National Heritage Board’s big gun comes to the National Museum’s rescue

I thought I was going to skip this altogether (as I could not find the original articles) but I just have to talk about it lah.

Yesterday, Straits Times carried two articles about the Singapore’s National Museum (NMS): Clarissa Oon’s ‘Time for museum to dig deeper’ and Kevin Tan’s ‘Museums should show real artefacts’, both of which I cannot find online (thanks to the online-ST which is a paid-service). In short, Clarissa had lamented that NMS doesn’t have enough local content, and Kevin complained that despite the bells-&-whistles, NMS’ permanent galleries do not show enough artefacts.

The reply to those accusations came very fast indeed. Today’s Straits Times carries a reply ‘National Museum remains focused on Singapore history, replies Heritage Board’ by none other than the National Heritage Board’s affable Chairman himself, Tommy Koh (click ‘here‘).

Not wanting to dwell on Koh’s very politically-correct reply, I want to however talk about one point he makes. Koh says, in reaction to another forum letter complaining that NMS’ exhibitions are too fashion-centric:  “The current exhibition of Vacheron watches is not a trade show or an exhibition of antique watches. It is an exhibition of man’s quest to measure time and tells the remarkable story of the oldest watch-making company in the world. The founder of the company, Jean-Marc Vacheron, was a contemporary and friend of two of the great thinkers of the European enlightenment, Rousseau and Voltaire, both of whom were watch makers. At its best, a watch is the product of a brilliant mind, precision engineering, miniaturisation, art, design and master craftsmanship“.

Yes, I agree with him that the history of watchmaking is indeed important. But shouldn’t this history contain all the relevant artefacts both from Vacheron and also other brands? Surely Vacheron does not have a monopoly on the vast history of watchmaking, right???

Koh’s weak justification of the Vacheron’s right to be exhibited at NMS is like saying that a hypothetical upcoming exhibition on the history of motorcars is an important one but this global phenomenon will only be told through the eyes of a single car-manufacturer, Mercedes Benz……..

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