Parisien museum

Art lovers here will get to see masterpieces from private collections when the acclaimed independent French museum, Pinacotheque de Paris, opens a second home in Singapore in 2015.

The art museum will be located at a made-over Fort Canning Centre, which previously housed the Singapore Dance Theatre and At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy. The 1920s building will retain its historic facade but boast state-of-the-art interiors for the display of prized paintings.

People can glimpse what the museum has to offer in a pop-up exhibition at Fort Canning Centre in September. The two-month-long showcase will feature about 20 masterpieces, including works by Botticelli, Rembrandt and Picasso on loan from private collectors around the world.

The Singapore museum is a partnership between the creator and founder of Pinacotheque de Paris, art historian Marc Restellini, Singapore Diamond Exchange chairman Alain Vandenborre, Singapore Freeport chairman Yves Bouvier and integrated investment company KOP Group with businesses in luxury properties.

The partners decline to disclose the estimated cost of the project, although they will fund it along with a government grant from various state agencies, including the Singapore Tourism Board.

Mr Vandenborre, 52, who co-founded the Singapore Freeport storage facility in 2007 and initiated this museum project in 2008, views the Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris as “a leverage on a facility dedicated to fine art storage”. With it, the “Singapore public can enjoy some of the collection that is stored or transits through the freeport”.

And he is confident the museum will be a good fit here. “There is a culture of museums in Singapore that you do not find quite easily in the region.”

He adds that the Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris will fill a niche in the museum landscape here with its mostly Western collection of art “from private collections that people would (otherwise) never have a chance to see”.

Mr Restellini’s approach to presentation, which displays works of art according to their aesthetic connections rather than chronology or genre as is common in most museums, will also offer viewers here a fresh curatorial perspective. A recent Pinacotheque de Paris exhibition, for example, juxtaposed works by the 20th-century artist Alberto Giacometti with ancient Etruscan sculptures.

Mr Restellini says: “What we do is make art history. The subjects I choose are always subjects that would offer a new vision of art history. That is why we are different from other museums.”

He launched the Parisian museum, whose name in Greek means “the image box”, in 2003.

Today, it occupies two buildings in the chic Parisian neighbourhood of Place de la Madeleine, known for its luxury boutiques and designer shops.

The museum’s roster of high-profile exhibitions featuring artists such as Edvard Munch and Amedeo Modigliani has made it a hit with the public. It attracts more than one million visitors every year and it has stayed profitable with an annual revenue of ¤50 million (S$81.9 million) from admission and museum shop sales.

The offshoot in Singapore, which occupies about 5,500 sq m, will be approximately the same size as the museum in Paris, and exhibitions will travel between the two cities.

The space at Fort Canning Centre will include a bookshop-cum-cafe as well as small retail outlets.

A first for the museum, though, will be the option for event organisers to rent the museum here and have guests dine in close proximity with masterpieces. Mr Vandenborre says: “You can dine and say ‘hi’ to Mr Picasso.”

This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on May 30, 2013. For similar stories, go tosph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.