Singapore Art Museum to get S$90 million facelift

Singapore Art Museum to get S$90 million facelift

This is the first time the contemporary art museum, which has a strong focus on works in Asia, will be undergoing a revamp since it opened its doors in 1996.

Singapore art museum facade

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Art Museum (SAM) will get a S$90 million facelift later this year, with the revamp expected to be completed by 2021, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu announced on Saturday (Apr 1).

This is the first time the contemporary art museum, which has a strong focus on works in Asia, will be undergoing a major revamp since it opened its doors in 1996.

Visitors can look forward to large-scale installations in the expanded space. There will also be more opportunities for interactive art pieces as SAM explores how it can host multimedia works.

A bridge could also be built to link the two SAM buildings – the main building and SAM at 8Q – which are now separated by a small road. Both are heritage buildings, which used to house St Joseph's Institution and Catholic High School respectively. And conservation work will be carried out to ensure that they are restored in accordance to preservation guidelines, said Ms Fu.

The revamp will also take into consideration accessibility for visitors with special needs.

sam art museum's new bridge

Artist impression of the new bridge linking the main building to its annex, SAM at 8Q. (Photo: Singapore Art Museum)

"In our art scene's next phase of development, we need to enlarge the space for engaging content to emerge and provide more opportunities for our artists. So we have been regularly reviewing our cultural infrastructure to ensure they can support the needs of our artistic community," said Ms Fu.

An open tender for the project will be called by the second quarter of this year. SAM at 8Q on Queen Street will remain open, while the main SAM building will be closed to the public after the removal of the Singapore Biennale artworks.

The expansion is expected to cost S$90 million, of which up to S$80 million will be funded by the Government, with help from the Cultural Matching Fund. The remaining S$10 million will be funded by sponsorships and donations.


SAM is the latest Singapore museum to get a facelift, after recent upgrading projects at the Asian Civilisations Museum and the National Museum of Singapore (NMS). Many also consider the revamp long overdue, especially after the opening of the bigger National Gallery Singapore a year ago.

“This is the first major retrofit since we opened in 1996 and we’ve seen in two decades how much art has developed and how the demands of contemporary art has leapt forward,” said Joyce Toh, co-curatorial head at SAM.

Having a double-volume space - which means a continuous two-storey high open space - will allow the museum to present works it has had difficulty doing so in the past.

“A lot of contemporary art are these ambitious, ginormous kinds of works that we haven’t been able to accommodate because we just don’t have the space for it,” she said, citing Indian artist Subodh Gupta's pots-and-pans work at the recent Biennale, which had to be installed at the National Museum.

She added that the idea of building a bridge between SAM’s two buildings would also benefit visitors. “We’ve found out that people often get lost, despite these two buildings being close to each other. And when it rains, it has been difficult for people to cross over.”

Subodh Gupta's pots-and-pans installation

Subodh Gupta's work at the recent Biennale which had to be installed at the National Museum. (Photo: Singapore Biennale)

The museum upgrade has also been welcomed by members of the arts community, including Fyerool Darma, a participant at the recent Biennale who pointed out how SAM in its current state can be a challenge for artists like him.

“There are a lot of challenges, in terms of lighting and flooring, for example - certain spaces have floors that creak,” he said, adding that he hopes SAM could also look at creating a bigger display for its permanent collection and also consider activating underutilised spaces in the museum, such as the outdoor courtyards.

singapore art museum courtyard

SAM's courtyard space. (Photo: Singapore Art Museum)

Meanwhile, FOST Gallery founder Stephanie Fong hoped that the museum could benefit from the expertise seen in the creation of the National Gallery.

“SAM has become a grand old dame, I think, and it’s not purpose-built for a contemporary art museum. When it was first refurbished, a lot of things weren’t expected, in terms of how the rooms are cut up, for example. That has proven to be a challenge for curators who want to put up works that require distance in terms of viewing.”

But she also pointed out the need to have a balance between being a museum and the buildings’ heritage needs.

“I think great care has to be taken to retain some really important features. These buildings are a repository of a lot of memories so I hope certain characteristics can still be retained without compromising much on the needs of a contemporary art museum.”

Source: CNA/cy/gs