Things to do, what to see, places to eat and more at National Gallery Singapore, also the world’s first museum dedicated to Southeast Asian modern art
Recently, something major happened in the art world: National Gallery Singapore (NGS), which houses the largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asian art in the world, opened after ten years in the making. And it certainly isn’t a modest place; the building alone is breathtaking, the facilities are state-of-the-art, there are some amazeballs restaurants, and, perhaps most importantly, the stories from within are a reflection Singapore’s history, values and vision. Take a look inside the sprawling museum with our comprehensive guide, and then pop in (again) for a visit to experience all of its wonder first-hand.
National Gallery Singapore occupies two historical landmarks – the former Supreme Court and City Hall – which have borne witness to many pivotal events in the nation’s history, including the surrender of the Japanese forces in 1945. Though reworked, the building manages to retain a sense of monumentality without imposing any artificial grandeur, thanks to the harmonious design by French architectural firm Studio Milou Singapore and conservation specialists CPG Consultants that balances the old structure with modern mannerism. The much-heralded $532 million visual arts venue is also currently the largest museum in Singapore with a combined floor area of 690,000 sq. ft.
There are ten galleries within NGS, of which two – the DBS Singapore Gallery and the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery – are permanent. The former presents the cultural and aesthetic identity of Singapore from the 19th century to present day through its inaugural long-term exhibition titled “Siapa Nama Kamu?” (“What is Your Name?” in Malay), which features seminal works of major Singaporean artists including Chua Mia Tee and Cheong Soo Pieng. Over at the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery, you’ll be privy to more than 400 works in the long-term opening exhibition, “Between Declarations And Dreams”. These art pieces, dated from the 19th century to the present day, look into the shared experiences and artistic impulses within Southeast Asia, inevitably offering an insight into the region’s tumultuous social and political history.
Complementing the two core galleries are the Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Gallery (Level 5), the Wu Guanzhong Gallery (Level 4), the Level 4 Gallery, the SingTel Special Exhibition Gallery (Level 3), and the Concourse galleries at B1, where research, experiments, and international travelling exhibitions will be held. For current exhibitions at NGS, see here.
Pick up insider knowledge of the art and artefacts on show by going on a docent-led jaunt around the museum, whether you’re a seasoned visitor looking to learn something new, or a first timer in search of the highlights. Free, guided tours are available daily from 10 December 2015 at various times, and are conducted in English or Mandarin. Each tour only takes up to 20 people on a first-come, first-served basis, and departs from the Information Counter at B1. Admissions to exhibitions may apply. Here’s the timetable to make your planning easier:
Building Highlights: English, 11am daily; Mandarin, 11.30am, Fri-Sun
DBS Singapore Gallery Highlights: English, 2pm daily; Mandarin, 2.30pm, Fri-Sun
UOB Southeast Asia Gallery Highlights: English, 3.30pm daily; Mandarin, 4pm, Fri-Sun
Highlights of Wu Guanzhong: Beauty Beyond Form and Chua Ek Kay: After the Rain: English, 4.30pm daily; Mandarin, 2pm, Fri-Sun
If you’d rather not play catch-up at the guided tours, explore the massive NGS on your own with the Gallery Explorer App. You can use it to plan your visit, learn more about the artworks with the audio commentary, unravel the building’s rich history, navigate your way around the museum with the live map, and share your favourite artworks on Facebook.
Got kiddos in tow? The Keppel Centre for Art Education will keep them occupied in its four interactive spaces and an great lineup of education programmes for youth, children and families all year round. For the grown-ups, the Gallery offers regular film screenings, stage performances, talks, lectures, and workshops for those who wish to dive deeper into the highlights of the exhibitions.
Restaurants and cafes
Aura Restaurant and Sky Lounge
Furnished with Uragano wicker chairs and lighting sculptures by local artist Mona Choo, this elegant Italian establishment won our affections with its culinary masterpieces like a scallops crudo with truffle and smoked quail eggs, tagliolini with scampi and avruga caviar, and a black cod baked in cartoccio. Another trump card that Aura has in its hand is the Aura Sky Lounge, one level up. There, tuck into saccharine treats like Amedei chocolate and banana cake and Bailey’s and hazelnut feuillantine while taking in a top-notch view of The Padang and the SG skyline.
Aura, #05-03 and #06-02 National Gallery Singapore, Singapore 178957, p. 6866 1977. Open daily 12pm-2.30pm, 6.30pm-10.30pm.
Gallery & Co.
Unlike your typical souvenir shop at the exit of a museum, this painfully hip retail-art-F&B space is the brilliant work of & Co., consisting of local industry heavweights Loh Lik Peng of Unlisted Collection, Yah-Leng Yu and Arthur Chin of Foreign Policy Design, and Alwyn Chong of Luxasia. Spanning the entire frontage of the City Hall Wing on the ground floor, it offers some drool-worthy, well-designed products including books, design collectibles, and prints, as well as savoury bites, cakes, coffee, and sweets at the cafeteria, helmed by Chef Sufian Zain of Restaurant Ember.
Gallery & Co., #01-05 National Gallery Singapore, Singapore 178957.
National Kitchen by Violet Oon
Is there anyone better than renowned food connoisseur Violet Oon to helm the Singapore’s national kitchen, if there was actually an official one? We think not – and the family couldn’t have chosen a better name for their second restaurant at the Gallery. The new digs is decidedly more posh than its comfy-chic Bukit Timah establishment, complete with black marbled surfaces, gold accents, framed Peranakan tiles, and edible herb foliage with scents of curry leaves and turmeric to whet your appetite. Of course, the menu is Singaporean through-and-through, with Indian, Hainanese and Eurasian flavours in their all-day breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner plates.
National Kitchen by Violet Oon, #02-01 National Gallery Singapore (City Hall Wing), Singapore 178957, p. 9834 9935.
Five months after leaving Jaan at Swissotel The Stamford, celebrated French chef Julien Royer is back in the kitchen at his own fine-dining restaurant with The Lo & Behold Group, where he puts out honest and seasonal modern French food using the finest artisanal produce he can find. A loving tribute to Royer’s grandmother (awww), Odette offers four- and six-course menus for lunch, six- or eight-course tasting menus at dinner, and vegetarian menus, with very luxurious-sounding dishes like North Highlands beef tartare, Hokkaido saba, and Tomakomai Arctic surf clam to be expected.
Odette, #01-04 National Gallery Singapore, Singapore 178957, p. 6385 0498. Open Mon-Sat 12pm-2pm; 7pm-9.30pm.
Plain Vanilla Bakery
Everyone’s favourite cupcake bakery is now serving its lovely breads, cakes, and pastries to peckish museum-goers at the Gallery. All of its baked goods are made fresh in-house from scratch, and flavours – save for its mainstays – may differ daily. But don’t be surprised if its signature classic red velvet, cinnamon brown sugar, and the beautifully perfumed earl grey lavender cupcakes are sold out by the time you get there for sweets and a hot cuppa Joe.
Plain Vanilla Bakery, Level 1 (next to Gallery & Co.).
Saha Signature Restaurant & Bar
Award-winning Chef Abhijit Saha, one of India’s finest culinary masters and restaurant pioneers, has moved his first international outpost on Duxton Hill to National Gallery Singapore, bringing with him his modern and innovative plates that showcases India’s diverse and undiscovered regions. Look forward to signatures like the vegetarian paneer matar, Kasoor Methi seared foie gras served with spiced stewed mango, and baked gulab kamun cheesecake paired with saffron poached pears and macarons.
Saha Signature Restaurant & Bar, #01-03 National Gallery Singapore, Singapore 178957, p. 6223 7321.
Smoke & Mirrors
Perched at the top of the old Supreme Court building, Park Hotel’s Group’s rooftop watering hole is a good-looking place with, of course, a stunning view of the Civic District. Yugnes Susela, local bartender and Tippling Club alumni, helms the swanky bar, and is responsible for the Asian-flecked cocktail menu consisting of drinks inspired by the art in the Gallery, as well as his own takes on classic concoctions. Drink prices are pretty standard – between $16 to $24 – but bar bites are priced reasonable ($8-$28) considering its upscale environment.
Smoke & Mirrors, #06-01 National Gallery Singapore 178957, p. 6384 5595. Open
Sun-Thu 11.30am-12.30am; Fri & Sat 11.30am-1am.
This is the kind of restaurant you’ll want to bring your loved ones to on a special occasion for a faultless and beautiful Chinese lunch or dinner. Located on the fifth floor of National Gallery Singapore, Yan – which means feast in Chinese – offers pretty plates of Cantonese classics, including dim sum, and amazing views from its floor-to-ceiling glass windows that run the length of the contemporary space. Signatures to order: the Peking duck, crispy roast suckling pig, and steamed crab claw with Chinese wine and essence of chicken.
Yan Restaurant, #05-02 National Gallery Singapore, Singapore 178957, p. 6384 5585. Open Mon-Fri 11.30am-2.30pm; 6pm-10.30pm, Sat and Sun 11.30am-2.30pm; 2.30pm-5pm; 6pm-10.30pm.