The Poor People's Museum Tour - Alvinology

The Poor People’s Museum Tour

heritage in photos

Rachel and I spotted the Heritage in Photos blogging competition in the Straits Times a few weeks ago and immediately, we knew we had to take part! We love museums.

Here goes our museum blog entry. 🙂

It all started on 21 December 2007 (Friday). Both Rachel and I were off work that day and we decided to spend the day visiting museums. Our first stop was the National Museum of Singapore.

how come no tamil?
How come no Tamil?

The first thing I noticed was the signboard leading in did not have a Tamil translation. Maybe times have changed. We are no longer so politically correct about the whole CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others) race categorisation as the four “official races” in Singapore. Japanese has been substituted instead. This is strange because I don’t recall a large Japanese diaspora here in Singapore. Must be for tourists. Then again, why isn’t German, French or other foreign language on the signboard? Maybe it’s our something left over from our Syonan-to legacy.

We faced our first and largest obstacle when we whipped out our camera inside the museum to document our journey.

No photography allowed in the Singapore Living Galleries!

no photo 1

No photography allowed at the centrepiece fashion thingie display of which I have completely forgotten the name ‘cos I wasn’t allowed to take a picture!

no photo 2

No photography inside the museum shop, too. Oh well.

museum shop

We were quite excited by the Greek Masterpieces from the Louvre exhibition but it costs S$15 for adults. We wanted to go in… But when the kind receptionist told us that no photography was allowed inside, we decided to forgo it.

Here’s a nice picture of a sculptured wiener seen on a poster promoting the exhibition. It is all we can show you from the exhibition.

sculptured wiener

Since we already made the trip, we decided to try find things to do around the Museum that did not require entrance fees. Hence the idea of writing a Poor People’s Museum Tour was born.

We found savings in the form of…

Free locker!
Free locker!

We were very happy that the museum provided free locker services for all visitors! We were carrying a lot of barang barang on that day, and it was really a relief there’s a place to deposit them while we strolled around. Extra brownie points for National Museum staff for being so considerate!

rachel with tea
Rachel didn’t know the tea will make her lao sai yet

Beside the locker compartment, there was a cool vending machine which sells mostly exotic Japanese (is this why the signboard got Japanese?!?!) canned drinks not usually seen in the local market. We bought a can of iced milk tea for S$1.60. It has a strong floral fragrance, and I like it very much. However, Rachel said it made her lao sai later in the evening. Still, the price was worth it compared to having a drink at the more expensive MUSE bar downstairs.

After unburdening ourselves, we headed straight to the third floor to catch the (FOC) Groovision exhibition. I have read about Groovision and their Chappie designs on and thought it seemed pretty interesting as it is related to advertising and graphic designs.

Alas, no photography was allowed in the tiny exhibition room. Hence I can only take a picture from the outside:

more chappys!
Chappie mannequins have to be ensconced in luscious greenery

When we were climbing up the stairs to the third floor, we came to face with an old friend.

Have you seen this creature before?

If the creature looks familiar to you, you probably saw it at the Singapore Biennale 2006 last year, or at the Hermes boutique. It is part of a mixed media installation by Takashi Kuribayashi, where he seeks to challenge the way we look at physical spaces. This installation is held in the air by cables! At first we thought it was a real ceiling! A true hanging garden indeed.

It’s really appropriate to see this exhibition here since the refurbishment of the National Museum of Singapore itself challenges the boundaries of preservation and creation. Did Kuribayashi intend to locate his “liminal space” within another?

otter again

Here’s its bottom. It almost looks like it will poop if you pull on its flippers. Hehe.

otter poop

Downstairs, we saw an interactive art installation piece. That could be viewed for free. And seemed remotely fun.

magnet wall

This magnet wall installation attracted a lot of people of all ages. Basically, viewers are encouraged to “interact” with the artwork by tossing and arranging the wires in any way they wanted, to constantly recreate the whole look.

hey bro!
This boy obviously doesn’t like his younger brother very much…
poor boy
Help! Big brother, where are you?

There’s a fake spilt milk exhibit currently on that you can look at for free.

spilt milk
blow water

In this picture, you can see that it really looks like someone split milk all over the floor. Now I understand what the two shallow pools of water were for!

Exhibition on concrete

There was another free exhibition about buildings and constructions on the basement floor. However, both of us have no interest in concrete and we skipped it promptly. We will still mention it here as there may be concrete-lovers who happen to read this.

Halfway through our tour, Rachel had to visit the Ladies (the milk tea was taking effect). As I sat on the bench waiting for her, I noticed the museum has very long escalators. Crowds are usually sparse at the Museum and I think the long escalators make ideal spaces for dating couples to get cuddly (free hanky panky space!). However, beware of occasional disapproving conservative old ladies like the one in the picture below:

No hanky panky
No hanky panky please!

giant screen

There’s also a giant LED screen on the second floor showing abstract visuals. You can go there and watch these to kill some time.

plasma screens

If that gets too boring, there are plenty of plasma screens outside ticketed exhibits where you can watch video content for free.

thank you

If you really really run out of things to see…. not to worry! There’s always the giant plaque where you can read the list of all the names of individuals the museum would like to thank. 🙂

The museum is such a different place from what it used to be when we were kids. Other than the carefully preserved and restored architecture, everything else seems to have changed. It’s as if what precious little heritage that we have must be consciously left behind for our next generation, or else the winds of change would have completely blown everything apart, like the old National Library just next door, which was torn down a couple of years back.

An example of the carefully preserved architecture inside the National Museum is this spiral staircase on the second floor.

marvel at staircases

Rachel says that when she was a little girl, her father and grandfather both told her that it was rumoured to be haunted, and secrets of untold treasure inside the room the staircase led to. I think it’s definitely an old Museum icon, even if I haven’t figured out the mystery behind the spiral staircase.

Actually, photography is quite useless inside the Singapore Living Galleries. We visited it before and a huge part of it are oral histories, videos, photographs – cleverly made into short documentaries and shown on plasma TV screens. For what better way is there to document our past than to have our forebears tell us their own stories? The old Museum tried to reenact history with little plastic (or was it clay?) figurines encased in glass boxes – but how is it possible to do our heritage justice by putting it inside a jar?

That being said, we acknowledge that the modern Museum is also very much a musuem of the now and not just our past. Who would have heard of art installations and things like that inside our museums 20 years ago?

But I said that too soon. Outside Singapore Art Museum, we were greeted by the familiar grotesque bronze sculpture that used to sit outside the National Museum, along Stamford Road. (We had also realised that, to seize the now, we had better quickly hop to the Singapore Art Museum in hopes of taking some worthy pics before it closed for the night.)

living world 1

The sculpture is by a Taiwanese, Ju Ming, and is titled Living World. Ju Ming is a sculptor who literally carved a name for himself in the 1970s. (You can view his other sculptures from the Living World series here.) This Living World sculpture was probably the first, or one of his first sculptures, to be displayed in Singapore as public art.

I can’t remember the exact valuation of the sculpture when it was purchased, but I remember there was a lot of public unhappiness over the money spent to buy it. This was around two decades ago if my memory doesn’t fail me. Singaporeans were still not THAT receptive to the Arts then and saw the purchase as an utter waste of money.

I don’t find it any more pleasant to look at today, but I am sure if it was bought in this time and age, there probably won’t be so much public backlash. We are used to such fanfares these days. Like the makers of the equally grosteque Croc sandals claimed, “Ugly is the new beautiful”.

ugly is beautiful

I used to hate the sculpture as I think the human figures look like giant deformed jellybeans. However, with time, I now associate a sense of nostalgia with them.

The Singapore Art Museum (I will not use any acronyms in this blog entry even if the names are long, I abhor them) was formerly the site of St. Joseph’s Institution campus and is recounted fondly by many an old alumni when they attend events at this highly popular venue for weddings and such nowadays.


This chapel on the second floor used to be where mass was held for the boys in days of yore. Now, couples to be wed like to rent this venue for their solemnisation ceremonies.

We turn our attention to the art that’s housed within this museum.

An interesting wall mural called East meets West: Girls’ Power by local artist Justin Lee arrests me:

justin lee's east meets west
7 princesses
Six of the seven princesses from Caldecott Hill?

macbook ok!
Macbook ok!

sms some more lah....
Stop SMSing when I’m talking to you or I’ll smack you head with this racquet!

??????What is this???????

I took a few pictures of artworks I like from the Singapore Art Museum’s own collection:

gate painting
The two doors on this painting are really carved from wood
This 3D installation looks different when viewed from different angles
These paintings are made with earth, sand and stones!

After that, we went to see the BIG Picture Show exhibition. While I was thoroughly enjoying the evening, Rachel was already starting to yawn non-stop as she is not inclined towards paintings. Photography is strictly prohibited here, though. Hence, no photos again.


One last exhibit before we leave the Singapore Art Museum and end our museums tour for the day – Vincent Leow‘s sculpture! I fell in love with his work since the first time I saw it in the newspaper.

andy's venice souvenir
Andy’s Venice Souvenir

Vincent’s dog is named Andy and not coincidentally, this sculpture is of “man-dog Andy”. The sculpture is macabre and yet strangely, endearing. Maybe it’s ‘cos I can relate to the yuppie lifestyle of having pets instead of kids?

I dunno. But it gave me something to think.

Our heritage is changing. Changing from what? Well, good question. The thing is, it has never been the same, which is why we have a mish-mash of stuff that we can’t recognise as “Singaporean” anymore and import works of legacy from all over the world – other people’s heritage. And then, maybe, someday, part of it will be our own.

***Seriously, to be fair to both the National Museum of Singapore and Singapore Art Museum, entrance to the former is free for Senior Citizens. The Singapore Living Galleries within the National Museum are free from 6-9pm. The Singapore Art Museum has free admission for all on Fridays, 6-9pm, which explains why we didn’t have to pay a single cent for admission during the course of our tour. It is also FOC from 12-2pm, Mon-Fri.***

  1. Hi,

    Yeah, I was a bit disappointed when I visitied the Greek Masterpieces from the Lourve that photography was not allowed. Certainly a bit pissed off later on to read on the paper that on the last day of the exhibition, they ALLOW people to take picture! How can that be possible?? It’s so unfair. 🙁 That’s why i couldn’t post any pic on my post:

    By the way, if you are a PASSION card holder, you only have to pay the price of one for two person.

  2. Hey there!

    Really informative post!

    It was a pity you could not get to take pictures.

    When I went there, I did not take pictures (even when pictures were allowed) just cos I had thought earlier on that this museum would be like the others I’ve been to which strictly prohibits photo-taking.


    But you still should have visited the museum – it’s well worth the money.

    I mean…you save on the ticket to Louvre -right? =))

    Cheers and excellent post.

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