Amanda Heng in a live walk performance, as part of her work Every Step Counts (2019) at Singapore Biennale 2019: Every Step in the Right Direction
Hoarding around SAM’s main building. On the right is a work by local art collective vertical submarine, titled Flowery Language (2019).
2019 was truly a year of momentum and change for the Singapore Art Museum. Also known as SAM, we are home to one of the world’s most important collections of contemporary artworks, especially from Southeast Asia. In April 2019, Dr Eugene Tan took to the helm as our museum director. In the same year, we closed our historic museum buildings to undergo their first major transformation since opening in 1996. The closure of our buildings saw partnerships forged in Singapore and internationally to present contemporary art beyond our museum walls. These presentations and programmes are part of SAM’s longer-term plans to prepare for our reopening as a leading contemporary art museum in the coming years.
SAM will be pivotal among contemporary art museums in the region, inspiring humane and better futures through meaningful encounters with art.
SAM champions contemporary art in Southeast Asia, in active dialogue and collaboration with artists, partners, and audiences; through our collection, educational outreach, research and thought-provoking exhibitions.
A visitor engaging with the work La camera insabbiata (The Chalkroom) (2017) by Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang, shown at Singapore Biennale 2019: Every Step in the Right Direction.
Edmund Cheng, Chairman of SAM
Eugene Tan, Director of SAM
Lasting change may come only in diligent, incremental efforts and not in a singular stroke of the avant-garde.” Patrick Flores’ quote, in reference to the title of Singapore Biennale 2019, aptly echoes SAM’s journey in the past year. In 2019, we closed our museum’s heritage buildings for a major redevelopment that will transform our spaces and help SAM meet the needs of a contemporary art museum of the future. This necessary transition has challenged us to think deeply about the concept of a “museum without walls” and how we can continue to enable authentic and meaningful engagement with contemporary issues and aspirations through the art of our times.
The period of building redevelopment is as much an opportunity for us to reimagine how SAM can become even more inclusive, creative and inspiring, as it is for us to forge new collaborations and explore innovative initiatives with not just the art community, but also schools and education partners, cultural organisations and museums, both in Singapore and internationally.
Without walls, we have travelled contemporary art into local neighbourhoods in Singapore with the SAM Mini Mobile Museum, and to neighbouring countries across Asia through collaborative exhibitions, bringing art closer than ever to our audiences.
Beyond our buildings, we have connected with those in the community such as seniors and the visually impaired, who may not have visited SAM before. All these touchpoints have allowed us to engage with over a million people through our art in the last year.
This momentum was also carried through to the Singapore Biennale, which was titled Every Step in the Right Direction. Visitors to the international contemporary art festival were invited to rediscover Singapore by experiencing art all over the island. The Biennale reflected on the transformative potential of art and artists to rework the possibilities of the world, and inspired audiences to take steps towards thoughtful change. This spirit was best encapsulated in Amanda Heng’s work Every Step Counts (2019), and her win of the Benesse Prize marked the first time a Singaporean artist has won the prestigious award.
As we entered 2020, we began exploring creative ways to continue supporting and collaborating with artists to present their works and programmes in virtual formats, to meet the new challenges brought about by the global pandemic. We went fully digital for the Singapore Biennale 2019 Symposium and closing programmes and brought the Biennale experience online through an interactive virtual gallery.
While continuing to make art accessible online as a source of inspiration, healing and connection in a time of self-isolation and uncertainty, we have also been assessing how the pandemic has changed our world, how we need to adapt to meet the needs of artists to express their perspectives about the changed world, and how we can more effectively reach out to and engage with our audiences and publics.
We are ever thankful and appreciative of our artists, visitors, partners, patrons and volunteers who have supported and worked closely with us while we adapted to our new reality. As we continue venturing beyond our museum spaces, we look forward to navigating this new chapter of SAM together with you.
Stay inspired by art,
Artist Boedi Widjaja explaining his work Black–Hut, Black–Hut (2019) to a group of visitors at Singapore Biennale 2019: Every Step in the Right Direction.
Nurturing a new generation of art lovers remains core to our mission. We continue to develop educational and public programmes to facilitate learning and an appreciation of contemporary art from a young age. The successes of our flagship education programmes like Think! Contemporary and school assembly talks have paved the way for new avenues of engaging our younger audiences.
At SAM, we believe that art can be a meaningful way to engage with contemporary issues of the present. Through diverse programming, we hope to make art more accessible to audiences of all backgrounds, ages, needs and abilities, with programmes such as the SAM Touch Collection and the Yellow Ribbon Community Art & Poetry Exhibition.