the dome — which does seem a brilliant touch. The effect to the observer is the shifting of reflections as one moves past, reflecting both the old but with the dynamism of the continuously changing and multi-faceted new — something that the museum hopes to do to enhance its position as a showcase of present and future contemporary Southeast Asian art.

An artist impression of SAM’s façade with the proposed Sky Gallery (©Singapore Art Museum).

The façade seen in May 2019.

The additions will not only create space as the SAM seeks to enhance its position as a show case of Southeast Asian contemporary art, but also make the old and new spaces much more usable. The additions will help to increase gallery space, which will grow some 30% area-wise. The more significant impact is to also have space created that will have greater height and volume – as will be seen in the two courtyards. Once spaces for assembly and play and now covered by the “floating” Sky Gallery, they will see large volume and column-free gallery space being created. Although not ideal for the old boy that I am looking to reminisce about things such as the aerial threat that was carried by the pigeons with seemingly overactive digestive systems who inhabited the rafters above, the change will make the space a lot more usable, more comfortable and perhaps much better appreciated.

An artist impression of the view from Queen Street of the former buildings of CHS with the gallery bridge and the proposed interventions at CHS (©Singapore Art Museum).

The gallery bridge — along which more gallery space will be created — will help integrate the isolated former CHS section fo the museum. To be erected over Queen Street, it will seem very much like a gateway into street from Bras Basah Road and place a focus on the street at street-level.

An artist impression of the gallery bridge (©Singapore Art Museum).

Another change that I thought will be positive, is the removal of glass panels along the previously open verandahs of the main building. It will give me a chance to walk the corridors as I once did and gaze at the statue of St. John the Baptist de la Salle – the founder of the religious order behind the school. The statue, a feature that was used as a navigation landmark, is a replica of a marble sculpture by Cesare Aureli in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican that was donated to the school on the occasion of its Diamond Jubilee.

An artist impression of the Queen Street Courtyard (©Singapore Art Museum).

 

An artist impression of the Waterloo Street Courtyard (©Singapore Art Museum).

The reopening of SAM, has been moved to 2023 due to the restoration effort that is required on the old buildings. On the evidence of what is in store, it would be well worth the added wait. The redeveloped museum will see learning studios and a library, public art spaces and promises “exciting” retail and café spaces. SAM will however continue to remain active during the extended period of closure through partnerships with both Singapore and overseas art spaces and museums. More information on SAM related events in 2020 can be found at the calendar of events on the SAM website.

Dr Eugene Tan, Director, SAM and an old boy of SJI.

 


 





The formal surrender of Japanese forces in Southeast Asia in photographs

17 09 2019

The end of the Second World War came with the announcement made by Emperor Hirohito of Japan on 15 August 1945, it would take a few weeks for Japan’s formal surrender – first on 2 September 1945 on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay and in Southeast Asia at the Municipal Chamber of Singapore’s Municipal Building (City Hall and now the City Hall Wing of the National Gallery Singapore) on 12 September 1945.

A wonderful set of photographs of the surrender in Singapore – plus a couple from the arrival of a delegation of Japanese senior officers to discuss the surrender in August 1945 in Mingaladon Airfield in Rangoon, popped up on On a Little Street in Singapore. The photographs, which were posted by Ian Hepplewhite and were part of his father’s collection, are shared here with his kind permission.


Formal Surrender of Japan in Southeast Asia, 12 September 1945

(Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia Command, received the formal surrender of the Japanese forces in Southeast Asia from General Seishirō Itagaki on behalf of Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi, the Supreme Commander of Southern Command of the Japanese Imperial Army)

“This is the series of pictures I have of my father’s showing the Japanese surrender to Mountbatten. I do have other images of Singapore from that time people may have already seen” – Ian Hepplewhite, on On a Little Street in Singapore.

3325DDC2-B321-40BB-962F-20DB16AF09E2

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.


Mingaladon Airfield, August 1945

Japanese senior officers arriving at Mingaladon airfield in Rangoon (Yangon) Burma (Myanmar) to discuss surrender – shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Japanese senior officers arriving at Mingaladon airfield in Rangoon (Yangon) Burma (Myanmar) to discuss surrender – shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.


 





A sneak peek at Maxwell Chambers Suites

24 07 2019

I had the opportunity to pay the soon to be opened Maxwell Chambers Suites a visit, thanks to a Ministry of Law (MinLaw) organised guided visit. I must say that the former Traffic Police Headquarters turned design museum looks resplendent in its transformation, having morphed over a period of two-years into an extension of Maxwell Chambers. Maxwell Chambers is the world’s first integrated dispute resolution complex right next door that is housed in the former Customs House. The extension, which is set to open on 8 August, will help cement Singapore’s position as a hub for international dispute resolution.

Windows from the past with reflections of the future – at the former Traffic Police HQ turned dispute resolution complex.

The conserved building has, both literally and metaphorically, had quite a colourful past. Completed early in 1930 as the Police “D” Division headquarters and barracks, a corner of it was used to house the Traffic Branch. The new Division HQ cum barrack block had been built during the decade-long effort to modernise and bring greater professionalism to the Straits Settlements Police Force. The effort, the brainchild of the force’s Inspector General, Harold Fairburn, came in days when “Sin-galore” might have seemed as appropriate a name for the municipality as Singapore. The force was reorganised, expanded and better trained – with the construction of the new Police Training School (old Police Academy). New and modern facilities were also built, including police stations and barracks to house the expanded police force.

The gorgeously decorated Business Centre at Maxwell Chambers Suites.

The re-organisation also saw the Traffic Branch (as the Traffic Police in its infancy was known as) move from Central Police Station to the new station and barrack building at Maxwell Road. The Traffic Branch, and later the Traffic Police, would maintain an almost unbroken association with the building until 1999. That was when the Traffic Police made a move to it current home at Ubi Ave 3.

Standing tall – the former traffic police headquarters seen in new light against the backdrop of Singapore’s tallest building.

The dreaded driving test would be on the minds of many of the older folks when the Traffic Police HQ is mentioned. The process of obtaining a driving licence here, required the prospective driver to pay Maxwell Road a visit or two. This arrangement lasted until December 1968, after the Registry of Vehicles (ROV) took over the conduct of driving tests and built a second test centre in Queenstown. Tests continued to the conducted at Maxwell Road until May 1978.  

The rear façade of the building where the communal barrack kitchens were arranged on the upper floors and next to which was the compound where the “test circuit” was set up.

The version of the building that is probably etched in the minds of most would be the incarnation that had many of us see red – as the “red dot Traffic Building” and the home of the Red Dot Design Museum. The museum open in 2005 and was housed in the building until it was acquired by MinLaw in 2017.

As the Red Dot Traffic Building, which housed the Red Dot Design Museum from 2005 to 2017.

Interestingly, it does seem that it wasn’t just as the Red Dot that the building may have attracted attention due to its colour scheme. The building’s conservation architect, Mr. Ho Weng Hin, in sharing about how the current colour scheme was selected also revealed that its initial coat was a mustard-like yellow with green accents. This may have been in keeping with the Art Deco influences of the day. The colours have certainly mellowed over the years and it is in keeping with the colour schemes of its latter years as a police building that its current colour scheme was selected.

Maxwell Chambers Suites has had its colour restored to reflect the colour scheme of the late 20th century Traffic Police Building.

As with several other urban street-side police barrack buildings of the era, Maxwell Chambers Suites’ façade displays an orderly array of wooden framed windows. These, along with the original cast iron gutters also on its face, have been painstakingly restored. A discovery that was made during the restoration pointed to the origin of the gutters, which was a well-established Glaswegian foundry named Walter MacFarlane and Co. With its openings now sealed with glass, the restored wooden windows have been left in an “opened” position. It will be interesting to note how air-conditioning intake vents have been quite creatively placed in the upper (top- opening) sections of the wooden windows – arranged to give the impression that some of the upper window sections have been opened quite randomly.

Vents are arranged to give an impression that the top opening sections of the exterior windows have been opened in a random manner.

Inside the building, offices, meeting rooms and an beautifully decorated business centre – for the use of visiting legal practitioners – now occupy spaces that had originally been the homes of policemen and their families or service spaces such as communal kitchens. These are laid out around an internal courtyard that had also been restored. Part of the courtyard was closed for use by the museum proper during the buildings Red Dot days. Courtyards are a feature of many of the civic buildings of the era and were used to maximise light and ventilation. In the case  urban police barrack buildings, they also provide privacy to the living spaces from the public streets.

The courtyard.

The opening of Maxwell Chambers Suites is timed to coincide with the Singapore Convention Week (3 – 9 August), the week when Singapore will witness the signing of the Singapore Convention on Mediation – the first United Nations treaty to be named after Singapore on 7 August. The Convention will provide for the cross-border enforcement of mediated settlement agreements and will give businesses greater certainty that mediated settlement agreements can be relied upon to resolve cross-border commercial disputes. More on Maxwell Chamber Suites can be found at this link.

JeromeLim-5176

Once barrack rooms.

A mural depicting the memories of a traffic policeman – of floods when the Singapore River spilled over.

Mr Ho Weng Hin pointing out the MacFarlane trademark on the cast iron gutter.

The Walter MacFarlane trademark.

A cornice-like feature – once part of an opened roof deck at the building’s rear and now part of an enclosed space.

A meeting room on an upper floor with a reflection of the office spaces across the courtyard.

An upward view from the courtyard.

Restored windows in the bulding’s rear seen in a new light.

Another look at the building’s front.

 

What would once have been communal kitchens in the building’s rear – with prefab plaster canopy hoods.


Inside Maxwell Chambers (the Former Customs House)

The iconic Cavenagh Room under the dome of Maxwell Chambers (the former Customs House). Maxwell Chambers Suites has been linked to Maxwell Chambers by a link bridge.

Stairway to heaven.


Maxwell Chambers Suites in its time as the Red Dot Traffic Building

Linda Black’s depiction of Venus – at Chairity, an event held at the Red Dot Design Museum in 2012 that was graced by the late Mr. S. R. Nathan in his capacity  as the President of Singapore.

 






Journeys of faith and devotion from Kampong Gelam

13 10 2018

An insightful exhibition featuring the journeys of faith that Hajj pilgrims take in both body and in spirit, ‘Undangan ke Baitullah: Pilgrims Stories from the Malay World to Makkah’, was launched together with the Malay Culture Fest 2018 yesterday (12 Oct 2018).

 

A performance at the opening, reenacting a pilgrim’s journey of faith.

The exhibition, which runs from 13 October 2018 to 23 June 2019, takes a look at Kampong Gelam’s role in supporting the Hajj. The district, having been an important port town, saw Muslims from across the Nusantara congregate in preparation for the often difficult passage by sea to Mecca in days before air travel (the area around Busorrah Street was also known as ‘Kampong Kaji‘ – ‘kaji’ was apparently the Javanese pronunciation of ‘haji‘).

Mdm Halimah Yacob, President of the Republic of Singapore, launching the exhibition and the Malay Culture Fest.

Many businesses such the popular nasi padang outlet Hjh. Maimunah had its roots in the pilgrimage. The restaurant, which has an outlet at Jalan Pisang, is named after the founder’s mother Hajjah Maimunah, who was Singapore’s first female Hajj broker (or sheikh haji). The enterprising Hajjah Maimunah also ran a food business during the Hajj catering to pilgrims from this part of the world in Mecca.

JeromeLim-7679

The Malay Culture Fest, which was opened together with the exhibition, runs from 12 to 28 October 2018 and will feature lectures and performances over the three weeks. More information can be found at :   https://peatix.com/group/40767/events.

Entrance to one of the exhibition’s galleries.

The hajj passport of a child pilgrim on display at the exhibition.

A trunk and a suitcase used by pilgrims on display.

 





The dark days of 1942 revisted

22 09 2017

This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the fall of Singapore, which the National Museum of Singapore is commemorating with an international exhibition Witness to War: Remembering 1942. The exhibition, which opens tomorrow, revisits the unfortunate period in Singapore’s history through artefacts that have not been seen on our shores since the war, as well as new takes on the darkest of days through previously untold stories of survivors. To add to that, artefacts from our own National Collection, including a recently acquired 25-Pounder Field Gun used by British and Commonwealth armies in World War Two, as well as never displayed before Japanese Army bugle, an Enfield No. 2 Mk. 1 revolver and personal artefacts of the war survivors, make their appearance. The exhibition is centred on the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942 and its immediate aftermath with a section that also explores the lead up to the fall.

The recently acquired 25-Pounder Field Gun.

What is possibly one of the highlights will be a ceremonial sword that belonged to General Tomoyuki Yamashita. This, on display in its sheath, is on public display outside the United States for the first time since the war ended in 1945. The sword, the blade of which was made by a famed swordsmith, Fujiwara Kanenaga, sometime between 1640 and 1680, was surrendered to the Americans on 2 September 1945 in Luzon, Philippines and was given to the United States Military Academy at West Point. This will be the first time that the sword is being displayed outside the United States since it got there in 1945.

Yamashita’s ceremonial samurai sword.

What makes the exhibition worth the visit isn’t just the numerous artefacts but also the never heard before accounts, the collection of which rather interestingly involved school children, from war survivors and veterans. Speaking of the kids, there is a special family activity space, entitled “A Child’s Perspective”, that will appeal to the young ones – the interactive activity space includes a mock-up of a bomb-shelter which will allow the young ones a feel of what it may have been like.

School children were involved in the process of collecting previously untold stories of survivors.

Witness to War: Remembering 1942 is open to public from 23 September 2017 to 25 March 2018, and is chronicled on social media via the hashtag #remembering1942. More information on the exhibition and events related to it can be found at http://www.nationalmuseum.sg.

Poster of Hong Kong entrepreneur Ho Kom-Tong (Bruce Lee’s maternal grandfather) performing at a Hong Kong St. John Ambulance charity show Drunk Overlord in the Pavilion of a Hundred Flowers, 18 January 1941 (on loan from Hong Kong Museum of History, Leisure and Cultural Services Department).

The portrait of Sir Shenton Whitelegge Thomas painted by artist Xu Beihong, which was previously displayed in the Singapore History Gallery, makes its return in Witness to War after a period of conservation.

Artefacts from the pre-war Japanese community, who were centred on Chuo-Dori or Middle Road.

A family from the pre-war Japanese community, who were centred on Chuo-Dori or Middle Road.

Personal belongings of victims of war.

A Japanese bugle from the National Collection.

A Union Jack captured by Japanese troops marked with the date of the fall.

Changi Prison key.

Inside the mock-up of the bomb shelter.

The mock-up.

A mock-up of a kitchen.

Contributors of some of the stories.

 





To infinity and beyond with Yayoi Kusama

9 06 2017

Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow opens at the National Gallery Singapore today. The highly anticipated exhibition takes visitors through the preeminent Japanese contemporary artist’s seven decade long career. Even if you are not a big on her artistic expressions – which are attempts to give form to her delusions – the exhibition is worth a visit just for the opportunity to be obliterated by the artist’s mirrored installations. Admission charges apply for exhibition, which runs until 3 Sep 2017. More information, including that on talks, workshops and other exhibition related activities can be obtained at the National Gallery Singapore’s website.

A video installation, Song of a Manhattan Suicide Addict.

A must visit infinity mirrored room: Gleaming Lights of the Souls.

Reflections off a mirrored box installation, I Want to Love on the Festival Night.

A peek into I Want to Love on the Festival Night.

Another peek into I Want to Love on the Festival Night.

Invisible Life.

Another must visit mirrored room: The Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens.

The Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens.

The Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens.

Statue of Venus Obliterated by Infinity Nets.

It takes balls of steel – Narcissus Garden in the City Hall Chamber.

A view across Gallery A. The exhibition is spread across three galleries of the SINGTEL Special Exhibition Gallery on the Level 3 of the City Hall Wing.

Left-over Snow in a Dream, a soft sculpture from 1982. The artist applied sewing skills she picked up working in a parachute factory as a schoolgirl during the Second World War.

Women’s Castle.





Great fun for the young ones at the National Gallery

27 05 2017

The National Gallery Singapore’s inaugural Gallery Children’s Biennale, themed Dreams and Stories, opened to a bang last week and on offer is one of the many exciting events our very fortunate children in Singapore can indulge in this school holiday season. Great fun for the young ones, the festival features interactive art showcases, performances and activities curated for kids and the young at heart and runs until 8 October 2017. More information can be found at https://www.nationalgallery.sg/see-do/highlights/childrens-biennale-2017.

Minister Tan Chuan Jin opening the Children’s Biennale.


Some highlights

Joining the dots – Yayoi Kusama style, at The Obliteration Room.

Not water under this bridge – Mark Justiani’s ‘Firewalk: A Bridge Of Embers’.

It takes balls – TeamLab’s Homogenizing And Transforming World.

Lynn Lu’s growing mess of memories penned on ribbons – This Changed My Life.

Where participants get to pen memories on ribbons and put them up.

Head in the clouds? Lynn Lu’s Duplet.

Flowers with stories – Tran Trong Vu’s The Sonnet in Blue.

Poem / Stories on handmade flower petals.