Remember ‘Pinkerton Syndrome’?: TNAGS and the search for a new head

It’s been in the papers for a few days now. The soon-to-be-fabulous The National Art Gallery of Singapore (‘TNAGS’) is searching for a new head. It’s confusing because the man who’s been in charge thus far, Kwok Kian Chow (left), has been ‘Director’ of TNAGS for the past few years and now the National Heritage Board (‘NHB’) announces that he would make way for the soon-to-be-found new director and become ‘Senior Advisor’ instead (click ‘here’ for the news-release).

Kian Chow is the founding director of the Singapore Art Museum and has all the experience – especially that of intimately knowing the growing collection of artworks purchased/collected under his watch – to run TNAGS. So why is he being ‘demoted’ and the search for the new head begun??


1) Pinkerton Syndrome (click ‘here‘ for a full explanation): TNAGS is afterall a half-Sing$-billion showpiece of the new hip-and-cosmopolitan Singapore government. Perhaps Kian Chow, despite his experience, lacks the academic credentials – he does not have a PhD – to head this new jewel. Maybe that’s why they are seeking an international expert – with a PhD and a mountain of peer-reviewed journal articles – to give the new museum some instant academic credibility. Like most have observed, save for the jobs of ministers, MPs, and top jobs in ministries, most high-level jobs in Singapore are open to the ‘best talent money can buy’, and that means foreigners get a leg-in some times.

A good recent example is the search for the new head of the Asian Civilisations Museum. After a global search, they found Dr Alan Chong from a Boston museum, despite the facts that he had never worked in Asia before (and therefore knowing nothing about the museum-culture in S’pore) and that he knew nothing of the collection at ACM (click ‘here‘ for more info)…

2) TNAGS is a whole different NHB museum altogether: All the NHB museums have a non-executive board (who sit a couple of times each year to be informed of decisions already made). They are each run by a ‘Director’ who reports directly to NHB’s CEO.

TNAGS is way different. If you click ‘here‘, you’ll see that its chairman seems to be an ‘executive’ one as he has his own personal assistant. And specifically, NHB’s CEO is listed at ‘CEO’ of TNAGS. More significantly, even though Kian CHow is ‘Director’, there are several other directors listed, such as those for education and development.

It seems to me that from the start, by not appointing Kian Chow as the sole director of TNAGS, NHB had already planned for him to make way for someone else to lead the museum. Must be internal politics…

Like they say, no one is indispensable. Retaining Kian Chow as director has its advantages and disadvantages, just like finding a new director for TNAGS for his/her new perspective. I just hope that the incoming director is selected for what s/he can bring to the new museum, instead of a way to settle some internal dispute between NHB and Kian Chow, or worse, as a way to get an ‘enlightened’ foreigner to raise TNAGS’ reputation.

UPDATE (as of 5 Apr 2013): A local director has been found! Yay (click here).


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2 responses to “Remember ‘Pinkerton Syndrome’?: TNAGS and the search for a new head

  1. Word on the grapevine is that Kwok suffers from er, leadership issues. As in, he doesn’t like to lead …

  2. Pingback: We ♥ foreign talent yes we do. « The Longue Durée …

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