National Gallery Singapore blog: Skimming my eyes across Google Maps a year back while jotting down an itinerary for a blog post, I found this gallery sitting quietly amidst the country’s most talked-of tourist spots like the Clarke Quay river, Esplanade by the bay, and the infamous Marina Bay Sands.
While places like Universal Studios and the Singapore Zoo are happening places and most-sought for any tourist with kids, the National Gallery is the opposite. It stands majestically at the heart of the city and waits for its right visitors – and those who visit, love it.
I strolled the entire gallery for 4 hours and stepped out of the building only to find myself squinting at a spot on the gallery map that I hadn’t touched. So I went back in. Pretty exciting for a gallery, isn’t it? Here goes my National Gallery Singapore blog!
National Gallery Singapore Blog: Walking down St. Andrew Road
The National Gallery was my first stop from my Spacepod at Lavender. The closest MRT station to it was City Hall EW13-NS25. I got there at 9:45 am and walked down St. Andrew Road. Little did I know that the path itself was exciting!
On the left was Padang Singapore, a large open field with the Singapore Cricket Club and the century-old Victoria Concert Hall behind at the end of it. Over the vast field stood the unmistakable erect structure of Marina Bay Sands.
With barely, some cars passing through St. Andrew Road and the quiet figure of St. Andrew Cathedral on the right felt like I’d gone back in time! As for the Gallery itself, the sight was a magnificent welcome. The Gallery has only been open for less than a decade.
But the buildings were originally built by the Supreme Court of Singapore and City Hall. Yes, the National Gallery today was where the Supreme Court resided for over 65 years! The City Hall is close to a century! Both these adjacent buildings were connected making it a massive 690,000 sq ft gallery that opened in 2015.
SG National Gallery Ticket Prices
The doors to the Gallery are open from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm all week. I was 10 minutes early so I waited out along with other enthusiastic tourists. Entering the National Gallery from the City Hall wing when the doors opened, we were welcomed by the large 4-story lobby and a reception area – the Courtyard. On the left stood the National Gallery’s gift shop.
The tickets to the SG National Gallery are a flat S$ 20 for general admission and S$ 25 for the special exhibition. However, there’s a S$ 5 concession for children till the age of 12, 60+ seniors, NSFs, and overseas students/teachers.
Since I’m still studying, I availed of the discount and got my ticket for S$ 15.
Later did I realize that I could’ve bought the tickets from Klook.com for cheaper. Also, since we’re a partner of Klook, our readers get better prices and the best deals. Get your National Gallery tickets from Klook below, hurry up before you miss out on deals!
The Map of Galleries at City Hall
With my ticket came a map of the Gallery of all levels and a side view. The gallery was divided into different sections with their own themes. A guide at the entrance advised beginning from level 2. So I took the elevator there to the DBS Singapore Gallery.
With the City Hall’s courtyard, all the floorwise exhibitions were divided into 3 galleries with glass door entrances. I walked into Gallery 3 of the DBS Gallery and a staff member walked up and asked, “You already visited Gallery 1 and 2, ah?”
I said this was my first stop and he replied, “You should’ve started from Gallery 1 as it starts with older artworks and you’d slowly walk into the modern era from there!” he thought a moment and said, “Well, I guess you can go back in time as well.
I exclaimed, “Thank you!” and kept walking. The artists and their works, as the Gallery is revered for, are majorly from Southeast Asia. One can tell from the names by their paintings.
Getting around the Galleries
The DBS Gallery at level 2 is where I began and so I went through the rest of the galleries. The Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery was next on level 3. They say it takes around 3-4 hours to get around the National Gallery. I had a shorter time than I’d planned for the gallery.
But the moment I began going through the artworks, gripping descriptions and stories of the artists besides their works, I could feel the environment engrossing me and whispering to slow down. I naturally take time at most attractions – be it a zoo or a museum.
So in order to keep up, I made sure that I was around the same visitors who’d come in with me. That kept me on track with my speed. Gladly, I was able to cover everything within almost 3 hours. Keep in mind there’s a LOT of walking to do here.
Though the entire place is kept air-conditioned, it gets tiring. With many visitors elderly, I saw quite some wheelchair-aided visitors as well.
Ever Present: First Peoples Art of Australia
While I was still rethinking my decision of entering a gallery of just boring old paintings, the First Peoples Art of Australia change my mind – it was exquisite. These weren’t the regular-sized paintings that one could lift with both arms. These were huge.
Not aware of art myself, I did find out that it was of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art. This art, conveyed by indigenous artists, tells stories through their paintings. Observing closely, the paintings were dot paintings carefully drafted over the canvas. It was some food for the eye.
With the paintings large, the exhibition was spaced and had an aesthetic blue color touch to it. There were Aboriginal paintings on the walls larger than my whole body frame, works at the center of the room, and even hanging by threads.
Unfortunately, the Ever Present First Peoples Art of Australia is set up only till September 25. I’d recommend checking it out before. Get your discounted tickets from Klook today and make sure you don’t miss it out!
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Padang Atrium with its Link Bridges
Little did I know the two link bridges connecting the Supreme Court and City hall buildings were more than just bridges. Below the bridge, I stood on was a vast wooded venue and high over my head stood glass ceilings that let natural light illuminate the space.
Reading about it later, I found out that this space was an open parking space once. And here it was, looking nothing like a parking lot! I loved how delicately the roof had been worked on, not affecting any part of the two historical buildings. The classical window and column structures of the historical buildings on either side were quite a sight.
The roof is made of aluminum and glass panels and is supported by enormous tree-like columns. The National Gallery offers an option to book this venue for events. It’s a very expensive venue, of course.
(National Gallery Singapore blog) Keynote: I think what makes the Padang Atrium an admirable space is the blend of modern tree columns and high-grade metal-glass paneling with the ancient walls of powerful houses of the former Supreme court.
UOB Southeast Asia Gallery and Rotunda
UOB Southeast Asia is the largest part you’ll see on the Gallery’s map that covers 3 levels on the Supreme Court wing. Entering the wing via the link bridge, I remember looking down at the Rotunda in the middle.
As the name suggested, the section was dedicated to works from various artists from Southeast Asia – most from Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Malaysia, and other Indo-China countries.
There were also works from prominent Singapore artists like Georgette Chen National Gallery in Singapore.
The first room I entered was Courtroom No.1 – a dimly lit ruby-hued room that was previously used as the former Supreme Courtroom. It was the actual place of power back then with all the rich wood furnishings and interiors still intact.
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Behind and beside Courtroom One were a handful of rooms exhibiting large framed paintings. One of interest was Raden Saleh’s forest fires paintings where the animals attempted to escape from the burning forest. It was a 3-meter long painting on canvas and I took a while at it. Here’s the poster of it from the Gallery’s site.
The rest of the rooms around the Courtroom were of more paintings and I quickly skimmed my eyes with my low attention span getting the best of me. The following rooms I entered had various arts by artists from different periods and Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, and former Indo-China countries.
Each had its way of viewing the inner political issues faced back then, the struggles, village folk stories, and colonialism by the Dutch, British, and other countries. With so many works, one could make out the little happiness, tragedies, and issues a common household faced back in the era of that place.
National Gallery Singapore blog: The Infamous Rotunda
Rotunda, if you didn’t know, should be mentally noted as a figure of a circular room with a dome. And that’s what it was! In the middle of the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery lie the Rotunda that seemed out of a movie. The grand library and archive furnishing take one back in time.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t open when I visited and I could only get a view of the books and dark wood panels from the glass door outside. I’d never seen a real Rotunda inside before but I remember being obsessed with the word while reading Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol.
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However, to make sure you get to see it, stay updated via this page for Rotunda timings on the official Gallery website.
Concourse: Why Art Matters?
From the Rotunda and Southeast Asia Gallery, I took the stairs down, unsure of where I was heading. Coming down, the grand staircase led to a big closed space with chessboard-like tiling, symmetrical columns on either side and the foundation stone itself at the center. It was the Supreme Court Foyer.
There was a wedding shoot going on here. While I didn’t stand here long, I later read more about it and realized I’d missed the former court’s holding cells. It’s said that the Supreme Court had originally 12 inmate prison cells but only two remain today for visitors to check out.
Alighting the concourse below the two wings were the last two galleries – Koh Seow Chuan Concourse and the Ngee Ann Kongsi Gallery. Through the passage to the City hall wing’s Courtyard lobby, I remember immersing myself most in the Why Art Matters?
Why Art Matters is an interactive and immersive gallery for children. When I visited, school children little above my knees walked in lines, at the Biennale Children Gallery. Cute stuff aside, what interested me most was the Home Gallery with a cardboard city that floated over our heads as well!
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I asked a staff member who explained that different cardboard buildings were made by various visitors. Thus she showed an example of how a house was bigger than an Eiffel tower for its proportionality. In the back, I saw some more children actually working on their cardboard buildings!
Over the Rotunda: Court Terrace
Remember at the beginning of this article going back into the Gallery for something I’d missed? It was the same Court Terrace. And I’m glad I went back! The ‘terrace’ is less of a typical terrace and rather a large enigmatic room with high aluminum and glass-plated ceilings.
It was another space like the Padang Atrium above the original premises of the Supreme Court. One can undoubtedly figure that part with the Rotunda’s dome protruding at the center. I loved how the flawless build of an entire floor over the real building didn’t actually damage any part of the neoclassical structure.
There were the large tree-like columns again holding up the roof here making it another venue that could be rented out. The steps up the terrace led to the last part of the Southeast Asia Gallery.
National Gallery Singapore Blog: Tailpiece
The National Gallery of Singapore boasts of being the largest public display of Southeast Asian artworks. But being someone unaware of the art world, I’d say National Gallery is worth visiting for anyone visiting Singapore.
I’m a to-be engineer with no clue about the arts. But I do love finding meaning in a painting, walking in immersive visual displays, and wandering world-class architectures that lived through history. You needn’t be a geek to visit the National Gallery – just let yourself immerse.
To art enthusiasts, keep in touch with the National Gallery’s social pages as they’re active with exhibitions by different artists. Some well-known ones are Wu Guanzhong, Nam June Paik, and Antony Gormley exhibitions at the National Gallery Singapore.
It’s free to visit for local residents in Singapore. But it’s worth paying for an outsider as well. That sums up my National Gallery Singapore blog. I hope you have a great visit :)
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