2007/12/08 - Speech at opening of Louvre exhibition at NMS
HE Mr Goh Chok Tong, Senior Minister, and Mrs. Goh,
Dr Lee Boon Yang, Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts, and Mrs Lee,
Professor Tommy Koh, Chairman of the National Heritage Board,
Mr Hervé Barbaret, Deputy CEO of the Musée du Louvre,
Mr GK Goh, Chairman of the Board of the National Museum of Singapore,
Mr Michael Koh, Chairman of the National Heritage Board,
Mrs Lee Chor Lin, Director of the National Museum of Singapore,
Excellencies, Dear Friends,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is both a great honour and an immense pleasure to attend the opening of such a rare exhibition from the prestigious Louvre Museum. The renovation of the Classical Greek Galleries of the Museum have provided an extraordinary opportunity, for those masterpieces of the 5th and 4th centuries BC, to travel, an occurrence which is unlikely to repeat itself, if ever, in the foreseeable future .
As you all know, mere chance is not enough to make exhibitions happen, especially when they are of a magnitude such as this one. It also takes a lot of will, of tenacity and of faith. You are today, [Mr] Senior Minister, the guest of honour of an event which is the result of relentless efforts of many dedicated people and institutions. Dwelling, I should add, on the success of the chalcography exhibition at SAM, earlier this year. So let me express our gratitude first of all to you, Mr Goh Chok Tong, not only for gracing this occasion with your presence, but also for your longstanding interest in fostering the relationship between our two countries. And to Dr Lee Boon Yang, my warmest thanks, as well, for your support and your presence tonight. Lee Chor Lin has already acknowledged the role of the many good fairies who made it possible, and I gladly add the voice of France to this list of thanks. Allow me to just single out two individuals, namely you, Chor Lin, for your indefatigable efforts in bringing this exhibition to where it is today. And Mrs Chew Gek Khim, Deputy Chairman of the Tan Chin Chuan Foudation, for being so forthcoming to the idea that the greatest value can be achieved by reaching out to the younger generations of Singaporeans.
This exhibition needs no superlatives to be introduced, as you will be able to judge by yourselves in a few moments. But allow me to share with you some reflections on its significance. And that goes way beyond, I am convinced, the relationship between France and Singapore.
Firstly, it is a tribute to the National Museum, which completed its renovation exactly one year ago and has become a state-of-the-art museum, capable of housing and handling the most fragile and precious artefacts. I have heard only the highest praise for the professionalism of the National Museum team in the installation of the artefacts, and for that I would like to extend my congratulations to the coordinating curator, Szan Tan, as well as, naturally, to the very able curators from the Louvre, Anne Coulié and Christophe Piccinelli.
Secondly, it decisively includes Singapore in the circuit of the world-class exhibitions travelling between the great museums of the world. Together with a number of other artistic achievements, such as the Arts Festival or the Biennale, it increasingly puts Singapore on the cultural and artistic map of the region and of the world. As we know, your policy is to turn your city into a hub in this field as well. And your welcoming here of the “Greek Masterpieces from the Louvre” shows once again, as we are accustomed to seeing, that you really mean it.
Thirdly, having these artworks here is also an invitation to delve into some of the roots of your own identity, namely the western civilization, which owes so much to ancient Greece. You’ll have before your eyes some of the very sources of European culture, of European art, of the essence of European identity. Going back to Greece is a highly emotional journey, because it touches upon the very idea of the universal. As André Malraux, a great writer who was appointed minister of culture by Général de Gaulle, once wrote : “ The imaginary Greece is invincibly bound to the Greek statues ”. The Greek view of man was reflected in the art and architecture. The ideal of the Greek sculpture became the portrayal of the perfect human form, with also an ideal proportion for the parts of the body. But these were always subject to the sense of grace and dynamism that characterised Greek objects of art. It was also the function of Greek art to portray not only ideal physical forms, but also the dignity and restraint that should characterise man’s actions.
It is quite interesting to turn our eyes to China at that time, a time when a centralised State slowly emerged from the vanishing archaic kingdoms. It also was an age of very rich and innovative intellectual life. To name but a few, Confucius, Sun Tzu and Lao Tse shaped Chinese civilization as deeply as, for the western civilization, such luminaries as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, whose busts you will encounter during your visit of the exhibition.
France is proud to share with Singapore its centuries-old experience in the fields of heritage, culture and the arts, and to accompany your City-State in its journey to assert itself in these fields. This is a policy in which you played no small role, Mr Senior Minister, and you are rewarded by its coming to fruition. Rest assured that France is eager to help Singapore to bring it to further heights, in a spirit of exchange and of partnership. I trust today’s event bodes well for the future, not just between the two museums involved, but also for the future relationship between our other flagship institutions such as the Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou or the Musée Guimet and your own institutions such as the ACM or the SAM and the future National Art Gallery.
I would also like to express the hope that this exhibition, with its European appeal and flavour, will be a harbinger for a “European cultural season” that the EU embassies here are currently working on, with the purpose of showcasing in Singapore, as early as next year, the diversity and the richness of our European cultures and artistic creation.
Once again, my congratulations to Singapore and my deepest appreciation for this remarkable achievement. And now please feast your eyes on these humbling masterpieces.