LIFE POWER LIST 2015

Dr Eugene Tan: Steering National Gallery

1) DR EUGENE TAN, 43, director of National Gallery Singapore

His job was to set up Singapore's flagship art museum in two of the country's most iconic civic monuments and open it in time for the Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Costing $532 million and taking 10 years to get off the ground, during which it encountered a few construction mishaps, the National Gallery Singapore finally threw open its doors on Nov 24.

The verdict: a breathtaking space for Singapore and South-east Asian art.

The four exhibitions on show feature more than 800 works of art from the 19th century to modern times and they offer both a broad and deep view of art history in Singapore and the region.

Since the museum's opening, more than 170,000 visitors have wandered through the former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings, which were restored by studioMilou architecture, CPG Consultants and Takenaka-Singapore Piling Joint Venture.

It's a recognition of the importance that the visual arts now have in our society and I am very pleased that the National Gallery has been able to play a role.

DR EUGENE TAN, on taking the top spot in this year's Life Power List

For steering Singapore's mothership museum to a successful opening and overcoming hiccups along the way, Dr Eugene Tan tops the Life Power List this year.

This is his fourth time on the list and his highest individual ranking. He shared the top spot in 2006 with the co-curators of the inaugural Singapore Biennale and was ranked fourth in 2012 for spearheading the Gillman Barracks gallery cluster.

In 2013, he was No. 18 when he was appointed in May that year to lead National Gallery Singapore.

Dr Tan, who has a PhD in art history from the University of Manchester, is married to a housewife and they have a 10-year-old daughter.

Of his pole position on the Power List, he says: "It's a recognition of the importance that the visual arts now have in our society and I am very pleased that the National Gallery has been able to play a role."

Opening the museum has not been easy and he confesses to having "lots of sleepless nights" working with historic buildings that were not designed to handle so many visitors, as well as worrying about museumgoers getting lost.

Besides signage and ushers, the museum also has a Gallery Explorer App to help visitors navigate the building.

He is understandably proud of the institution and its shows.

"It is the first time the public can see our art histories unfold through two long-term, extensive exhibitions," he says. "This is a contribution we make not only to Singapore and South-east Asia, but also to the world."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 20, 2015, with the headline 'Steering National Gallery'. Print Edition | Subscribe