Long-awaited National Gallery opens today

The National Gallery Singapore, a vision in the works for a decade, makes history today as it opens its doors to the public.

The $532 million museum, housed in the breathtakingly restored buildings of the former Supreme Court and City Hall, is the first museum of such scale in the world dedicated to the art of Singapore and South-east Asia.

It was unveiled last night by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and the opening event was attended by some 500 guests, including artists, donors and community leaders, who had a first look at the largest public collection of modern art of Singapore and South-east Asia.

The museum's DBS Singapore Gallery and UOB Southeast Asia Gallery display some 800 works of art from the 19th century through to the modern day. They include paintings by pioneer Singapore artists Cheong Soo Pieng and Chen Wen Hsi, and forerunners of modern art in the region such as Indonesia's Raden Saleh and Hernando R. Ocampo from the Philippines.

In his speech, Mr Lee said that Singapore has been developing and upgrading its museums and galleries.

"But up till now, we've not had a dedicated visual arts museum on this scale like the National Gallery Singapore," he said. "A museum we can point to and say, 'This is truly a National Gallery'."

He added: "You don't find baroque capitals or gold leaf all over the place. It's quiet, it's plain and simple but it's historic and if you come in, you know this is a special place."

Last night, guests were given a preview of a light and sound display that will be a highlight of the opening festivities this weekend. The show will project animated images of iconic works, including Cheong Soo Pieng's Drying Salted Fish, across the front of the museum's buildings. There will also be a carnival that spills out of the museum and onto the Padang.

Entry to the museum's galleries and exhibitions is free for all from today to Dec 6. After that, it is free for Singaporeans, permanent residents and children aged six and younger. Non-Singaporeans pay $20.

Singapore artist Choy Weng Yang, 79, said: "I don't see the National Gallery Singapore as being late in coming. It is a culmination of efforts to grow art and culture here over the years and on an ever more impressive scale."

This article was first published on November 24, 2015.
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