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National Gallery Singapore: What’s in a name? What’s in a logo?

SINGAPORE — Who would’ve thought that the National Gallery Singapore’s logo would become a hilarious meme? Mr Brown’s turned it into a man lying down crying for help and a Space Invaders game, another one’s turned it into Tetris…

SINGAPORE — Who would’ve thought that the National Gallery Singapore’s logo would become a hilarious meme? Mr Brown’s turned it into a man lying down crying for help and a Space Invaders game, another one’s turned it into Tetris…

Yesterday, I put up a post that also contained another set of photos of the logos of four other museums. I had hoped that some kind of comparative discussion would come up, but everyone zoomed in on the red/grey logo from President’s Design Award 2009’s Designer Of The Year Chris Lee of Asylum. And on one component in particular: The blocks. (Erm, if you’re interested, the font type is Akzidenz-Grotesk.)

Well, reading the online comments left and right, it has certainly divided people’s opinions. There have been those who laud its minimalist, clean look: A refreshing alternative to other logos and designs that seem overly designed or too colourful, its versatility (referring to the two buildings that comprise the museum or silhouettes of painting canvases), etc.

The criticisms have been rather fierce, too. Some have called it unimaginative, conservative, boring, a waste of taxpayers money, plain ugly.

Everyone, of course, is entitled to his or her opinion (I kinda like it), but it’s the sheer number of comments floating around on social media that amazed me. All these for a logo? Did we all go crazy for the National Museum’s? Peranakan Museum’s?

Two things: People seem excited about this new museum *or* people are just very opinionated.

But I’d have to add that, in a sense, whatever opinion we have of it isn’t a completely informed one — because what it’s supposed to represent isn’t there yet. It may stand on its own as a piece of design, yes, but surely we should also see it in the context of what it will *eventually* stand for. (Remember how the Esplanade and Marina Bay Sands buildings also received their fair share of criticism and now we’re like, “Yeah! Weird Durian!” and the IR has a Lego version?)

The other thing is that it’s quite unfortunate that the logo buzz has overshadowed the other details that were announced, such as the S$25 million donation by DBS Bank (which is the largest corporate donation ever for a Singapore artistic institution) as well as the little details of how the galleries are going to be laid out and what’s going to be inside.

There’s one issue, though, that hasn’t gone unnoticed — the name change.

National Gallery Singapore. National Art Gallery, Singapore. What’s the diff?

There has been one big rumour floating around about the reason behind the change — that the latter’s acronym, NAGA, with its mythical, serpentine connotations, wasn’t to the liking of certain, erm, religious sectors.

The official response from the museum to this particular query from yours truly didn’t really address it, unfortunately. But if that had indeed been the case (which I certainly hope wasn’t), then it’s a real pity because, you know, for the first time, we actually have an acronym that *means* something! It’s a real word!

From what I’ve seen online, a couple of quite prominent personalities in the regional art scene have also voiced their disappointment at the official disappearing act of “NAGA” — which goes to show that while it is a Singaporean museum, it also has aspirations as ground zero for regional art, and with that comes certain expectations.

Is the change (which, we should add, wasn’t the first one after some unfortunate acronyms like NAGS coming up) a step down? If you mean a step down from the possibilities it could’ve offered in terms of forging an identity, I’d have to say yes.

But at the same time, and if you discount the rumoured politicking behind the scenes, what’s wrong with National Gallery Singapore?

You’ve got National Galleries in London, Australia, Canada, Norway, Scotland, Iceland, Georgia, South Africa… And remember, there was also the previous debate about distinguishing between a “National Art Gallery Singapore” and a “Singapore Art Museum”. Well, problem solved.

However, knowing Singaporeans’ propensity for acronyms, what *nickname* it’ll get is another issue altogether.

And that comes from a sense of pride and ownership from those who will be patronising and supporting the space — and more often than not, it is one that grows organically. It may be “National Gallery Singapore”, “NaGa” or even “Slappy” (my editor randomly came up with that one) — but these things, you can’t completely predict or dictate.

Whatever term of endearment the museum eventually acquires — and whether or not people will still gag at the sight of its logo or embrace it months or years from now — will, for me, be secondary to what Slappy will be able to offer once it opens its doors in 2015.

By then, things will have hopefully fallen into place or not and we’ll be able to see if everything fits and we’ve moved to the next level. (Did you see what I did there? Tetris? No? Damn.)

Hey, waitaminute... did I just call it Slappy?

(Can’t get enough of the memes? Mr Brown’s got more. Check out his website,

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