Singapore Art Museum embarks on a new direction to bring art closer to its audiences and into everyday spaces

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Singapore Art Museum embarks on a new direction to bring art closer to its audiences and into everyday spaces
Choy Ka Fai, CosmicWander: Expedition, 2021, presented at Tanjong Pagar Distripark; image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum.

SINGAPORE.- Today, Singapore Art Museum announced its new strategic direction, aligned with its vision to provide thought-provoking and meaningful everyday encounters through contemporary art. Challenging the notion of a museum as a single physical space that houses artworks for visitors, SAM will infuse art into the everyday by presenting in unexpected spaces around Singapore and actively collaborate with partners and communities to drive positive change through art. With a plan to roll out art experiences and presentations to audiences in different physical and virtual spaces over the next few years, SAM will begin with the opening of a new space in Tanjong Pagar Distripark by early 2022.

SAM’s new strategic direction

Opened in 1996, SAM’s mandate to present contemporary art with a Southeast Asian perspective started in 2013. SAM focuses on recent artistic practices of the region, spotlighting the contemporary art scene of Southeast Asia through the lens of the present. In contrast, the National Gallery of Singapore presents Southeast Asian modern art from a historical perspective. SAM’s new strategic direction was developed in dialogue with the art community and in line with the vision of its museum director, Dr Eugene Tan, who took over the directorship in 2019. The strategic direction aspires for SAM’s presentation of art to become diffused into the everyday and intimately connected to the communities where it resides. SAM will also engage in active collaboration and dialogue with its art community, visitor, and supporter constituents to drive positive social impact through art.

“SAM has welcomed art lovers and the art curious to our buildings for over 25 years. With SAM’s heritage buildings closed for redevelopment, it presented us with an opportunity to assess what it means for us to be a museum today and examine our relationship to our community and to the greater society. Going beyond our four walls will enable SAM to evolve as an outward-looking art space that is open for new ideas, healthy debates and collaborative exchanges across communities. We want to make it possible for everyone to experience and be inspired by art, and to better understand the world through the art we present. Our ambition is to diffuse art across multiple spaces, including a new anchor space at Tanjong Pagar Distripark opening in 2022. We hope to connect and resonate emotionally with more people through art and bring communities together to collectively imagine a better future,” says Dr Eugene Tan, Director of Singapore Art Museum.

Launch of the SAM Museum In Action campaign

To mark the announcement of the new strategic direction, SAM will be rolling out the SAM Museum In Action campaign, also known as SAM M.I.A., to galvanise members of the public to be a part of the museum’s quest to bring art into everyday lives and spaces.

Audiences will be invited to participate in activations at SAM’s spaces, aimed at actively involving the wider community in everyday art encounters and creating emotional connections with one another. To complement this, specially designed physical and digital collectible sticker packs, reminiscent of SAM’s visitor stickers of the past, will be made available for redemption at select venues that SAM is presenting at. These limited-edition stickers will feature selected works from SAM’s National Collection and involve special artist commissions.

To kick off the SAM M.I.A. campaign, the first of these commissions features a collaboration with local artist Sam Lo, who is one of the artists that SAM is working with on the fifth edition of the museum’s hoarding commission series. Lo will be unveiling a new artwork on the museum’s hoarding at Queen Street titled OUR FUTURE IS IN(CON)CLUSIVE. After Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) ends, the public can contribute by sticking over the letters “C”, “O” and “N” with their SAM stickers, creating a message of hope and inclusivity. All public events organised by SAM will be subject to prevailing safe management measures.

Transforming spaces for art experiences and programmes

Taking over an industrial, expansive warehouse space at Tanjong Pagar Distripark (TPD), SAM will offer innovative and experimental art experiences, as well as new spaces for community interactions. It will be sited alongside other art galleries, conservators and art logistics providers in a historic district where the inaugural Singapore Biennale in 2006 was held. Expected to open in early 2022, SAM at TPD will be one of the key venues where audiences can catch SAM’s exhibitions and programmes. The opening show will be a presentation by The Observatory, which will feature elements such as a performative installation and an archival space. Apart from presenting bold and new exhibitions which are interdisciplinary and technologically-driven in nature, the versatile space will also be able to present large-scale contemporary art installations and host groups of visitors comfortably. More details about the space can be found in Annex B.

In line with the museum’s strategic direction to infuse art into the everyday, SAM will be actively presenting art in other spaces over the year, such as The Gift exhibition at National Gallery Singapore, SAM Mini Mobile Museum at public libraries in Jurong, Tampines and Woodlands, and artwork commissions by Kray Chen and Sam Lo at the SAM hoardings along Bras Basah Road and Queen Street.

Conserving SAM’s heritage buildings for the future

As SAM takes art programming into everyday spaces and closer to audiences, the museum’s buildings at Bras Basah Road and Queen Street will continue to be key venues where the public can encounter and engage with art in meaningful ways. Currently closed for redevelopment, the project will now focus on critical works to conserve both the National Monument building of the old St. Joseph’s Institution and the old Catholic High School building. This move is in line with the government’s efforts to exercise prudence during these challenging times, while still ensuring that the heritage buildings will better serve the public for many years to come.

As this project is under review and plans are being revised, the redevelopment of both buildings will be delayed further, and is expected to be completed in 2026. More details on the redevelopment project will be released later. The extended closure of the buildings will present SAM another opportunity to challenge the notion of a museum as a single physical space that houses artworks by infusing art into the everyday and transforming unexpected spaces around Singapore with art. In the interim, SAM’s presence at TPD will also be an opportunity for it to present large-scale art exhibitions and installations in a versatile warehouse space.

Deepening roots and connections with different constituents through art

SAM seeks to rethink the museum’s relationships with the art community, partners, and audiences by engaging them in active collaboration and co-creation, as well as enabling connections between the different constituents. The introduction of new initiatives will allow the museum to work more closely and collaboratively with the art community, and also provide opportunities for artists to co-create and interact with the wider public from diverse backgrounds.

“We hope to make our museum spaces, collection, and programmes open and accessible to everyone so that art can be enjoyed by all audiences and infused into everyday life. Our initiatives will also encourage new forms of engagement and experimentation within and beyond the artistic community. We see our artists, partners and communities as active collaborators and co-creators in this journey, and are working towards developing relationships premised on reciprocity and co-production, which are key to the work we do,” says Dr June Yap, Director of Curatorial, Collections and Programmes at Singapore Art Museum.

Ongoing efforts to extend the museum’s outreach into the community include public art presentations and programmes such as the SAM Touch Collection, The Care Collection and Kopi Teh & Contemporary Art. With the new strategic direction, SAM will deepen its engagement with different communities through a range of upcoming programmes, including communities in Jurong as part of the multi-year project Art in the Commons: Data Visualising Jurong at Science Centre Singapore, as well as the art community through SAM Residencies at Tanjong Pagar Distripark and the new SAM Fellowship programme.

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