The 2017 Life Power List

Making art a way of life


2 Dr Eugene Tan, 45, director of National Gallery Singapore

This curator-turned-art administrator, now running Singapore's flagship art institution, has been on the Life Power List over the various stages of his career.

This year, he comes in second for a series of blockbuster exhibitions at the National Gallery Singapore that has solidified the gallery's reputation as a leader in the regional art scene.

The first is Yayoi Kusama: Life Is The Heart Of A Rainbow, which showcased the 88-year-old Japanese artist's signature polka-dotted sculptures and mirrored rooms. That exhibition drew more than 235,000 visitors.

The second is Century Of Light, which runs until March 11 next year, featuring 19th-century masterpieces that have never been exhibited in the region.

More than 60 works from famous Impressionists are on loan from the well-known Musee D'Orsay in Paris.

Another part to the exhibition focuses on the Western artists' contemporaries, Indonesian painter Raden Saleh and Filipino painter Juan Luna, who are national heroes in their countries.

The Kusama exhibition happened almost by accident, he says.

A gap opened in the exhibition schedule because of delays putting together Century Of Light.

He was in London and spotted a Kusama exhibition at the Victoria Miro gallery.

Gallery shows usually take three to four years to set up, but some of his colleagues had connections to museums which owned significant Kusama works. "Thanks to an amazing team of curators, we made it happen in a year," says Dr Tan.

He has been on the Life Power List four times before. For example, in 2015, he was ranked No. 1 for setting up the National Gallery Singapore and opening it in time for Singapore's Golden Jubilee celebrations.

In 2012, he was ranked fourth for turning the former military buildings at Gillman Barracks into a gallery cluster.

He has a PhD in art history from the University of Manchester and is married to a housewife. They have a 12-year-old daughter.

Running parallel to the Kusama show was an inaugural Children's Biennale, with activities and art tailored to intrigue kids and families. The biennale, which ended on Oct 8, attracted more than 286,000 visitors over four months.

Dr Tan says such programmes are important to the museum's mission of building an audience for art.

"It's about inclusivity and reaching out to audiences who wouldn't otherwise have come to the museum," he says. "One of our aims is to share how different coming to the museum is compared with other lifestyle activities. Appreciating art takes work."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 03, 2017, with the headline 'Making art a way of life'. Print Edition | Subscribe