Speech by Guest-of-Honour, Dr Lee Boon Yang at the Opening of Lee Man Fong Exhibition at the Art Retreat


Speech by Guest-of-Honour,
Dr Lee Boon Yang
Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts
At the Opening of Lee Man Fong Exhibition
At the Art Retreat
on Sat, 9 April 2005, 6.30 pm

Good evening
Mr Kwee Swie Teng, Patron of Art Retreat,
Mr Kwee Liong Keng, Chairman of Singapore Art Museum,
Associate Professor Kwok Kian Woon, Chairman of Art Retreat Board of Directors,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen

1. I am delighted to be here this evening at The Art Retreat for the opening of Lee Man Fong's exhibition.

Private museums as complementary to state museums

2. In January this year, I made my first visit to The Art Retreat. I found it to be a most interesting and stimulating art museum. What was particularly impressive was the fact that The Art Retreat is a private museum which has contributed to enriching our arts landscape. Over the past 15 years, the government has played a major role in establishing and upgrading our museums as key arts and heritage infrastructures. Today Singaporeans can enjoy a wide range of art and heritage collections in the Singapore Art Museum, Asian Civilisations Museum at Empress Place and also Armenian Street, Singapore History Museum which is currently under a major upgrading and expansion programme. Our museums have brought the arts and heritage much closer to Singaporeans and enhanced the attractiveness of Singapore as a global city for international visitors. Over and above these state-initiated museums, I believe that private museums are also important players in the effort to enrich our arts and heritage scene and add to the buzz and "X" factor that Singapore can offer.

3. I can think of at least three ways for private museums such as The Art Retreat to complement and synergise our network of public museums.

4. Firstly, they add breadth to the arts and heritage which is presented to the public. Private museums provide alternative platforms to showcase a wealth of eclectic and fascinating art and cultural artefacts reflecting the collecting interest of their founders and patrons. Private museums draw their support not only from individuals, but also from families and corporations. By so doing, private museums and collectors demonstrate that collecting and sharing arts and heritage is indeed 'alive' and a part of everyone's life.

5. Secondly, they contribute to the deepening of our cultural resources. Private museum can be more focused in what they collect and show. They can embrace much greater specialization than possible with public museums. Today's exhibition of Lee Man Fong's art works is wonderful example. It is an exquisite and carefully curated exhibition of Lee Man Fong's works from various private collections. The Art Retreat has also published a two-volume book on Lee Man Fong. This book to be launched today sets out to document the works of Lee Man Fong long recognized as a key pioneer Southeast Asian artist. It will be an invaluable resource for greater appreciation, study and research into his art and life.

6. Thirdly, private museums complement the efforts of our public museums in extending our reach and network with regional partners and audiences. For example, Art Retreat brought local artist Siew Hock Meng's exhibition to Beijing for a one week show at the National Art Museum of China last year. It is now planning to take the Lee Man Fong show to Jakarta, Guangzhou and Beijing after it ends in Singapore. Art Retreat with its collection of more than 1,500 modern works which includes works of Singaporean artists will enable us to raise awareness and appreciation of Singapore art and heritage beyond Singapore.

Role and impact on the larger visual arts scene

7. The role of private museums and collectors will grow as we continue to invest in the arts, culture and heritage institutions. MICA has announced plans to transform the City Hall and the Supreme Court Buildings into a major art gallery. This new gallery will enable us to better showcase the works of our own artists, as well as the works of important South East Asian artists and host international exhibitions.

8. This major development will benefit the visual arts in the same way that the Esplanade has benefited the performing arts. It will also create new opportunities for private partners - whether private museums or collectors - to add to the vibrancy in the visual arts and museum scene. I hope that when completed this world-class arts facility will enthuse more private partners to come forward to share their collections and resources with the Singapore public.


9. The government looks forward to more such fruitful partnerships with private art collectors and museums. This will be an important route to bring us closer to realising our vision of becoming a global city for the arts. Hence, I would like to commend The Art Retreat for organizing the Lee Man Fong exhibition.

10. On this note, it is with great pleasure that I now declare the Lee Man Fong art exhibition open. Thank you.

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