Century of Light


Century of Light was a blockbuster show for the National Gallery Singapore in 2017, which featured two adjoining exhibitions, Colours of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay and Between Worlds: Raden Saleh and Juan Luna. To capture the essence and spirit of the two shows, a series of huge rooms was envisioned, similar to the drawing rooms of old, interlinked by arches and openings that play upon the transition from one space to the next.

FARM’s exhibition design introduces a new design language. The use of colour was an important design device in achieving this. In addition, a familiar and recognisable archetypal form was implemented – the archway – but expressed in a way that subverts the usual tropes. The archways that interlink between the various sections of the galleries were made exaggeratedly taller than usual, completely dwarfing the visitors as they pass under them. This play of scale and proportion heightens the senses as visitors transit between spaces.

The insides of the arches were painted a luminescent gold, as a subtle visual nod and reference to the gilded gold frames of the many paintings in the show. The golden arches reflect light and cast off a glow, in contrast to the matte finish on the walls. More importantly, the arches are intentionally skewed and carefully positioned to constantly frame and re-frame key artworks and guide the visitors’ orientation. Using the simple archetypal archway, geometry and form was warped to create something unfamiliar, yet refreshing.

Exhibition design in general, and especially so for such a show with visually powerful and important fine art pieces, has to tread a fine line between designing for the space and allowing ‘space’ for the artworks to breathe and shine through. Over-designing would be detrimental as it sidelines the experience of understanding the artworks on display. Although it’s important for the design to be as ‘invisible’ as possible, it was necessary to add an additional layer to the quality and ambience of the space.

Photography: Studio Periphery