There have been very few buildings I’ve visited in Singapore so far that are still being used for their original purpose. Singapore is both old and new, with buildings being repurposed to fit into current requirements. I feel that this is probably better then knocking down lovely heritage buildings, but in the case of places like Haji Lane can be jarring or cause cultural clashes. Today we went to see the National Gallery, and I was pretty blown away by the changes to the two heritage buildings.
The National Gallery Singapore opened in 2015, which makes it a surprisingly young institution. It’s focus is on Singaporean art and culture, and works that explore Singapores global connections. The Gallery consists of two main buildings, which are connected via a glass atrium (which reminded me of other museums such as the British Museum and the National Museum of Singapore). The two main buildings are the original City Hall and Supreme Court. The two buildings are connected via the covered atrium and two link bridges at different levels.
I thought that the way the two buildings were treated was quite interesting. The City Hall side felt like a brand new building. Without having been told that it was a converted office area, I would not have guessed it’s origin at all. The area has been made into large long galleries, with an open air space plunging down the middle. At the lower level, there is a completely kick arse children's area, which I will hopefully get a chance to rave about a little later. It has a level of gallery noise, which is to be expected in a busy space. The art works within this space were in capsules, and cut off from a narrative linking them to each other.
The Supreme Court side is quite different, as there is an attempt to preserve some of the nature of the original building. The first thing that struck me, as I walked through the heavy doors, was the complete quiet of the space. The building had been designed to suppress noise inside, which when cut off from the noisy galleries, gave the space a somber quality. The galleries include hints of it’s previous life: a pulpit still in place, viewing areas in dark wood, spaces where judges would have sat. The art in the Supreme Court side had a very specific nation building narrative, with rooms leafing logically to each other. Significantly, the Chief Justices office is filled with nation effecting documents on display, such as the divorce papers from Malaysia.
I wondered why these two buildings felt so different. I wonder whether it is because the role of the Supreme Court is more relatable to visitors - what happened here? Law stuff happened here. It was probably important. Where as the city hall section is filled with the faceless people that help to make a government and country to run. Government workers rarely get wigs or robes to work in. I felt like I had a clearer connection to the heritage in the Supreme Court, where as City Hall honestly felt a little hidden.
Or it could just be that too much of the City Hall section was closed, awaiting the new exhibition that is opening on Saturday and taking up a substantial amount of the City Hall space.
I do really love that they have two (and a bit) exhibition spaces open that describe the history and transition of the buildings. Large panels describe the original purpose and designs, the archeology of what had been found on the site during digs and explanations on why choices had been made. Many of the panels included a small pin mark that explained where you could find the feature that was being discussed. I have seen a growing tend in embracing displaying works done within museums, and I think it is really fabulous.
I really liked what they have done to the space - it’s felt connected while still feeling modern and a bit slick. I don’t think that the heritage of the building it specifically lost, but it is more muted. It was a thoroughly enjoyable gallery to visit.
Some articles that I read while writing this blog post:
The Architecture of National Gallery Singapore
Design of the Year 2015
National Gallery Singapore
I took the time to pop into Midwarr/Harvest yesterday at the National Museum of Australia, with the knowledge that I was catching the exhibition on the last day. I’m not certain why it took me so long to check this amazing exhibition out, it has some fantastic artworks and brilliant design practice. The exhibition is a collaboration between Mulkun Wirrpanda and John Wolseley, exploring the plants of north-east Arnhem Land. There were more then 80 items to explore which stretched out over a number of different mediums.
I loved the organic feeling to the exhibition space. The front entrance to the exhibition included natural feeling curves with a backdrop of a massive canvas stretching nearly the length of the displays. The text panels incorporated the same art styles and created connection to the works very succinctly. It will never fail to impress me when a designer so beautifully conveys messages in so few words. Along with text panels, there were also called out quotes from the artists, in both English and in Yolnu matha (language). It really was a stunning exhibition, and I am disappointed that I left it too late to visit a second time. I’m also disappointed that the book seems to be sold out pretty much from every shop in Canberra - on the upside it’s nice to see a museum exhibition book sell out!
I think what I loved the most with this exhibition was the connection that I felt to the artists. Through expressive panels, I was reading their stories that deepened my curiousity and respect for the works. I felt a powerful draw towards the artist tools and creation process descriptions. Having the wood block cuttings next to their respective prints was a wonderful choice. Not only could I imagine the work that it would take to create the blocks, it created a real resonance with the matierials displayed. I appreciated the small display of artistic tools on display, as another personal connection, and I thought that the photos of the artists creating these beautiful works were fantastic. I really loved that the display design did not shy away from showing the medium that the works were painted on to, and in fact seemed to embrace all aspects of the work as significant.
Having recently attended the National Libaries Dombrovski exhibition, I felt that as a viewer I preferred these deeper connections to really humanise the artworks. Perhaps the purpose of the exhibition Dombrovski exhibition was to give an insider peak into the vast nature of Tasmanian wilderness. However, my reaction to the exhibition was a whole lot of ‘my, that’s a lot of nature’. I would have loved to see some of the personal artefacts to give me an idea of the person behind the lens - a camera, a duffle bag, one of the glass slides, some personal stories. Without these small human connections, I found it hard to transcend from ‘my, that’s a big mountain’, to ‘wow! I can’t beleive a human took that photo under such extreme conditions’. Perhaps the design of the exhibition just required someone who is much more interested in natural landscapes then I am.
“There is... there was...a country...that spoke in the language of leaves”
I have a deep love of embroidery and textiles. I love the history and the art behind pieces. I love the history of ‘womens work’ and it’s impacts on the world around us. So I was exceptionally pleased to discover an incredible example of modern embroidery in the Great Hall at Parliament House. During a wander after the Urban Sketchers group meet up and throw down, I discovered it with a friend while we were admiring the tapestries. We may have spent the next 10 minutes photographing and trying to analyse the skills and methods that were used to create the master piece.
Commissioned in 1984, the embroidery took 8 years to complete. The work was a collaboration between Kay Lawrence and the Embroidery Guides of Australia. The artwork is 16 meters long, stretching almost the full length of the Great Hall. To convert the original water colour painting into an embroidery, a countless number of techniques were used. From a distance, the painting looks whole and complete, up close there is a myriad of intricate and amazing details. The Australian Women’s Register describes the work as taking 12,000 hours of work, performed by over 504 women over several states.
It is breath taking in person, and my photos could not even state to capture how amazing this work is. Parliament House has an incredible collection and is wonderful to explore, but if you are interested in textile art this is an absolute must see.
I often can’t help but compare the retail experience to museums. It likely wrapped up in my work history, but I often see myself still as a sales person - it’s just that I’m selling history now. Today I stumbled into a shop called The Cool Hunter, which according to its byline is ‘Internationally Curated’. Beyond the industry argument of what constitutes as curated (lets face it, cricket pitches were being curated before museums were), I thought the shop used scarcity theory extremely well and presented it in a fascinating manner.
Scarcity effect is a theory that when you present an item/event as being rare or limited, it’s considered value rises. So if I present a sock knitted in WW1 in a case and talk about how millions of these socks are made it’s perceived value would be low. But if I displayed the same sock and the same story, and added in a section about the person who knitted the sock and who received it and the epic romance that bloomed from that sock, it’s value would increase. This is due to the sock suddenly seeming less like a knitted thing, and more of a one off love story found in a parcel to a WW1 soldier. Museums are kind of lucky, because most things that are displayed already have a scarcity effect applied to them. Museum curators create exhibitions of rare items and wrap narratives around the items which are more common.
For retail, rarity is often made through limited editions or events. As an example, Games Workshop will often release a model that will only be sold during a specific event, increasing it’s perceived value. T2 will have member only sales, which are by invitation, and increase the assumption that these are very special prices. These tactics are retail 101. What I appreciated about the Cool Hunter was that it is creating a museum like experience to sell their collection of items.
Plinths! Items are displayed on plinths, with stock hidden away behind lush (velvet?) curtains. The items are gathered together in a snippet of experience - the perfume stand in the right hand photo below was an excellent example of gathering together a collection that felt like it might fit into a noble ladies dressing room. The pictures are hung as if in a gallery. The book section displayed the items with their covers facing front. Each facet of the store felt as if you might have been buying items from a museum of ‘now’ and potentially ‘cool’. The lack of products made everything feel very exclusive, and for all I know perhaps some of those items were very limited, and most important that felt valuable. Then of course, there is the use of the word curated, presented proudly at the entrance. From the moment that you walk into the store, the message is that the items are hand picked for their importance and ‘cool’ factor. Less cool from the 90s, and more the ‘cool’ that you feel from Audrey Hepburn drinking coffee in Paris. The store was incredibly impressive and I look forward to visiting regularly to see what their curation team is selling next.
Museum working, game playing and dog loving geek. Tune in for musings about the GLAM sector, and generally geekiness.