(Photo: The Straits Times)

The 21-year-old Singapore Art Museum (SAM) on Bras Basah Road will be undergoing a major revamp budgeted at $90 million.

The revamp will add "double-volume" spaces to house large-scale installations, as well as enhance facilities for technologically demanding works which use multimedia. 

The museum will also be made more accessible for visitors with special needs.

The Government will fund up to $80 million, and SAM will get the remainder from donations and sponsorship.

(Illustration: Singapore Art Museum)

Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), announced this on Saturday (April 1) at the museum, during a closed-door feedback session for the recently concluded Singapore Biennale attended by artists, docents and educators.

It is time for SAM to be revamped, say artists and industry observers.

The museum's original main building, which is the former Saint Joseph's Institution on Bras Basah Road, dates back to 1855.

When SAM was opened in 1996, the restoration work had cost $30 million and took more than two years to complete.

Ms Joyce Toh, 41, the curatorial co-head of SAM, said: "Even when putting up the Singapore Biennale we could see the challenges involved, especially for huge artworks which we had to put in the museum's rotunda space. Some works need weight loading, and suspension. 

"She is an old building and we cannot be drilling and hanging random things."

Artist Fyerool Darma, 30, who was part of the recent Singapore Biennale, said: "I'm looking forward to the revamp, which is necessary. I'd like to see how the new spaces will work."

Dr Hoe Su Fern, 36, Assistant Professor of Arts and Culture Management at the Singapore Management University, said:  "The revamp is much needed as the building is ageing and it needs to keep up with the times."

(Illustration: Singapore Art Museum)

An open tender for architects and consultants to manage this project will be called within the second quarter of this year (2017), and the revamp is slated for completion in 2021.

Among other plans is the construction of a link bridge connecting the two SAM buildings – the main building, and the former Catholic High School on Queen Street, now known as SAM at 8Q. 

The main building is now closed for deinstallation of the recently concluded Singapore Biennale artworks, and it will remain closed after that for the revamp. 

During the revamp, programmes at SAM will continue at SAM at 8Q, as well as community spaces and other cultural institutions.

In her speech, Ms Fu also highlighted SAM's role in growing Singapore's visual arts scene. Since it opened in 1996, the museum's visitorship has "steadily increased" over the years, with a record high of 900,000 visitors in 2015. 

Ms Fu said: "It (SAM) has been vital in presenting the works of homegrown, Southeast Asian and international artists to audiences here… At MCCY, we are committed to developing the visual arts sector and creating more relevant spaces for our artists to showcase their works.

"We want SAM to remain at the forefront of contemporary art in Southeast Asia."

Written by Eunice Quek for The Straits Times