Surrealism by the bay


Headed down to Singapore’s official megastructure, the surprisingly (to me) incredible Marina Bay Sands to visit my parents at their jewelry exhibition, and decided to go see the Dalí/Van Gogh exhibition at the ArtScience museum. Honestly, I didn’t have very high expectations, particularly since I thought I’d be prone to making douchey comparisons with other more…prolific museums. But lo and behold, I was really, really impressed. The Dalí exhibit was masterfully done–beautifully coordinated into neat little sections organized by theme, including sculptures big and small, lithographs and watercolors and walls littered with clocks all ticking simultaneously in this strange cavernous space. It was all very…well, surreal. (Forgive me.)

I hesitated before going to the Van Gogh exhibit–first, I had already (douche moment begins) been to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam in February, and seen the Van Gogh collection at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris (douche moment finished), and second, it’s not really an exhibit of his paintings in the sense that none of them are actually there. But, it was a package deal with the Dalí show and I had time to kill.

Ever since Sunflowers became the go-to image for middle school art classes and Starry Night/Starry Night Over the Rhone/The Night Café/Pretty much any other Van Gogh painting became the number one best-seller for adolescents looking to balance their Black Eyed Peas posters with something more sophisticated, good ol’ Vince has just become too mainstream for true artistic respect, forever joining the ranks of Audrey Hepburn posters and that godforsaken cat. It’s similar to the way people seem to feel about white wine: everyone enjoys it (it’s refreshing, okay?) but no one wants to admit it. (Don’t you dare prefer it over a nice red, you cretin.) It’s just too crude and–gasp–common! 

Well, pish-posh, forget you guys, I think Van Gogh is great. And this exhibition, despite not having any actual paintings in it, managed to top my previous real-life Van Gogh encounters. Basically, it was a massive multi-hall high-ceilinged room, completely dark except for moving projections on the wall set to music (including, at the moment I walked in, Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1Gymnopédie No. 3 (thanks Ahilya!) and Gnossienne No. 1). The thing is, while it’s great to see famous paintings up-close in their original form, I’ve always felt that when I was looking at them, I mostly felt…something close to indifference. (If you don’t like wishy-washy hipster sentiments then skip this part.) Impressionism (Post, in this case?) is, by definition, about a feeling more than a technique; and whatever grandiose feelings I may have about Van Gogh or any of his bohemian buddies is completely lost when there are 20 fellow tourists crowded around the same painting trying to take pictures, presumably to prove they did, in fact, see the real thing. Somehow, this exhibit managed to give me back those grandiose feelings by displaying Van Gogh’s work as it should be displayed–in a way that completely (almost literally, actually) wraps you in color, feeling, and yes, friends–impressions.

I think I often set my expectations about Singapore too low, maybe because I’ve lived here too long. Singapore can be boring, no doubt, and often a little too stiff & sterile for my taste. I think now that I’ve left (as usual) I’m finally getting to see that despite the terrible salaries and censored-everything (and let’s not forget that soul-destroying humidity), Singapore has a lot to offer.

And hey, it’s not too bad looking either:


Dalí: Mind of a Genius & Van Gogh Alive will be running until October (30th and 9th, respectively) at the ArtScience Museum @ Marina Bay Sands. (So, so worth making a trip.) Special price for SG residents, bring your NRIC!

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9 responses to “Surrealism by the bay

  1. Ahilya

    Hey lovely post my dear! And really pretty pictures, I wish I had taken my camera when I went… Both exhibitions were really impressive, you’re right. While I don’t much care for Dali’s art in terms of aesthetics, I was impressed at how well organized everything was and the variety of his work, as well as all the explanations about symbolism and his life stories etc. And I was honestly so moved by the Van Gogh exhibition! It was so simple yet sooo pleasant and beautiful. All those classical pieces enhanced the art in a really unexpected way! And btw that was Gymnopedie No. 3 not 1 🙂

    • daniellecourtenay

      GOT ME! Will go fix that, hahaha. and MAN for once I thought I was pretty hardcore, identifying numbers and whatnot. Gotta step up my game.

      But yeah, you know, I was actually surprised how much I liked the Dalí b/c from everything we studied about him (not much…) in ArtHist he never really appealed to me. Maybe Sister Wendy is losing her touch?

      • Minn

        Hey Danielle & Ahilya, you’re both right – it was Gymnopedie Nos. 1 & 3. Both pieces play within 10 min of each other. Glad you loved the experience!

      • daniellecourtenay

        Ah, excellent, good to know I can still maintain my guess-that-tune skill claim!

      • Ahilya

        hahah oh good old Sister Wendy… I miss watching her stumble across ancient European bridges and shuffle through Egyptian caves with her buck teeth in those intro montages hahah

  2. Loved your post! I had the same hesitations about the Dali exhibit. I mean…hadn’t I just gone with you to a museum where we contemplated skipping the Mona Lisa? My favorites of Dali’s works were the paintings. Did you like the sculptures more or were those just more fun to take shots of?

    • daniellecourtenay

      Yeah, I guess it’s just easier to take interesting photos of statues than paintings since you can approach them from all sides. I guess the problem with photographing art is that it’s someone else’s work, so it’s not really “photography” in anything other than the documentary sense. I was surprised at how much I liked the statues actually. I think I just like gold, hahahaha.

  3. Elizabeth Hernandez

    Thanks, Danielle. Really enjoyed this blog. Love your explanation about how paintings are meant to evoke feelings. It’s very personal. Glad to her the Dali/Van Gogh exhibitions are here until October. Will definitely go visit. Take care!

    P.S. Have you seen the terracotta warriors at ACM?

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Everything I've tried to write here to describe myself or this blog has given me a complex about trying too hard to sound interesting. Let's pretend I wrote something artsy and cosmopolitan.

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