WHEN the National Gallery Singapore opens next year, it will be a game changer - it will be the first institution to champion both the modern and contemporary visual art traditions of South-east Asia.
Not only will it have two permanent galleries - one dedicated to Singapore art history and the other to South-east Asian art - it will have a special-exhibition gallery for potential collaborations with top modern museums such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, all while keeping its South-east Asian direction.
At the Gallery's brand launch on Wednesday night, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said: "The National Gallery aims to put Singapore firmly on the global visual arts map and position Singapore as a thought-leader in South-east Asian art. It will be the world's first museum to focus on the research and exhibition of South-east Asian art from the 19th century onwards."
Never before has an institution in the region comprehensively and systematically taken stock of the century-long artistic wealth of South-east Asia. The Singapore Art Museum has played a role in championing regional art since its inception in 1996, but its focus has mostly been on contemporary art.
The National Gallery Singapore, on the other hand, will expand that focus. With more than 18,000 sq m of gallery space set aside within two heritage buildings - the previous City Hall and the former Supreme Court - it will be able to put on show more than 700 works within the permanent galleries alone.
Mr Wong added that the Gallery will receive $21 million to assemble its collection, out of the $62 million set aside by the government last year to build and manage a National Collection of art over a period of five years.
The DBS Singapore Gallery
One of the permanent galleries was on Wednesday renamed the DBS Singapore Gallery, after the bank donated a record $25 million, which will be matched dollar for dollar by the government from the Cultural Donation Matching Fund.
The DBS Singapore Gallery will present works from as far back as 19th century Singapore from artists like Dora Gordine, to mid-20th century works by Liu Kang and more recent contemporary pieces by Lee Wen.
The South-east Asia Gallery will feature works from regional artists like Phra Sorakaklikhit (Thailand) in the 19th century, Nguyen Gia Tri (Vietnam) in the 1940s and Nasirun (Indonesia) in the 2000s.
With museums commonly seen as arbiters of taste in the art world, the opening of the National Gallery Singapore, coupled with its focus on Southeast Asian art, is bound to have its impact on art collectors as well.
Dr Eugene Tan, its director, declined comment on the potential ripples it might create in the art market, but said: "National Gallery Singapore aims to capture the artistic spirit of Singapore and South-east Asia.
"By showcasing the development of our region's art within a global context, we seek to be a leading visual arts institution that inspires and engages our people and our neighbours, creating a dialogue between the art of Singapore, South-east Asia and the world."
The National Gallery Singapore will open in October 2015 with its permanent exhibitions.
Opening hours will be from 10am to 7pm daily, and 10am to 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Admission to the DBS Singapore Gallery and the South-east Asia Gallery will be free for citizens and permanent residents.
Log on to www.nationalgallery.sg for more information.