Tour of Museums: Singapore Art Museum (A Photo Essay)

Installation art at the back of SAM

Museums inspire wonder, as well as evoke a sense of continuity, of immortality even. Mute witnesses to the passage of time, artifacts enclosed in glass cases and works of art hanging on walls or are free standing are thought to be “insouled,”  to borrow from W.B. Yeats‘ “Sailing to Byzantium,” and reflect humans’ intense need to leave something behind to remember them by. Yeats’ Byzantium was an idealized location for the unchanging and immortal works of art, products of the human imagination untouched by the inevitable decay of the biological world.

Museums, in this sense, are a modern-day Byzantium, and it is an incurious fact that no nation, as far as I know, is without a museum. If you happen to swing by Singapore, you’d find an unforgettable museum in SAM (Singapore Art Museum), a handsome, white building with many arched entrances located in Bras Basah Road, with a wing at 8 Queen Street.

Clever use of lines and color renders this amazing artwork fronting the SAM appear cartoonish!

On exhibit right now, from 14 October until 25 December 2011, are the works of Hyung Koo Kang, a Korean artist known for his “hyperrealistic” paintings of political figures, celebrities, the quintessential wo/man on the street, even a number of self-portraits. Entitled “The Burning Gaze,” the exhibit is a sea of faces looking at and down on people from all vantage points in the museum. It also pays homage to Vincent van Gogh, an artist Hyung Koo Kang feels an affinity with. He says of the Dutch master:

van Gogh is one of my favourites…I empathise with his life. I like the work he produced in loneliness, turning his back to the world.

He is also enamoured of Marilyn Monroe, whose three sensuous paintings at the end of the hall in the 2nd floor appear as though they came straight from the glossy pages of Vogue. Her flowing golden hair seen up close is amazingly authentic one forgets it is the artist’s stylized version of the tragic beauty.

Marilyn alive!

Apart from paintings, Hyung Koo Kang’s works also include  portraits, sculptures, and caricatures of his human subjects, and it becomes almost a game to recognize people’s faces, especially in the section on “Expressive Faces” where one is forced to recognize a face through the artist’s eyes.

Can you guess who this is? (He was a 007 agent once!)
Can you guess who this is? (His alternate name is Rambo.)
Can you guess who this is? (The Iraqis are probably happier now with his demise.)

Hyung Koo Kang’s artistry probably resides in his unique use of unconventional materials such as drills, nails, toothpicks and large metal sheets to render familiar faces, as well as the use of colors red and blue to convey the state of his mind and of his mood. Maria Callas, Mao Tse-tung, and van Gogh become truly colorful personalities!

Maria Callas is heavenly in blue
Burning gaze becomes more sinister with black in blue. (van Gogh in Blue)
Red is for Mao
I love this museum!


71 Bras Basah Road is home to the SAM. SBS and SMRT buses ply the SAM route, specifically buses SBS # 7, 14, 16, 36, 111, 131, 162, 175, 502, 1nd 518; and SMRT # 77, 167, 171 and 700.  If you choose to go via MRT, alight at Bras Basah MRT station and walk across to the museum. Alternatively, you may get off at Dhoby Ghaut, Bugis or City Hall MRT and prepare your legs for a 10-minute walk. Visit SAM on a Friday, from 6pm to 9m for free admission. All other museums are free of charge on a Friday starting at 7pm.


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