7 top museums for culture vultures

Carve out some time to wander Singapore’s extraordinary galleries and exhibitions and you’ll find a world of precious treasures, groundbreaking art and world-famous collections. Housed in some of Singapore’s most iconic buildings, the museums themselves are often rapturous sights in their own right. Whether you’re passionate about contemporary art, interactive and immersive works, military history or the classics, Singapore is positively brimming with diverse galleries that tell the story of Singapore and reflect its dynamic and cutting-edge character of today.

Singapore Art Museum

Singapore Art Museum

SAM showcases the very best in modern art with changing collections by local and Asian artists. The museum opened in 1996 in a restored Catholic school and its collections cover multiple disciplines, including painting, video, sculpture, and photography. If you’re trip coincides with the Singapore Biennale there will be even more contemporary artworks and installations on display as part of the four-month art celebration. The Singapore Biennale was established in 2006 as a platform for contemporary art and aims to encourage public engagement with contemporary works through its exhibition and accompanying tours, talks, artist and curator events, school visits, community days and workshops.

National Gallery Singapore

National Gallery Singapore

Occupying two jaw-dropping historical buildings – the immaculately restored City Hall and the country’s former Supreme Court – National Gallery Singapore boasts more than 8,000 works, making it one of the largest public modern art collections in south east Asia. Wander its many galleries and restful halls and view key works by Singaporean artists such as Georgette Chen, Cheong Soo Pieng, and Liu Kang, famed for pioneering the Nanyang style, which is rooted in traditional Chinese materials but influenced by the oil painting styles of the West.

National Museum of Singapore

National Museum of Singapore

This may be the nation’s oldest museum but the iconic gallery is anything but staid and old fashioned. Inside its 19th century neo-palladium walls, the exhibitions are thought-provoking, immersive and interactive – with multimedia galleries and installations charting Singapore’s history through the ages. From experimental art to festivals, performances and film screenings, there’s always something new to see at the National Museum. The original domed building was designed by colonial engineer Henry E. McCallum and dates back to 1887, but emblematic of Singapore’s progressive and diverse character, the gallery has fused historic architecture with a new modernist glass rotunda, making it an architectural delight not to be missed.

ArtScience Museum

ArtScience Museum

The spectacular white lotus-shaped building that houses Singapore’s ArtScience Museum is a breath-taking piece of art in its own right. Its vast gallery spaces have hosted some of the most famous exhibitions in the world – from the costumes and sets of blockbuster films including Harry Potter, to Singapore’s first augmented social reality experience. Located in Marina Bay Sands, the exhibits fuse art, technology, science and design. This year, marvel at the transformative power of inflatable art in Floating Utopias (ends September 29), and visit the mesmerising interactive artworks of Future World: Where Art Meets Science, a dazzling 1,500-square-metre journey of immersive art installations.  

Gillman Barracks

Gillman Barracks

For a little something different, soak up culture, heritage, history and art at Gillman Barracks. Tucked away from the bustle of the city, this renovated former British military encampment reopened in 2012 as a cluster of galleries dedicated to the contemporary arts scene. With restful tropical gardens, cool cafes and restaurants, bars and galleries, this artsy sanctuary is a real gem. Visitors can view international galleries such as Mizuma Gallery and Sundaram Tagore alongside homegrown talent including FOST Gallery and Yeo Workshop. Gillman Barracks is also home to the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, which hosts talks, open houses and a changing rostra of ground-breaking exhibitions. Check your calendar and see if you’re visit coincides with one of Gillman Barrack’s bi-monthly Friday evening art parties, where galleries are open after dark and new exhibits and pop-ups are launched. If you miss the Friday night party, don’t dismay… local musicians gather most evenings to play and after touring the galleries and workshops the bars and restaurants are a great spot for dinner or cocktails.  

Asian Civilsations Museum

Asian Civilsations Museum

Dedicated to the ancestral cultures and history of south-east Asia, China, the Asian subcontinent and Islamic west Asia, the galleries showcase rich artistic heritage and range from 9th century trade displays, the ancient treasures of Mayanmar, religious galleries complete with scared texts and artifacts, to Pan-Asian fashion and textiles. Discover the intricacies of this diverse port city and the cultural influences that helped to shape modern-day Singapore. Don’t miss the Tang Shipwreck exhibit where more than 500 pieces of recovered treasure are on show including Chines bronze mirrors, one of which dates back more than 2,000 years.

Red Dot Design Museum Singapore

Red Dot Design Museum Singapore

The small Singapore outpost of the famous Red Dot Museum in Germany showcases the best in contemporary design and is located in the touristic Marina Bay area. The items on show (around 200 products across two levels) include a permanent collections exhibition the winning designs of the prestigious Red Dot Design Award competition.  

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