The National Gallery Singapore is an art museum located in the Downtown Core of Singapore. Opened on 24 November 2015, it oversees the world’s largest public collection of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art, consisting of over 8,000 artworks. It aims to provide an understanding and appreciation of art and culture through a variety of media, focusing on Singapore’s culture and heritage and its relationship with other Asian cultures and the world.
National Gallery Singapore is a leading visual arts institution which oversees the world’s largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asian modern art. Situated at the birthplace of modern Singapore, in the heart of the Civic District, the Gallery is housed in two national monuments – City Hall and former Supreme Court – that have been beautifully restored and transformed into this exciting 64,000 square metres venue.
Situated in Singapore’s Civic District, the Gallery consists of two national monuments, the former Supreme Court Building and City Hall, and has a combined floor area of 64,000 square metres (690,000 sq ft), making it the largest visual arts venue and largest museum in Singapore. A total cost of S$532 million has gone into National Gallery Singapore’s development.
Reflecting Singapore’s unique heritage and geographical location, the Gallery aims to be a progressive museum that creates dialogues between the art of Singapore, Southeast Asia and the world to foster and inspire a creative and inclusive society. This is reflected in our collaborative research, education, long-term and special exhibitions, and innovative programming.
The Gallery also works with international museums such as Centre Pompidou, Musée d’Orsay, Tate Britain, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (MOMAT) and National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA), to jointly present Southeast Asian art in the global context, positioning Singapore as a key node in the global visual arts scene.
In 2019, the Gallery was the only museum in Southeast Asia that received a ranking in The Art Newspaper’s annual global survey of attendance at art museums, taking 32nd place. It was the first museum in Asia to receive the Children in Museums Award by the European Museum Academy and Hands On! International Association of Children in Museums in 2018. The Gallery also won the awards for “Best Theme Attraction” at TTG Travel Awards 2017, “Best Attraction Experience”, “Breakthrough Contribution to Tourism” and “Best Customer Service (Attractions)” at the prestigious Singapore Tourism Awards in 2016 for its role in adding to the vibrancy of Singapore’s tourism landscape.
The need for a National Gallery
At his National Day Rally speech on 21 August 2005, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned the government’s plan to convert the former Supreme Court building and City Hall into a new national gallery. On 2 September 2006, Dr. Lee Boon Yang, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts officially announced the setting up of the National Gallery Singapore during the Singapore Biennale 2006 at the National Museum of Singapore.
The then Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) proceeded to implement a process designed to enable stakeholders and interested parties to contribute their expertise and their views to the project. A steering committee, initially chaired by Dr. Balaji Sadasivan, Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and MICA, oversaw the art gallery’s implementation plan. The steering committee was supported by an executive committee and four advisory groups. The advisory groups provided advice on museology, architectural conservation, finance and communications.
On 23 February 2007, MICA, together with the Singapore Institute of Architects, launched a two-stage architectural design competition to identify the most suitable architect and design for the National Gallery. The first stage of the competition called for design and concept proposals, and began on 19 March with a site tour of the two buildings for competing architects to get design concepts and ideas. It drew 111 entries from 29 countries worldwide, with five proposals shortlisted in May 2007. Members of the jury consisted of a panel of eminent local and international professionals headed by Tommy Koh, Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large and chairman of the National Heritage Board, and included officials from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Musée national des Arts asiatiques-Guimet in France and the Asian Civilisations Museum.
For the second stage, the shortlisted candidates had to develop their designs, from which the winning proposal would be selected by the jury. Due to the status of the former Supreme Court Building and City Hall as national monuments, certain aspects of the buildings could not be altered, such as the façade, the Surrender Chamber, the office of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister and the panelling in four rooms of the Supreme Court. However, this still left many design options open such as the addition of roof and basement floors. The participants also had to submit entries within a budget of S$320 million.
On 29 August 2007, the seven-member international jury panel named the top three designs out of the five shortlisted. The three firms – Studio Milou Architecture from France, Ho + Hou Architects from Taiwan, and Chan Sau Yan Associates from Singapore – each received $150,000. The jury made their decision after appraising models and digital mock-ups, as well as engaging the five finalists in a presentation and question-and-answer session. The other two firms that were shortlisted in the first stage were DP Architects and Australia’s Smart Design Studio.
An exhibition of the five finalists’ proposals was held at City Hall in October 2007, and the public were invited to give feedback on the designs, programmes and events. The jury’s decision was presented to MICA, which then decided on who to commission to design and build the art gallery. An announcement on the final design was made in the first quarter of 2008.
Competition winner and appointed contractor
In May 2008, Studio Milou Singapore, in partnership with CPG Consultants (Singapore), was appointed to design and build the Gallery.
Studio Milou Architecture is a French architectural firm, with branches in Paris and Singapore that specialise in the design of museums and cultural spaces.
CPG Consultants, a subsidiary of CPG Corporation, is a multi-disciplinary design consultancy firm. Headquartered in Singapore, CPG Consultants has extensive expertise in conservation and preservation of buildings. To date, the company has completed over 20 such projects in Singapore, most of which are gazetted monuments.
Studio Milou Architecture’s design consisted of a linear draped canopy supported by tree-like columns to link the former Supreme Court Building and City Hall at the roof level. The design incorporated an extended staircase linking the basement to the upper levels, making use of solar energy to provide electricity. Fine metal mesh had been proposed to cover most of City Hall. Panel members agreed it had “the most delightful design and appeal”, and was ranked first among the top three designs.
On 21 December 2010, the Gallery appointed Takenaka-Singapore Piling Joint Venture as the main construction contractor for the new Gallery. The construction works on the buildings began in January 2011 and opened its doors to the public officially on 24 November 2015.
City Hall and the former Supreme Court buildings are national monuments and have played a significant role in Singapore’s history. The buildings face an open field known as the Padang, which is a Malay word meaning “flat field”. Through link bridges and a new basement level, the design for the new Gallery integrates the City Hall and former Supreme Court buildings, combining both old and new architecture.
Former Supreme Court
The Former Supreme Court building was built on the site of the former Grand Hotel de l’Europe, one of the most palatial hotels in Southeast Asia that was demolished in 1936. Designed by Frank Dorrington Ward, Chief Architect of the Public Works Department, the former Supreme Court building was built to house Supreme Court offices and courtrooms and was declared open on 3 August 1939.
This building is the former courthouse of the Supreme Court of Singapore, before it moved into the new building on 20 June 2005.
The architecture of the former Supreme Court building is in harmony with that of its neighbour, City Hall. The general layout of the building exemplifies British colonial architecture, comprising four blocks of offices and courtrooms surrounding a central rotunda with a dome that was originally used to house a circular law library. It was to be the last classical building to be built in Singapore.our United Engineers Ltd was the building contractor.
The Corinthian and Ionic columns, sculptures and relief panels were the works of Italian artist, Cavaliere Rudolfo Nolli. There are the tympanum sculptures and ornamented frieze panels.
The City Hall building was built between 1926 and 1929 and was originally known as the Municipal Building. Designed by the British Municipal architects A. Gordon and S. D. Meadows, it was used to house the offices of the Municipal Council, which was responsible for the provision of water, electricity, gas, roads, bridges and street lighting. From 1963 to 1991, City Hall came to house offices of several government departments and courtrooms. The building was vacated in 2006.
City Hall has been the focal point of many important events in the history of Singapore. It was in the City Hall building that Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, on behalf of the Allied forces, accepted the surrender of the Japanese forces on 12 September 1945. The building also housed the office of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore. Mr. Lee and members of his Cabinet took their Oaths of Allegiance and Oaths of Office on 5 June 1959 in the City Hall Chamber. It was gazetted on 14 February 1992 as a national monument. The original layout of City Hall is a typical example of neoclassical British architecture. The building’s interior is modestly proportioned, but its front façade is distinguished by 18 three-storey-high Corinthian columns facing the Padang.
Consisting of modern and contemporary art, National Gallery Singapore focuses on displaying Singapore and Southeast Asian art from the 19th century to present day. It is home to two permanent galleries: the DBS Singapore Gallery and the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery. Through its collection, the Gallery will present the development of Singaporean and regional cultures – telling the story of their social, economic and political histories.
The Gallery mainly draws from Singapore’s National Collection, the world’s largest public collection of modern and contemporary Southeast Asian art. The National Collection started with an original bequest of 93 works made to the National Museum in 1976, by the well-known cinema magnate and art patron, Dato Loke Wan Tho. Through careful nurturing over the years, this collection has grown significantly to approximately 8,000 pieces in 2010. The National Heritage Board is presently the custodian of this collection. National Gallery Singapore will feature works by major Singaporean artists such as Georgette Chen, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi, Cheong Soo Pieng and Liu Kang. The collection now spans from early-20th-century naturalistic paintings to contemporary video installations. The collection also holds pieces from Southeast Asian artists of international standing, such as Affandi (Indonesia), Latiff Mohidin (Malaysia), Le Pho (Vietnam), Montien Boonma (Thailand) and Fernando Cueto Amorsolo (Philippines).
DBS Singapore Gallery
The DBS Singapore Gallery is a platform for studying and presenting the cultural and aesthetic identity of Singapore from the colonial period to present day.
UOB Southeast Asia Gallery
Housed in the former Supreme Court building, the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery presents the history of Southeast Asian art, starting in the 19th century.
Special set of Research Galleries
These galleries complement the core galleries, providing space for curators and researchers to experiment with ways of presenting materials from the Gallery’s permanent collection.
Changing gallery spaces
The gallery has approximately 6,000 square metres (65,000 sq ft) of spaces to host international travelling exhibitions.
National Gallery Singapore is home to more than 9,000 artworks from across Southeast Asia spanning the 19th century to the present. “Southeast Asia” here refers to the region encompassing Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, The Philippines, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei. This unique transnational approach and collection forms the basis for the Gallery’s curatorial and research efforts to (re)write the art histories of this region.
The Gallery’s Collection comprises part of Singapore’s National Collection, managed by the National Heritage Board. The beginnings of the Gallery’s Collection can be traced to the donation of over 110 artworks in 1960 by art philanthropist Dato Loke Wan Tho. The Collection has borne witness to the changing landscape of art institutions in Singapore, with its custodianship shifting from the National Museum Art Gallery (est. 1976) to the Singapore Art Museum (est. 1996) to the Gallery (est. 2015). It encapsulates the institutions’ complex histories as well as contributions made by artists, artists’ estates and private individuals through donations.
A large selection of works in the Collection are featured in the Gallery’s two long-term exhibitions, Siapa Nama Kamu? and Between Declarations and Dreams, which respectively present expansive narratives of Singapore’s position as a crossroads of culture, and the shared and divergent artistic impulses in the region since the 19th century.
The Gallery’s Collection is further enhanced by extensive holdings of related materials in its library and archives, which are publicly accessible in the Gallery’s Rotunda Library & Archive. These resources have been built through the Gallery’s curatorial research, and are integral to our mission as a research-driven institution.
A large selection from the Gallery’s Collection and materials from the Library & Archive can be searched here under Artwork Collection, Archive Collection and Library Collection (You will be redirected to the Collections search portal).
One of the public programmes offered by the Gallery is the Docent Programme, a training workshop in art, history and culture. The programme seeks to cultivate a pool of volunteer guides. They are trained in public speaking and have extensive knowledge of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art, and the architecture and history of the Gallery buildings.
Keppel Centre for Art Education
The Keppel Centre for Art Education is a learning facility for families and schools. The Centre will provide an artistic environment that stimulates imagination, encourages active play and supports independent learning. Children and younger students will experience and interact with original artworks that are specially created to develop observation skills and tactile exploration.
The Keppel Centre for Art Education will also offer programmes including a regular series of Studio-based workshops, artist talks, curator’s presentations, as well as complimentary Drop-in programmes conducted by artists, curators and museum educators.
Library & Archive
National Gallery Singapore was established in 2015 as a leading visual arts institution overseeing the world’s largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art. Guided by its curatorial vision to present the art histories of Singapore and Southeast Asia; reflexively (re)write the art histories of Singapore and Southeast Asia; and examine these art histories in relation to the global history of art, the Gallery has developed a significant collection of artists’ archives and a reference library focusing on Singapore and Southeast Asian art.
The Gallery’s Rotunda, located at the heart of the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery (Level 3, Supreme Court Wing), is a site of historical importance. During the building’s former life as the Supreme Court of Singapore, the Rotunda served as the Law Library. Housed in this historical space, the Rotunda Library & Archive extends the memory of this site while serving a new function as a research hub for the study of art history in Southeast Asia.
The Gallery publishes books on the visual art of Singapore and Southeast Asia. National Gallery Singapore are continually expanding our range of titles and have published to date a collection of children’s books, exhibition catalogues and albums, as well as research titles.