One look at the soaring skyline that frames Marina Bay shows modern Singapore has a passion for design. Over the last couple of decades, the city-state has established itself as a regional cultural hub, the zone where Chinese and Southeast Asian contemporary arts traditions merge. Here are 10 hot spots to help cue you in to Singapore’s vibrant art and design scene.
The National Gallery Singapore sits so naturally within its grand neoclassical building you would think it were as old as Singapore. But it opened its doors as recently as 2015, and houses one of the world’s largest collections of modern Southeast Asian art. Works run all the way from Chinese calligraphy to abstracts by Singapore’s Anthony Poon and Vietnamese guerrilla art, while the rooftop bar, Smoke & Mirrors, offers sweeping views and well-crafted drinks.
A Taste of East…Berlin
Matthias Arndt set up his eponymous gallery back in his native East Berlin. Today, ARNDT Singapore is one half of an Asia-Europe cultural exchange. Expect to see everything at the Gillman Barracks space from international names like Gilbert & George to South-East Asian stars like Indonesia’s Entang Wiharso.
Whether you think of it as a giant hand or — as its architects prefer — an unfurling lotus flower, the ArtScience Museum on Marina Bay is an artwork in itself. Most of the exhibitions here tour from overseas. Whether the shows are exploring trans-humanism and the cyber-future or taking you on a trip back to the Titanic, they’re always thought-provoking.
From New York with Love
Gallerist Sundaram Tagore has worked with names like MOMA, the Met and the Guggenheim Venice. Whether in New York or Singapore, he aims to create cultural dialogue between Western and non-Western traditions. Expect to see works from as far afield as Mexico and Korea in his Gillman Barracks gallery — not to mention global superstars like the photographer Annie Leibovitz.
A Grand Production
Product design may seem like a highly specialized subject — but the Red Dot Design Museum, scheduled to reopen after refurbishment in late 2017, makes it endlessly fascinating. The focus is on sustainable and ergonomic design, with names from Alessi to Dyson sitting alongside local stars.
Behind the Great Wall
Hong Kong heiress-turned-gallerist Pearl Lam has been a promotional powerhouse for modern Chinese art since she opened her first Shanghai gallery in 2004. Head to her Gillman Barracks flagship for contemporary Chinese, Southeast Asian and Singaporean artists, including the painter Zhu Jinshi.
The Elephant in the Room
One of Singapore’s oldest galleries, Gajah Gallery majors in art from the region’s largest nation, Indonesia, but also from across Southeast Asia. The expansive Tanjong Pagar space has hosted such artists as Singaporean ceramicist Jason Lim and a wealth of Indonesian names. The name means elephant — a symbol of the region.
Stephanie Fong named her gallery FOST as a portmanteau of her initials. It’s one of very few Singapore galleries to be Singapore-owned and focus on Singaporean art. Local mixed-media stars like Tang Da Wu and Jimmy Ong sit alongside creators from Malaysia, Vietnam and beyond.
Big, Bold and New
The Parkview Museum, a huge space in Bugis’ Parkview Square, opened in March 2017 with an exhibit on sharks and humanity — a hot topic in Chinese cultures where shark-fin soup remains a delicacy. The focus is on creators from mainland China, yet it also includes artists from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore — and Germany.
Set on hip Haji Lane, the Singapore outpost of Shanghai and Beijing’s Polar Bear Gallery currently specializes in anime. If you love the oeuvre of Japan’s Studio Ghibli, now is the time to visit: Original artworks from Ghibli animators are on sale through summer, 2018.