Major changes are afoot at National Heritage Board (click here). Tan Boon Hui will soon be ex-Director of Singapore Art Museum. This is a curious move, as he had only been at SAM since 2009. Has he achieved so much at SAM that NHB thinks he should move on quickly to improve things elsewhere? I think not. Most museum directors in S’pore stay usually for many years (for example Lee Chor Lin of National Museum, who has been Director for 10 years before she leaves for a new post at the Arts Festival). Boon Hui is getting shipped out possibly because (rumour has it) the geography grad – who has no fine arts background – could not see eye to eye with his fine-arts trained colleagues at SAM. Boon Hui is going to oversee NHB-wide programmes. I suspect that since his programming strengths are with large-scale events (like the Night Festival he started at National Museum), he will focus on more large-scale community-based programmes in the heartlands rather than small intimate ones inside museums. It’s a pity because I find that it’s these initmate programmes that really convert the layperson into a museum-lvoer, and not these large brash festivals (mostly organised for the large numbers they can count as ‘visitors’, I think). But whatever it is, Boon Hui will surely ‘bump’ up visitorship numbers for NHB, seeing how he was very creative in controversial counting of ‘eyeballs’ on the Biennale Merlion as actual ‘visitorship’ numbers…. Anyway, NHB is looking for a new art museum director. I think this new person will really have a tough time, seeing how this ‘small’ art museum has to go head to head with the soon-to-be-open monster of a National Art Gallery and compete for the small-ish pool of ‘contemporary-modern’ art supporters in S’pore.
And another thought about Boon Hui’s position as Group Director of programmes. This is a new post that I guess would try to provide oversight to NHB-wide programmes. But I foresee problems: With the directors of respective museums now directly in charge of programmes, will they now to have relinquish programming to Boon Hui? If so, there will be problems of agreement between the directors and him (due to turf wars). Also, since they had not also created a new Chief Curator post in NHB to oversee overall curation (I assume that this is because NHB management feels that each museum is different when it comes to ‘artefact’ content), I assume that part of Boon Hui’s new responsibilities is to ensure a similar-standard of programming across the museums (i.e. NHB management assumes that programmes are not ‘unique’ to each museum as they are something that can be ‘standardised’). Let’s see if my prediction is right.
Not sure about Angelita, the incoming Director at National Museum (now that Chor Lin is leaving). She’s young and energetic, which are good things. But let’s not forget that she takes over a mixed team there. Some are more senior than her in terms of work experience, and they may resent her youth (she’s 41, i think) and relative lack of experience. Others started out as contemporaries with her in NHB many years ago, and may make it difficult for her now that she’s ‘boss’. I heard that she’s been told to make NM much more ‘heartland’, which will be a u-turn from Chor Lin’s museum that is filled with foreign exhibitions, avant garde photo exhibitions, and film noir. Furthermore, Angelita has less ‘curatorial’ experience compared to her ‘project management’ skills. I’m wondering what ‘curatorial’ directions will she set for NMS, seeing how the ‘local’ content for this museum is currently weak? Let’s hope that NM will strive to be relevant.