Art and Science Fuse In Singapore

Mar 23, 2011
*Special to asia!

The left-brain / right-brain concept has made way for the ArtScience fusion celebrated in the latest private museum in Singapore.

By night, the ArtScience Museum at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore looks like a spaceship returned from an adventure, full of treasure that has travelled over time and space.

The architect Moshe Safdie, however, says it was designed to be a lotus, and underscores the point by having it float on a reflective pool dotted with blue lotuses. It is both a technological marvel and a celebration of a flower revered in the Eastern tradition, by Buddhists in particular.






A voice from another quarter entirely has called it the “Welcoming Hand of Singapore”. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp, was possibly playing on the word “hand” as in a hand drawn from a deck of cards, but at the simplest level, it is an open hand with palm lifted to the sky. As the museum has welcomed talent, computer wizardry and artefacts from all over the world, I feel the moniker is appropriate.

So why is it called the ArtScience Museum? Safdie said at the press preview: “The left brain-right brain concept is obsolete. Today Art and Science are seen as one. This is the first museum of its kind in the world which showcases this.”

He was quoted in The Straits Times as saying that the design is both expressive and disciplined, which is what both art and science are.

Looking at the museum presents a puzzle. How does everything fit in? A total of 10 fingers, or petals, make up the building. The interiors of the fingers are unique gallery spaces with natural lighting from the fingertips illuminating the sculptural interior wall forms. The fingers’ main surfaces are made up of special glass fibre reinforced polymer, a material typically used in the skins of high-performance racing yachts.

The longest finger is 60 feet high. It is the first museum in Singapore where the exhibition space is not hampered by the size of an old building. This museum has space for a dhow, a marketplace and a commanding statue of Genghis Khan.

Having jumped through all the hoops at the media circus that surrounded its opening on February 19, I survive to tell the tale of just how compelling the exhibits are. At the press preview, museum director Tom Zaller gave off the vibe of a circus barker, extolling the virtues of his museum with flair.

His quote in The Straits Times: “Only 20% of what you see will be permanent. Most museums have large permanent museum collections and the way they get people to come back is through temporary exhibitions. I decided to flip this model and focus on continually evolving exhibits which weave our art and science story.”


511 A wall mural depicting a disastrous Mongolian sea expedition.


So there is going to be a kaleidoscope of exhibits, forever changing yet with the recurring elements of art-science fusions. The 21 galleries will hold permanent exhibits as well as blockbuster international exhibits with this hybrid stamp.

The three opening exhibitions are “Genghis Khan: The Exhibition” (Feb 19 to April 10) and “Traveling The Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World” (Feb 19 to Mar 27) and “Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds” (Feb 19 to July 31).

To demonstrate what an art-science fusion means, the permanent exhibits include an air-borne lantern and a robotic fish, while in the travelling ones there are art-science fusions such as the astrolabe and the water clock in the Silk Road exhibit, and the trebuchet, an advanced catapult, in the Genghis Khan one. Each can be appreciated from the angles of both science and art.

The first exhibition is a must-see. If you only had an hour to spend, I reckon this would be the best place to spend it.

This is the largest collection of Genghis Khan artefacts ever assembled. There are more than 200 rare treasures that have never been seen outside of Mongolia. Look out for jewellery and ornaments, silk robes, pottery and even a mummy.


512 This mummy had boots on which suggests that she died in one of the brutal Mongolian winters.


513 A scale model of the four-storey statue of Genghis Khan in Ulaan Bataar


At the entrance is an imposing statue of Genghis Khan, a scale model of the four-storey one standing in a square in Ulaan Bataar.

Inside, the mysterious atmosphere of the steppes of Mongolia is created by a soundtrack of chants and dramatic murals and weaponry.

Genghis Khan is best known for conquering more land than any other conqueror in history including Alexander the Great.

Some little known facts about him: He meditated before he attacked and he was a gentleman who never attacked without warning. He was known as a barbarian conqueror yet he and his armies were a civilizing force. Although his betrothed was captured by his enemies and impregnated, he rescued her and married her.

Modern-day things that were invented by the Mongols were passports, the pony express which was referred to as the first incarnation of FedEx, and something unexpected, pants.

The models of a yurt and the Mongol Palace are especially engaging. Children get to play a traditional game called knucklebone, which used tokens made of sheep bones and get to jump into a sandpit to dig out buried objects.

In a quieter area, the mummy of a rich lady who died with her boots on is on display with the solemn words “This room includes human remains. Please be courteous and respectful.”

Here is an audio clip of Don Lessem, the curator of the Genghis Khan exhibition. He is one of the world’s leading presenters of natural science and has appeared on Discovery Channel programmes.


vivienne khooOnce a lifestyle editor at a website, a newspaper journalist and a food editor, Vivienne Khoo writes about luxury hotels, food and travel whenever she is not sub-editing. The perfume industry and essential oils are her pet topics at the moment.

Contact Vivienne

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