My solo sightseeing expeditions dried up for a few weeks there, but you’ll be pleased to know I’ve started reinstating them to my weekly routine, although painfully slowly, and the first one I undertook was a trip to a fairly new museum in Fort Canning Park. The Fort Canning Visitors Centre was under renovation for quite a while earlier this year, so I was pleased to see that it had reopened at the end of May, and even happier to find out that it’s been transformed into a museum. The Singapore Pinacothèque de Paris is the first foray of the Parisian Pinacothèque Art Museum outside of Europe, and was advertised literally everywhere around Singapore before its opening. For a very big building there’s actually not a lot of museum in there, but the permanent Collections Gallery boasts some rare masterpieces from the likes of Monet and Rembrandt, so I thought it was worth a look.
Fort Canning Park might be one of my favourite places in Singapore, but every single time I go I get bitten by what must be super charged mosquitoes and the bites come up in horrible, unsightly blisters. Strangely enough it was the same this time, but thankfully the lonely single bite was not enough to dampen my afternoon. I visited the museum on a Tuesday which is, I admit, an unconventional day for a culture fix, but even I was surprised by the lack of people in the museum. I ended up being followed around by a couple of girls but, apart from them I saw only a handful of people who weren’t museum staff. Now I do like not having to avoid annoying people when I’m out, but there were times when I was a little worried I was going to end up in a ‘The Mummy Returns’ style scenario and be attacked by the ancient inhabitants of some of the exhibits. Basically, it was a bit creepy.
After I’d fought my way up the massive hill to Fort Canning my first stop was The Collections Gallery to appreciate some art. Now, I’m not the greatest art fan so, although I enjoyed being mere touching distance from some masterpieces it didn’t have that much of an effect on me. The room was smaller than I’d expected and weirdly dark, and I ended up doing two laps just so that I felt I’d got the full effect. I mean, it was fine but hardly the greatest 15 minutes I’ve ever spent. After I’d got my fill of art I headed upstairs to The Features Gallery, which was, to be honest, the main reason I chose to do this museum. The current exhibition is The Myth of Cleopatra (hence the feeling of being in The Mummy Returns) and I can probably say, hands down, it’s one of the best exhibits I’ve seen. Because The Pinacothèque is a privately owned museum, and obviously has the money to do what it likes, there were artefacts, paintings and statues from all around the world to help tell the story of the myth of Cleopatra. It started fairly innocently by the door with a history of the life of Cleopatra, the Ptolemy dynasty in Egypt and her associations with Rome, Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. This story is fairly well known and wouldn’t have been anything special if it wasn’t for the busts, statues and artefacts transported in from Rome that were used to help tell the story. I could have touched Caesar’s and Augustus’ faces if I’d wanted to.
After the conventional story of Cleopatra, which covered a good half of the gallery and dealt with everything from her marriages to her supposed affair with Caesar, Mark Anthony, asps, the role of the Nile in Egyptian life and Egyptian burial customs the exhibition moved into the enduring myth of Cleopatra and her portrayal in art. It turns out that not a lot is actually known about the life of one of the most famous women in history, and a lot of what we think we know comes from what other people have written and popular representations of her. So a lot of the exhibition was dedicated to how she has been seen throughout history. There was a fascinating section on the famous Handel opera Giulio Cesare with headphones to listen to extracts while surrounded by costumes from one New York performance. This lead into a gallery of, largely renaissance, art depicting Cleopatra’s death and the significance of her myth to the larger artistic movement.
Probably my favourite bit of the exhibition was the final section, dedicated to the portrayal of Cleopatra in film. Turns out that there have been quite a few films on the life of Cleopatra, but by far the most famous is the 1963 epic ‘Cleopatra’ featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. One of the first things you see on entering the museum is a screen showing the part of the film when she enters Rome in triumph alongside Caesar. The exhibition ends with the same film, but this time the scene depicting her death from a deadly asp bite after the Roman army has stormed into Alexandria. The film is incredibly camp but it’s a powerful image after an entire exhibition dedicated to the prevalence of her myth and the decadence of Ancient Egypt and Rome. Alongside the film there are various props from the movie, including costumes, a royal carriage and two massive sphinx statues.
It’s a pretty impressive feat to get so many different artefacts and pieces of artwork in one place and, as a result, The Myth of Cleopatra gives a varied and interesting view on her life and her enduring popularity. Because I love history, and museums, I spent quite a long time wandering, wide eyed around the gallery and reading every single plaque and piece of information there was. The only downside was the museum guard who was stood in the middle of the gallery talking, very loudly, on his phone for the entire time I was there. Not that this was a particular surprise after so long in Singapore, but it did ruin the atmosphere a bit. Although, if the undead had picked that day to come back to life he would have definitely been the first one to die, which would have at least given me the chance to escape.
Leah Out X