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400 works on display at National Gallery’s first DBS Singapore Gallery show

SINGAPORE — When the Singapore Art Museum first opened in 1996, one of its very first exhibitions looked at 60 years of art in Singapore. Nearly two decades later, the new National Gallery Singapore will also open with a similar overview of Singapore art — in a bigger and broader way.

400 works on display at National Gallery’s first DBS Singapore Gallery show

Art works at Gallery 1 of the National Gallery Singapore, also known as The DBS Singapore Gallery. The inaugral long-term exhibition is titled "Siapa Nama Kamu?" ("What is Your Name?" in Malay) where visitors can view about 400 key artworks. Located in the City Hall Building, the gallery will open its doors to the public on 24 November 2015.

SINGAPORE — When the Singapore Art Museum first opened in 1996, one of its very first exhibitions looked at 60 years of art in Singapore. Nearly two decades later, the new National Gallery Singapore will also open with a similar overview of Singapore art — in a bigger and broader way.

Titled Siapa Nama Kamu? — which is Malay for “what is your name?” — the inaugural exhibition in the museum’s DBS Singapore Gallery, which is located at the City Hall side of the museum, will feature 400 artworks from the national collection as well as through loans, all of which will collectively paint a picture of the development of Singapore art from the 19th century to the present.

The title is based on one of the questions found in the painting National Language Class by Chua Mia Tee, who was awarded the Cultural Medallion last week. The seminal artwork, which was created in 1959 and displayed at the then-City Hall in the 1960s, is part of the show, which will also include an area featuring the works of Singapore’s so-called Nanyang painters, which were done after the famous trip to Bali that resulted in an exhibition in 1953.

Spread over three galleries and divided into six themes, the exhibition will also look at the other art movements in Singapore, such as abstraction and social realism. Alongside more familiar names will be those that have been unfortunately overlooked in Singapore, such as the late sculptor Kim Lim, whose works are found at the Tate Modern’s permanent galleries.

The oldest work on display is the first to be seen by visitors: A wood engraving from around 1865 featuring a supposed tiger attack against surveyor G D Coleman. The newest is a photograph by Lim Tzay Chuen titled MIKE, referring to the artist’s plans to bring the Merlion to the Venice Biennale in 2005.

The opening of the museum — as well as the exhibition itself — comes at a time of “great significance”, said museum director Dr Eugene Tan, who expects the show to provide visitors with a “critical understanding and appreciation of Singapore art… and its role in society”. The idea, he added, is “to show the most important paintings by the most important artists”.

The DBS Singapore Gallery’s first exhibition, which will be up for five years, will provide the local counterpoint to the exhibition at the museum’s other main gallery, the UOB South-east Asia Gallery, which will look at art from the region.

There will also be temporary special exhibitions that will go deeper into some of the themes and artists found in the main galleries. For example, while there is only one work from the late Singaporean ink painter Chua Ek Kay in Siapa Nama Kamu?, plans are afoot for an exhibition dedicated to him.

The National Gallery Singapore opens on Nov 24.

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