Review of ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

I had blogged previously about my anticipation of the van Gogh exhibition at the ArtScience Museum (click ‘here‘). I finally went there over the weekend.

‘van Gogh Alive’ it is called, but I hardly sensed the colourful ‘life’ of this perhaps the world’s most famous artist. You walk into a big, tall empty space – and I mean ’empty’ in that you can ride a scooter around and not hit a thing – and all the walls are covered with way-larger-than-life details of dozens his paintings. To give you an idea of the scale, the 20cm face of a woman in his painting is now blown up to 2.5m across. Apply these blow-ups ad nauseam over the space of 3-4 basketball courts, and throw in loud classical music… you’ve got ‘van Gogh Alive’ pretty much figured out.

Well, to be fair, the oversized images flashed onto the walls were nice to look at. They allow you to get ‘up close’ to the paintings unlike at many places where real van Goghs are displayed. But then again, these were the details that I could have seen online at home (and to complete the experience, I could be listening to 92.4fm too!). But the largest mistake of the exhibition is to think that people would really be ‘happy’ to see projections of paintings instead of the ‘real’ artworks. I’ve seen real van Goghs throughout Europe, and let me say that no matter how large the projections, the quirks of his brushstrokes can never be captured in 2D. Fail.

‘Shipwrecked’ was also on display (click ‘here‘ for another of my blog entries). Imagine this, a wooden ship from Arabia, sailing over to Southeast Asia using only the wind, laden full of exquisite stuff from China, only to mysteriously sink in Indonesian waters. Imagine the splendour of such a magnificent ship in full sail. Imagine the last frantic moments of the crew. Imagine the joy of the team who discovered the wreck. Imagine the amount of work that had gone in to cleaning/preserving the objects.

Such an interesting story, and it all boiled down to several, large dark galleries, each displaying object upon object in showcases. I walked through the exhibition acknowledging that some of the objects are indeed magnificent (like the gold) but I felt very disconnected with the ‘story’ behind the ship, the crew, the trading network, the discovery, and the controversies surrounding its discovery and sale to Singapore. I felt like I was a voyeur peeping at an amazing glimpse of the past, when instead the exhibition could have involved me by making me more a ‘part’ of the entire story. What did the ship look like? Who were the sailors, and how did they live at sea? Why did the boat sink? Why do people loot wrecks? Where did Singapore find S$50m to buy it, and why? I got none of that; only the objects gleaming away in showcases as if to say that their rarity and beauty alone should satisfy the visitor. Fail.

‘Dali: Mind of a Genius’ is also now showing (click ‘here‘). Fail, not because I did not get a sense of the warped thinking of this artist (because the exhibition did show that this man was one or two eggs short of a dozen as seen though his startling creations). What failed the exhibition is like the tragedy of the van Gogh show. The Dali exhibition (as far as I can tell) showcased 100s of ‘paintings’, ‘drawings’ and ‘large sculptures’ but as far as I can tell, most did not pass through Dali’s hands. Many of the paintings and drawing are all numbered ‘prints’ of the originals. And many of the sculptures were made by others who used Dali’s artworks as inspirations. Fail…Fail…….

But let me reserve my vitriol for ‘ArtScience’ gallery on Level 4, named after the ‘namesake’ building. Imagine, the beautiful combination of what for the longest time are two separate disciplines – arts and sciences – and you should be expecting an explosion of ideas combining these dichotomies. But what we have instead is a sad, empty gallery (save for a few objects hanging overhead, like DaVinci’s contraption and a printed Chinese landscape scroll, and some old-tech projections) that tries to do to convince you that the mere exhilarating idea of ‘ArtScience’ is enough to make you forget about how hollow the whole ‘curation’ is. Just as well that this gallery stands alone on Level 4, away from the other galleries, as if in recognition of its own inadequacies.

So, was the S$30/adult worth it? Yes, if you are an architecture buff. The building is stunning inside and out. The use of the large airwell that lets light into the entire central space covering all 4-5 floors is wonderful as most museums do tend to be dark, sheltered boxes. The interiors of galleries are interesting as the ceiling-heights are all different (due to the differing heights of the ‘petals’) and also note the weird angled-windows that open up to the sky outside. Outside, standing under the ‘hand’ or ‘flower’, you can almost imagine that this is what it would be like if John Wyndham’s Triffids are real (and if they are on super steroids). Oh, and the view across the bay is stunning, of course.

But is $30/adult worth it for someone who appreciates good museum displays and storylines? I think you should slake your thirst instead by bringing two friends to the Asian Civilisations Museum (click ‘here‘) where the entry fee is a real steal at only S$10/adult.

NEWSFLASH: As of Aug 2011, the museum has slashed its prices! Click ‘here‘ to see the new charges: from the original $30, it now can be as low as $13, IF you are Singapore resident and want to see only one exhibition. There was some news release from the museum saying that they are lowering the fees due to feedback, but you and I know that the original pricing must have made it a miserable year for their KPIs… Let’s hope that they realise soon that cheaper tickets will not draw a larger crowd than good  exhibitions with lots of real artefacts and relevant activities.

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One response to “Review of ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

  1. Hey there ! Hope this finds you doing well ! Was conversing with the owner of the Notabilia site ( and we were thinking of perhaps getting a bunch of local arts bloggers together sometime for an informal meet-and-greet. Do drop me a line if that sounds like something you’ll be keen on ! And feel free to spread the word if there’re other people whom you know might be interested in joining us:

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