One of the most appealing aspects of Asia is the extreme juxtaposition of its ancient monuments and primordial jungles, with the almost futuristic development of its urban centers. Any tour of the region is incomplete without fully experiencing both of these seemingly contradictory worlds. This is why visiting a great contemporary art museum is the perfect complement to a holiday full of street tours, jungle hikes and temple exploration.
Mori Art Museum – Tokyo
One of the most visited museums in the region, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, is a testament to the hyper-modernity that Japan is so well known for. This gallery does not have a permanent collection, but features exhibitions by some of the most famous artists from all over Asia.
It is renowned for featuring over the top exhibitions, with an eclectic mix of artists from different parts of the world and periods in time, including immersive and interactive installations. A good example of this is “The Universe and Art” exhibition, which combines colourful interactive displays and video installations, historic manuscripts from the edo-period, and of course some erotic robot sculptures by Soroyama Hajime.
If you are visiting Tokyo and want to experience the most cutting-edge of Japanese culture, then seeing the Mori Art Museum as an extension of a “pop culture tour” would be a perfect combination.
Singapore Art Museum – Singapore
This museum is colloquially known by its acronym “SAM” and is home to what is probably the most important collection of Southeast Asian contemporary art in the world. Installed in the former St. Josephs Institution Catholic Boy’s School, this museum also offers many activities such as workshops for children and is generally very family friendly.
SAM has been known to feature some politically controversial artists, but has also been accused of overzealous censorship, which is not unusual in the Southeast Asian art world. Nevertheless, the permanent collection is a cornucopia of ground-breaking and challenging Southeast Asian art that contains over 7000 pieces and includes work by internationally acclaimed artists, such as Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Stella.
If you are staying in Singapore for a while, we would suggest saving SAM for a rainy day and starting off with a street food tour, or a visit to one of the city’s many colourful ethnic neighbourhoods.
Hong Kong Museum of Art – Hong Kong
The Hong Kong Museum of Art features an eclectic mix of contemporary art and antiquities. The collection contains an amazing array of objects including calligraphy, ceramics, sculptures, textiles, clothing, photography and surrealist art installations.
This bewildering collection of ancient and modern art is appropriately representative of the personality and spirit of Hong Kong. Walking through the collections, you will find yourself becoming immersed in Chinese history while pondering the future development of this economic, political and cultural giant. With some objects dating back to the late Shang Dynasty (ca. 11th century B.C.) standing in sharp contrast to modern pieces, this museum displays an unbroken tradition of art and culture spanning thousands of years.
Tea drinking has been associated with art appreciation in Asia since ancient times, so it would be appropriate to finish off the day with an afternoon tea cruise of Victoria Harbour.
We hope you enjoyed this short introduction to some of the most influential contemporary art museums in Asia. In the next installment we will explore the up and coming art scenes of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.