The city-state is outgrowing its culturally staid image to become an art and sporting mecca.
What makes Singapore tick? Is it business? Shopping? Or even the exotic melange of food it offers? Maybe I should rephrase the question. What makes Singapore not only tick but keep on prospering when business, shopping and food have long ceased to be its exclusive claim to fame and competition keeps growing?
I think the answer lies in a trick of which Singapore is now, undisputedly, a supreme master: the trick of reinvention. Ever since it reached the limits of conventional growth, having built the ports, the shipyards, the malls, the office towers and the services, Singapore has been reinventing itself to stay ahead, always rolling to improve its shine, always giving the world an added reason to come and enjoy its sling.
The Formula 1 Night Race late last month was Singapore’s latest piece of reinvention, a brilliant idea and an instant hit. It earned instant glory as the host of the first ever night race in F1 history and universal accolade for the sheer glamour of the event. The Guardian wrote it was a “spectacular and innovative race that has left the motor racing world agog with admiration.” As over 300,000 spectators watched the race along a floodlit five-km track around Marina Bay, in a festive atmosphere enlivened by live music, Brazilian samba dancers and African drummers, Singapore emerged as one of international racing’s hottest new destinations.
But racing isn’t the only new thing rocking the island republic. There’s also art. For connoisseurs and buyers of international art, September is a particularly important month on the Asian calendar — with ten international art events running this year — and Singapore has emerged as an essential stop on their itineraries. On September 11, at the South Beach Development on Beach Road, itself an example of innovative urban regeneration, Singapore Biennale 2008 opened for a two-month run with 137 works on display by 66 artists from 36 countries. It’s only the second time this event is being held, but people already see it as yet another step towards Singapore’s unmistakable transformation as a regional cultural hub.
Later in September, Opera Gallery mounted a major exhibition of sculptures by such contemporary masters as Fernando Botero, Georges Braque and Jean-Michel Folon along Orchard Road and paintings by Picasso, Matisse and Miro in its indoor spaces. From October 10 to 13, at Suntec City, Art Singapore, an annual fair of contemporary Asian art, brought out 110 international art galleries from 16 countries, including Glenbarra from Japan presenting a special collector’s showcase of 18 Jogen Chowdhuries.
There’s more. An all-new Peranakan Museum opened last April as an interactive facility that gives visitors a complete idea of the life and times of peranakans, old merchants and travellers who came to south-east Asia centuries ago and stayed back to become part of its history. Two months ago, the Singapore Art Museum opened a new space, 8Q, named after its 8 Queen Street location and dedicated to contemporary installation art, including video and photographic installations, performance art and sound art. And the old Supreme Court Building and City Hall, overlooking the Padang, are being converted to form a National Art Gallery and add at least 11,000 square metres of new exhibition space.
Singapore, thus, is well established as an international art venue, just as it’s well-recognised, thanks to the Esplanade, as a global music and performing arts destination. Soon it will be adding another feather to its cap. Sometime next year, the $5.5 billion Marina Bay Sands resort, promoted by Sands of Las Vegas, will open for business featuring something that couldn’t even be conceived in Singapore’s early puritanical years — a casino.
Sounds strange? Yes, there was a time when you couldn’t enter Singapore with long hair or chew gum while there. The nearest casino was at Genting Highlands in Malaysia. Newsstands carried only ‘regular’ publications. Nightlife was confined within hotels. One basically came to Singapore for overnight stops and to do some on-the-fly shopping. But that’s not the case any more.
The city state is now much more than just a sanitised hospital ward and packs enough attractions, within its tiny space, to keep a visitor occupied for more than a day, and enough events round the year to make one want to revisit. Not just Sentosa and the Jurong Bird Park. Not just the Suntec for fairs and conferences and Orchard Road for shopping. There’s the Singapore Flyover, the world’s largest observation wheel. There’s VivoCity, the harbour-front shopping mall that opened two years ago and received nearly a million visitors in its very first year. There are bars, discos, nightclubs. And when the integrated Sands Resort opens, with three 50-storey hotels and a wide range of leisure and entertainment facilities, including the casino, Singapore will have further strengthened its position as a top international meeting city.
6 months ago