From priceless antiquities to modern art, Asia’s museums are home to some of the most important works of art on the planet. With numerous art museums across many countries it’s hard to pick just a few, but this article will focus on four of the top art museums in four different countries across the full gamut of art history.
Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
Focusing on contemporary art practices with an emphasis on Southeast Asia, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) is one of the most important modern art centers in the region. Founded in 1996, it was the first art museum established in Singapore. Today, SAM has assembled one of the most extensive public collections of modern Southeast Asian art, which is housed in the fully-restored 19th century mission school building of the former St Joseph’s Institute.
80% of the museum’s acquisition policy is devoted to Southeast Asian art, but the museum also holds a significant collection of art from around the region including works from Japan, India, Korea and China. SAM participates in numerous co-curations with other contemporary art museums and many of the museum’s artworks gain worldwide exposure through international exhibition programs and loans.
The museum focuses on the works of pioneering, emerging and mid-career artists from the regional contemporary art world. You can learn more about the collection and recent acquisitions here https://www.singaporeartmuseum.sg/the_collection/index.html. SAM is open seven days a week and entry is just 6 Singapore dollars.
National Museum, New Delhi, India
The National Museum, New Delhi is home to an extensive collection of artworks and artefacts from across the country and the globe. Growing out of an exhibition of Indian antiquities held in London from 1947 – 1948 by the Royal Academy of Arts, the objects were exhibited in the state rooms of India’s President’s House until construction began on a museum building in 1955 and finally opened in 1960.
Today, the museum houses over two million artworks spanning some 5,000 years of Indian history. The mammoth collection includes sculptures, paintings, coins, jewelry, textiles and costumes, armor and anthropological objects. The two non-Indian collections in the museum include Pre-Columbian and Central Asian antiquities.
Just a few of the museum’s highlights include a collection 800 sculptures in bronze, stone and terracotta dating from the 3rd century B.C. to the 19th century A.D., a collection of the sacred relics of Buddha (5th – 4th century B.C.), over a hundred exhibits of traditional Indian wood carving and several thousand objects and artworks from the Harappan Civilization (3300 – 1300 B.C.).
Located in central New Delhi, the museum is open Tuesday – Sunday and entry costs Rs 650.
Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Japan
The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT) boasts a collection of some 5,000 artworks. With permanent collections housed across two floors as ‘Mot Collection’ exhibits and another three floors dedicated to temporary exhibitions, MOT is the largest modern art museum in Japan. Opened in 1995, the museum strives to present a systematic history of Japanese and international postwar art from 1945 to present day. Through its permanent and temporary exhibitions, the galleries present a variety of genres from modern art to architecture, fashion and design. The museum also features tremendously high ceilings that allow for display of large scale installations.
In addition to collecting historically relevant postwar artwork, the museum also collects the works of pioneering Japanese modern artists, which are shown as ‘MOT Collection’ exhibitions. These collections are curated several times a year, with up to two hundred pieces around a unique theme selected for exhibition.
In addition to art exhibits, the museum also houses a 100,000+ book library, shop, restaurant and café. Located in scenic Kiba Park with its green spaces and walking trails, your trip to MOT could well turn into a full day exploration.
The Palace Museum, Beijing, China
The Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, is one of the most significant museums in the world. Established in 1925 in the imperial palace of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, the incredible complex and its collections of antiquities forms one of China’s cultural heritage gems and a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.
Located in the heart of Beijing, the museum complex is itself a work of art. Covering more than one million square meters, the Forbidden City is surrounded by 10 meter-high walls and a 52 meter-wide moat. Serving as the palace residence and court of 24 emperors for over six hundred years, the succession of halls and palaces with their striking scarlet red walls and golden roofs were off limits to the common people until the end of the last dynasty.
The Palace Museum was first founded in 1914 when imperial treasures from other palaces located in modern day Chengde and Shenyang were moved to the Outer Court for display. The Inner Court remained off limits, however, as the last emperor continued to reside there until he was removed by a coup in 1924. The management of the palace was then transitioned to a committee who conducted a full audit of the imperial collections and a year later, opened the Palace Museum.
The imperial treasures numbered more than 1,170,000 objects and included ancient jade artifacts, paintings and calligraphy from the earliest dynasties, valuable porcelain, gold and silver ornaments, religious statues in bronze and gold, and antiques made from a variety of wood, bamboo and horn. Then there were thousands of imperial robes, textiles, and furniture, literary works and historical documents.
The original Qing imperial collections of the Palace Museum have been added to over the decades since its inauguration, with more than 900,000 pieces salvaged or donated to the museum, bringing the total number of artworks in the Palace Museum collection to over 1.8 million.
Tickets can be purchased online with current seasonal pricing listed from 40 – 60 yuan. The Palace Museum is open daily from 8.30am.
Although these museums only scratch the surface of the many important collections located throughout Asia, it’s a good starting point for planning your next artistic sojourn to the exotic east.