Veteran curator and arts administrator Tan Boon Hui, for decades a vital presence in Singapore’s art world and a tireless promoter of Asian art on the world stage, died on July 7 at the age of fifty-three years old, following a stroke he had suffered in May. Tan was a strong advocate for Singaporean artists, especially those of the lesser-known band, and contemporary art, and was instrumental in bringing the country’s art scene to wider global attention through his efforts. as director of the Singapore Art Museum and organizer of two iterations of the Singapore Biennale. Former director of the Asia Society Museum in New York, he played a key role in the creation of the Asia Society Triennial, whose inaugural edition, “We Do Not Dream Alone”, took place at the height of the Covid-19 crisis.
Tan Boon Hui was born in Singapore in 1968. His father was a bus driver and his mother a housewife. Tan recalls being brought to the National Museum of Singapore as a child, recounting Hyperallergic as of 2020, “it still possessed its natural history collection of animal specimens and bones, alongside ethnography and paintings. It was this weird, weird jumble of things that kind of fascinated me and kind of scared me at the same time. He obtained his BA and MA in geography at the National University of Singapore before going to work as an editor for Didier Millet editions, which among other publications produced exhibition catalogs for institutions in Southeast Asia. . In 1997, Tan took on the role of Assistant Curator at the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore.
“I learned everything on the job,” he told the Straits time in 2009. “From the writing of the exhibition scenario, the decision of what happens in an exhibition and the research of the artefacts or works of art. A lot of it is project management and I’ve done everything that goes into the job – I’ve even swept the floors of the museum.
After a stint as Deputy Director of Programs at the National Museum of Singapore, during which he curated the Singapore Pavilion at the 2003 Venice Biennale, Tan took on the role of Director of the Singapore Art Museum in 2009 ( SAM), where he is credited with reinvigorating the institution’s exhibition program with a focus on contemporary Southeast Asian art. Among the shows he has curated are those of groundbreaking Singaporean artists Amanda Heng, Vincent Leow and Lee Wen; it has also organized exhibitions of emerging artists from the region. In 2011, Tan served as director of the Singapore Biennale, a role he would return to in 2013, that year also taking on co-curation duties. He left SAM in 2013 to take up the post of Deputy Director General for Museums and Programs at the National Heritage Board of Singapore, where he founded the Singapore Night Festival. In 2015, he led the Singapore Festival in France, which brought Singapore’s contemporary arts, culture and heritage to French cities such as Lyon, Nantes and Paris, before being appointed Vice President of Arts Programs and director of the Asia Society Museum in New York. There he oversaw the non-profit organization’s exhibition program and museum collection, as well as its annual Arts and Museums Summit. After the launch of the Asia Society Triennial in 2020, he left to return to Singapore and take up the position of Executive Director of Arts House, which sponsors the Singapore International Arts Festival and is in charge of performance venues such as the Arts House and the Victoria. Theater and concert hall.
Tan believed strongly in inclusivity and what he described as a “big tent” approach to art, and in finding a balance between local support and internationalization. “All art comes from a specific place and time and does not exist in a vacuum,” he said. Singapore Academy of Culture in 2021. “All international art visitors or audiences are looking to understand where artwork comes from and they will want to know what the community where the art comes from has to say about it.”