Singapore Art Museum

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Singapore Art Museum
Muzium Kesenian Singapura
சிங்கப்பூர் கலை அருங்காட்சியகம்
Singapore Art Museum - 20131211.jpg
Front view of the Singapore Art Museum
Former name
Saint Joseph's Institution
Established20 January 1996; 25 years ago (1996-01-20)
Location71 Bras Basah Road, Singapore 189555
Coordinates(1°17′50″N 103°51′03″E / 1.29734°N 103.85090°E / 1.29734; 103.85090Coordinates: 1°17′50″N 103°51′03″E / 1.29734°N 103.85090°E / 1.29734; 103.85090)
TypeContemporary Art, museum
CollectionsSingaporean, Southeast Asian and East Asian art
DirectorDr Eugene Tan
ChairpersonMr Edmund Cheng
ArchitectCharles Benedict Nain
Public transit access CC2  Bras Basah
 DT21  Bencoolen
WebsiteOfficial website

The Singapore Art Museum (Abbreviation: SAM) is an art museum located in the Downtown Core district of Singapore. Formerly a 19th-century Catholic school, it is the first fully dedicated contemporary visual arts museum in Singapore with one of the world’s most important collections by local, Southeast and East Asian artists. It collaborates with international art museums to co-curate contemporary art exhibitions.

SAM consists of two adjacent sites. The main building, dating back to 1955 is the former Saint Joseph’s Institution on Bras Basah Road; the second building known as the 'SAM at 8Q' was the former Catholic High School on Queen Street. The museum organised the Singapore Biennale in 2011, 2013, 2016, 2019 and will continue to do so in 2022.[1]


Officially opened on 20 January 1996,[2][3] 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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] The museum was officially opened by the Prime Minister of Singapore, Goh Chok Tong on 20 January 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.[7]

In 2019, the museum closed for a second revamp that will add space and facilities while preserving the old buildings’ heritage architecture. The $90 million development is supported by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), and Tote Board. During this period, exhibitions and events will continue at partner venues and community spaces. The revamp will be completed in 2022.[8]

Location and amenities[edit]

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, SAM at 8Q, 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 or Bencoolen MRT stations, 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.

The museum also regularly partners with other leading art institutions to co-curate and produce exhibitions, such as the collaboration with 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 organises 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[9] and once for Art Gardens in 2013, with Glossy Dreams in Depth".[10] French artist Emmanuel Guillaud presented an in-situ version of his installation Until the sun rises in 2011[11]


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. The work consisted of a caricature of Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong wielding pest-control gear, with the 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.[12]

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 organised 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 after pressure by conservative groups.[12][13]

See also[edit]


  • Singapore Biennale 2013: If the World Changed, ISBN 978-981-07-8026-5
  • Tomorrow, Today: Contemporary Art from the Singapore Art Museum (2009–2011), ISBN 978-981-07-1880-0
  • Are You Afraid of Contemporary Art? by Vincent Leow, ISBN 978-981-07-1029-3


  1. ^ Singapore Biennale
  2. ^ About the Singapore Art Museum
  3. ^ YourSingapore
  4. ^ Leong, Weng Kam (24 May 1992). "Museum recruits more curators and specialists". The Straits Times. Singapore. p. 16.
  5. ^ "Work to convert old SJI into Fine Arts Museum to begin soon". The Straits Times. Singapore. 19 July 1992. p. 3.
  6. ^ "Two opening ceremonies: One for the building, one for the art". Singapore: Straits Times Life!. 20 October 1995. p. 23.
  7. ^ Wang, Hui Ling (21 February 1996). "Vision of S'pore as entrepot for art, culture". The Straits Times. Singapore. p. 1.
  8. ^ "Singapore Art Museum to undergo $90-million revamp". The Straits Times. 1 April 2017.
  9. ^ "French artists shine at Night Lights 2012 – La France à Singapour". Retrieved 24 December 2016.
  10. ^ "TOYSREVIL: "Glossy Dreams in Depths" by Stéphane Blanquet @ Singapore Art Museum". 27 June 2013. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b Lingham, Susie. "ART AND CENSORSHIP IN SINGAPORE: CATCH 22?". Art Asia Pacific. Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  13. ^ Ng, Yi-Sheng (25 March 2011). "Simon Fujiwara: Censored at the Singapore Biennale 2011". Fridae. Retrieved 15 September 2014.

External links[edit]