EXCITEMENT filled the air as the who's who of the arts community, corporate titans and policymakers arrived yesterday for a sneak peek inside the refurbished National Gallery Singapore.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong and invited guests got a look at the building before it is filled with artworks, ahead of the "Naked Museum" tours running this weekend and the next.
These tours for a few hundred members of the public are the last time that the historic Supreme Court and City Hall wings will be seen bare of artworks, before the $530 million museum housing the world's largest collection of South-east Asian art opens in October.
While the gallery has conducted media tours of the former Supreme Court, the doors to City Hall were opened for the first time last night.
Mr Wong started his 20-minute tour at City Hall and ended it at the Supreme Court Terrace, where he addressed more than 250 guests.
He called the gallery "the pride of Singapore" and pointed out that this was "even before the artworks come in".
He said: "The two buildings in the civic district have witnessed key milestones and turning points in Singapore's history. It is especially meaningful that, on our 50th birthday, these buildings play a part in preserving our memories and nurturing our appreciation of the arts."
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Mr Wong said that the National Gallery is the work of many.
It was in the City Hall building that Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten accepted the surrender of the Japanese forces on Sept 12, 1945, on behalf of the Allied forces. The surrender brought the Japanese Occupation of Singapore to an end.
City Hall also housed the office of Mr Lee Kuan Yew when he became the first Prime Minister of Singapore.
Among the guests were representatives from Keppel Group, DBS Bank and United Overseas Bank, the three founding partners of the Gallery. DBS Group chief executive Piyush Gupta called it "an absolutely beautiful space" and said: "We are extremely pleased to be associated with it."
There were several light-hearted moments during the tour, including Mr Wong helping Mr Gupta to take a "wefie" on the City Hall terrace against a view of the Singapore skyline.
Several visitors lauded the care taken in architectural conservation. Arts lover Caroline Loke, who is in her 40s, said: "The care that has been taken with these historic buildings is extremely impressive. It is stunning."
UPDATE: Passes for the "Naked Museum" tours on 25 and 26 April are already full. Members of the public can still win passes to the tours on 2 May through the Gallery's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/nationalgallerysg.