Singapore Art Museum stops search for CEO and museum director

Dr June Yap (above) is joining the Singapore Art Museum on Friday as its director of curatorial, programmes and publications. She will report directly to Ms Chong Siak Ching, who is deputy chair of the museum's board executive committee.
Dr June Yap (above) is joining the Singapore Art Museum on Friday as its director of curatorial, programmes and publications. She will report directly to Ms Chong Siak Ching, who is deputy chair of the museum's board executive committee.
Dr June Yap is joining the Singapore Art Museum on Friday as its director of curatorial, programmes and publications. She will report directly to Ms Chong Siak Ching (above), who is deputy chair of the museum's board executive committee.
Dr June Yap is joining the Singapore Art Museum on Friday as its director of curatorial, programmes and publications. She will report directly to Ms Chong Siak Ching (above), who is deputy chair of the museum's board executive committee.

The Singapore Art Museum says it has run smoothly under its board executive committee, which will continue to guide it

The Singapore Art Museum (SAM) will run under the guidance of its board executive committee and cease its search for a new museum director and chief executive.

The contemporary art museum, which organises the Singapore Biennale, has experienced a leadership vacuum following the exits of museum director Susie Lingham and chief executive Leng Tshua last year.

A museum spokesman says SAM has continued to run "smoothly" under the guidance and support of the SAM board executive committee - which includes deputy chair Chong Siak Ching, who is also the head of National Gallery Singapore - "with no interruption to programming and development plans".

"Hence, during this time, there is no intention to search for a CEO or a museum director," she says, adding that it will "strengthen the team as and when necessary to ensure that SAM continues to deliver on its vision and mission".

This development comes on the heels of the museum's announcement last week of the appointment of independent curator June Yap as the museum's director of curatorial, programmes and publications.

Dr Yap, 44, will oversee content strategy and museum programming, while operational matters will be undertaken by other museum staff.

She will take up her new role on Friday.

According to the announcement last week, she will report directly to Ms Chong, who is also head of the visual arts cluster in Singapore, comprising SAM, National Gallery Singapore and art gallery and creative workshop STPI.

Ms Chong has headed the visual arts cluster - which is under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth - since her appointment as head of National Gallery Singapore in 2013. SAM has been part of the cluster since it was corporatised in 2013.

SAM is gearing up for a major $90-million revamp, which will include the creation of doublevolume spaces and enhanced facilities.

The revamp is slated to be completed in 2021.

Members of the visual arts industry were generally positive about the news of Dr Yap's appointment, given her experience in the visual arts scene both in Singapore and internationally.

"She certainly has a whole lot to offer SAM and she's well respected in the arts community, locally and internationally," says art critic and former artistic co-director of the Substation, Mr Lee Weng Choy.

Ms Ute Meta Bauer, director of NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, who has worked with Dr Yap, describes her appointment as "energising for the arts community in Singapore and South-east Asia".

But some question SAM's decision to not hire a new museum director or chief executive.

Arts patron Ryan Su says that the role of a museum director is important and "leaving it vacant is giving the office of museum director short shrift".

In particular, he notes that fund-raising is a full-time job.

"Patrons want to see the face of a museum. This is the relational aspect that is missing and they may go elsewhere," he says.

Mr Khairuddin Hori, curatorial director and partner at gallery Chan + Hori Contemporary, wonders whether a museum can be professionally managed without these two roles and the "expertise that come with them".

"And if the museum has indeed done truly well without such key functionaries in place (in the past year), perhaps it is time we revisit this traditional structure, pursue and put in place one that is truly contemporary and further mark our position as leaders and first movers among contemporary art museums in Asia, if not the world," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2017, with the headline 'SAM ends search for new director, CEO'. Print Edition | Subscribe