Singapore Art Museum

Singapore Art Museum

The Singapore Art Museum focuses on international contemporary art practices, specialising in Singapore and Southeast Asia. The Singapore Art Museum will be pivotal among contemporary art museums in the region and on the region, inspiring humane and better futures. 

The Singapore Art Museum breathes Art into Life. Through contemporary art, we make infinite room for everyone to think, feel, experience and imagine. Housed in a restored 19th century mission school, it opened its doors in 1996 as the first art museum in Singapore. Also known as SAM, the museum is now a contemporary art museum. SAM has built one of the world's most important public collections of Southeast Asian contemporary artworks, with a growing component in international contemporary art. SAM draws from its collection and collaborates with international contemporary art museums to co-curate and present contemporary art exhibitions. Contemporary art of the region is also given international exposure through SAM's travelling exhibition programme and collection loans.

This venerable building once housed St Joseph’s Institution (SJI), a Catholic boys’ school, run by La Salle Brothers. In 1855, the cornerstone was laid by its founder, Father Jean-Marie Beurel. After 135 years in Bras Basah Road, SJI was relocated, making way for SAM. The galleries in the Central Building were formed by knocking down cross walls that made up the classrooms. The new floors – reinforced concrete with timer-strip finish, were designed and constructed to take the load expected of galleries. A new wall system, comprising a light weight wall, insulation material and vapour barrier, was added to the existing walls. 

Visitors can extend their SAM experience through complementary and exhibition-related education and public programmes such as: exhibition-related public programmes and workshops; educational programmes and workshops which cover a diversity of art trends and contemporary art practices for all ages; outreach programmes where SAM programmes are extended outside of the museum to schools, community centres, and partner locations; SAM exhibition downloadable activity sheets for pre-schoolers, primary, secondary and tertiary level students; SAM is the organiser of the Singapore Biennale in 2011, 2013 and 2016.

The Singapore Art Museum (Abbreviation: SAM) is a contemporary art museum focusing on art practices in Singapore, Southeast Asia and Asia. Housed in a restored 19th century mission school, it opened in 1996 as the first art museum in Singapore. SAM has built an important public collection of Southeast Asian contemporary art, with a growing component in international contemporary art. Drawing from its collection, the museum collaborates with international art museums to co-curate contemporary art exhibitions. Visitors can extend their SAM experience through exhibition-related education and public programmes such as tours, talks, workshops, special curator and artist tours, as well as downloadable activity sheets. SAM was the organiser of the Singapore Biennale in 2011, 2013 and 2016.

Singapore Art Museum

Officially opened on 20 January 1996, SAM is one of the first art museums with international-standard museum facilities and programmes in Southeast Asia. The museum, then known as a fine art museum, was born out of a project by the National Museum to set up a five-museum precinct in the city. The other four museums that make up the precinct are known as the Singapore History Museum, Asian Civilisations Museum, People's Museum and the Children's Museum. The Fine Arts Museum project began with the restoration of the former St. Joseph's Institution building. At the same time, the appointment of artist and surgeon Earl Lu to head an 11-member Fine Arts Museum Board was announced on 18 July 1992, by the Minister of State (Information and the Arts and Education), Ker Sin Tze.

The museum board was tasked to acquire works of art by notable painters from Southeast Asia and East Asia, and by upcoming artists from these regions. Low Chuck Tiew, a retired banker and prominent art collector, served as museum adviser, along with Shirley Loo-Lim, Deputy Director of the National Museum of Singapore as vice-chairman of the board. Geh Min, Ho Kok Hoe, Lee Seng Tee, Arthur Lim, T. K. Sabapathy, Sarkasi Said, Sum Yoke Kit, Wee Chwee Heng, Singapore Polytechnic alumni, and Yap-Whang Whee Yong formed the rest of the museum board. The restoration work on the then 140-year-old national monument took more than two years at a cost of S$30 million. It first opened its doors to the public as the Singapore Art Museum on 20 October 1995. Its first art installation was a S$90,000, 7 m (23 ft)-high Swarovski crystal chandelier at the museum main entrance. It weighs 325 kilograms and took over three months to make.

The museum was officially opened by the Prime Minister of Singapore, Goh Chok Tong on January 20, 1996. In his opening speech he envisioned the new museum, along with the other four museums in the Arts and Heritage District and the Arts Centre, aiding Singapore in reprising its historic role as a centre of entrepot trade for the arts, culture, civilisation and ideas to the people in the Asian region and the rest of the world. Situated in the heart of Singapore’s arts and culture district, SAM is located alongside Singapore’s major performing arts and visual arts institutions: the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, LASALLE College of the Arts, the Stamford Arts Centre, the Selegie Arts Centre, Singapore Calligraphy Centre, YMS Arts Centre, Dance Ensemble Singapore, Action Theatre and School of the Arts.

In addition to the main museum building, SAM maintains an annexe on 8 Queen Street, 8Q SAM, which also exhibits SAM's permanent collection of contemporary art, as well as newly-commissioned, contemporary artworks. SAM is accessible by major public transportation systems such as the public buses, MRT and cab services. SAM is a 2-minute walk from Bras Basah MRT Station, and a 10-minute walk from Bugis, Dhoby Ghaut or City Hall MRT stations. SAM’s approach is to present works curated from the permanent collection alongside changing exhibitions, to offer a well-rounded aesthetic experience of Asian contemporary art. From 2001, the museum began acquiring works and accepting donations from around the region, including regional contemporary artists like Cheo Chai Hiang, Dinh Q Le, Natee Utarit, Nge Lay, Suzann Victor and Titarubi..

Singapore Art Museum

The museum also regularly partners with other leading art institutions to co-curate and produce exhibitions, such as the collaboration with Deutsche Bank and the Yokohama Museum of Art for Still Moving: A Triple Bill on the Image; Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo for Trans-Cool TOKYO (highlighting works by Japanese artists such as Yayoi Kusama and Yasumasa Morimura); and Video, An Art, A History with the Pompidou Center (Bill Viola, Jean-Luc Godard, Bruce Nauman). The museum organizes regularly contemporary art exhibitions and events. For example, French artist Stéphane Blanquet was invited, twice, to present installations. Once, for the Night Lights festival in 2012, with Distorted Forest and once for Art Gardens in 2013, with Glossy Dreams in Depth". SAM has had multiple censorship controversies. In 2008, SAM hosted ARX 5 (Artists’ Regional Exchange) where Hong Kong artist and caricaturist Zunzi's work, Lee’s Garden, was removed from the museum's walls by its staff and thrown into the rubbish bin.

The work consisted of a caricature of Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong wielding pest-control gear, with senior minister and former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew patting him on the back. This censorship was committed without any consultation with or notification of the artist, and sparked off a diplomatic and media firestorm. In late 2011, following a private preview, SAM removed Japanese-British artist Simon Fujiwara’s work, Welcome to the Hotel Munber. The piece, which was part of an exhibition organized by the National Arts Council in 2010, featured homoerotic content. Despite advisory notices put up by the museum and the Singapore Biennale, the work was taken down without any consultation with or notification of the artist. Like the region itself, contemporary art from Singapore and Southeast Asia is diverse, dynamic and multifaceted, possessing its own distinctive aesthetics and artistic traditions shaped by different approaches to art-making and practices.

With this in mind, SAM has been building a stellar collection of contemporary Southeast Asian art. SAM’s acquisitions policy devotes 80% of funds to Southeast Asian art, and the remaining 20% to the wider Asian region, such as China, India, Korea and Japan to provide a broader cultural context for the core collection. An artwork is acquired for its artistic merits and innovation, as well as what it may reveal or reflect of wider developments in art and society. The artists represented in the SAM collection fall into three broad groups: the ‘pioneering’ contemporary artists or ones associated with avant-garde practices, mid-career artists, and emerging practitioners. Through its acquisition policy and continued funding support from the government, individuals and corporate donors, SAM is able to include iconic works of art in its collection, encourage artists to create important new works through artist commissions and showcase the best in contemporary art from the region.

71, Bras Basah Road
+65 6589 9580
10:00 - 19:00 last visitor 17:30
Friday 10:00 - 21:00 last visitor 19:30
Free excursion in English 11.00, 14.00 and addition 15:30


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