Singapore Art Museum director steps down after two years at the helm

Dr Susie Lingham will be stepping down to "pursue personal projects as an artist, writer, educator and curator".
Dr Susie Lingham will be stepping down to "pursue personal projects as an artist, writer, educator and curator".PHOTO: ST FILE

The Singapore Art Museum (SAM) director Dr Susie Lingham is leaving the institution after more than two years at the helm.

In a reply to The Straits Times, the museum's head of marketing communications Lynn Sim said Dr Lingham will be stepping down on March 31 to "pursue personal projects as an artist, writer, educator and curator."

The search for a new director "will commence soon", said Ms Sim, and in the interim, the museum's senior curators Joyce Toh and Tan Siuli will take over as co-heads of the museum's curatorial team "to continue the vision and mission which Dr Lingham has put in place."

The museum is however, in discussion with Dr Lingham about her role in the Singapore Biennale, a major art exhibition it is organising and will run from Oct 28 next year to Feb 26, 2017.

Ms Sim added that Dr Lingham "was instrumental in leading SAM during its corporatisation, while overseeing the presentation of 13 exhibitions that were curated to high standards of imagination and realisation."

The museum, which opened in 1996, left the fold of the National Heritage Board in Nov 2013 to become an independent company under the Visual Arts Cluster, which includes the National Gallery Singapore and art centre STPI.

Members of the arts scene whom The Straits Times spoke with said that while they are sad Dr Lingham, 50, is leaving the institution, they are hopeful that she will continue to be a part of the scene and contribute to its growth.

Artist Ho Tzu Nyen, 37, said: "Susie is a singular, uncompromising and principled individual who, during her time at the museum, was deeply committed to her vision of what art is, and should be."

Artist Zulkifle Mahmod, 40, said: "I have seen a lot of Singapore artists, even young artists, showcased at SAM during her time as director."

He is one of five artists, along with Ho, who were commissioned by the museum to create works of art for its 5 Stars exhibition, which considers the ideals represented by the five stars of the Singapore flag.

He says of working with her on the exhibition: "I learnt that she has been following my practice over the years and she gave constructive criticism, which helped me to improve my work in 5 Stars."

Art historian T.K. Sabapathy, 77, says: "She is a great thinker and doer in the art world, always has been since I've known her for 25 years and more. I don't think she is going to disappear from the art world in Singapore."

Her involvement with the local and regional arts scene stretches as far back as two decades. In the 1990s, she was co-founder and director of the cutting-edge arts group 5th Passage. The non-profit, self-funded arts company was among the first of its kind here, providing a platform for everything from art exhibitions and performance art to public readings and forums.

She holds a diploma in fine arts from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and a doctor of philosophy in literature, religion and philosophy from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom. The artist-academic was an assistant professor with the visual and performing arts academic group at the National Institute of Education before she joined the museum.

Mr Sabapathy says that in her time as director of the museum she has produced exhibitions such as Sensorium 360 and Medium At Large, which leave "no doubt about her capacity to present visual art in ways that are visually stimulating".

Sensorium 360 presented contemporary art not as abstract concepts but as creative works that appealed to one's senses while Medium At Large helped viewers wrap their mind around contemporary art by considering how material is used in the works.

She is the museum's third director after founding director Kwok Kian Chow, who headed it for 16 years from 1993 to 2009 and Mr Tan Boon Hui, who led it for six years from 2009 to 2013.

Unlike her predecessors, who had previously worked at the National Museum, she did not have a background in public arts administration. But she was no stranger to the museum, having been a member of its acquisitions board in 2010, and its advisory board from 2011 to 2013.