If you know Singapore, you will know two fundamental and irrefutable facts: people here love shopping, and they love eating. Bring these two national pastimes together in a novel and uniquely creative way is Gallery & Co, the gallery shop and café in the beautifully restored, recently opened and greatly esteemed National Gallery. Nothing housed in this monumental building from the rotation of international exhibitions, to the numerous lauded restaurants, does things by halves, and the same applies to Gallery & Co. Mixing museum related paraphernalia (the expected exhibition catalogues, post cards and tote bags) with international, regional and local design brands, craft partners and artist collaborations, Gallery & Co combines the high and the low, art and design, old and new, tradition and technology into one contemporary package that makes perusing the shop floor a delight for the eye an inspiration for the mind.
When one learns that Gallery & Co is the brainchild of friends Loh Lik Peng (Unlisted Collection), Yah-Leng Yu and Arthur Chin (Foreign Policy Design), and Alwyn Chong (Luxasia) – each already highly esteemed in their respective fields for their unique vision and attention to detail - the breadth, detail and quirky execution of the multifaceted project snaps into focus. You can see their stamp not only in the products, but also in the very design of the space, which hinges on mismatched abstract plinths which can (and are) be moved and reshaped every few weeks to reinvigorate the space layout.
Their vision is no small thing, and the result is far more akin to a concept store than your standard museum shop. As you walk around you quickly realise that each object, whether it be a book, a bowl or a pencil, is there for a considered reason and each object carries with it a story that relays why it is there in front of you.
Underlying everything in the space is the mission to give visibly and a voice to those who are dedicated to keeping alive traditional crafts within the contemporary context, as well as those individuals and brands who are uncompromising in their attention to that quality, material and design of their products. A second driving concern is maintaining a balance between its role as museum shop and so its commitment to internal engagement with the museum and its visitors itself, and a desire to activate an expanded audience through external collaborations, workshops and happenings so that both the art community as well as the greater cultural community find a space of interaction and growth in Gallery & Co.
It is at the nexus of these concerns that Gallery & Co comes to life, through a number of different channels: Museum products, which include not only postcards and catalogues, but also beautifully crafted soaps as and candles that have been produced in inspiration of ink paintings on long-term view in the galleries, their packaging with dashes and darts of ink taken from the works; Brand partners such as socially conscious Singaporean based Matter Prints who create clothing and material from artisan printed and loomed fabrics, Hay the Danish design company who work with designers to create straightforward, functional and aesthetic furniture and design and hand made, traditional craft focused Indonesian leather goods by Pu Bu Me Su – including my personal favorite the banana Pisang Fan!; Children’s products from toys to book, games and clothes; Collaborations commissioned by Gallery & Co such as the stationary by Foreign Policy Design that uses abstract imagery that is actually inspired by various architectural elements in the greater museum, along side a number of artist commissions specifically created in response to the shop, space and location; Books related to art, design and culture specially curated for the shop; Workshops subtly related to events in the yearly calendar such as the beautiful plant canopy that hung down from the ceiling during the Christmas period and the make-you-own bouquet on Valentines day; And Café that makes delicious fare for the weary museum goer and shopper in a space extended from the shop that maintains a clear design focus on unexpected but lovely material combinations of tile, concrete and wood. The café is getting increasingly involved in subtly reflecting the international exhibitions at the museums – and so one should expect something rather spotty to appear on your place in July…
There are so many objects that I could speak about – but so as to provide you with an educated filter, I asked the retail manager of Gallery & Co to select his top 5 from the current space for the Museeum readers. And here they are:
Ashley & Co body products It is a real treat to find this fabulous New Zealand brand at Gallery & Co. Describing itself as a ‘modern day sent company’ that make body products in 7 signature scents, Ashley & Co started as a husband and wife team 10 years ago and is dedicated to the quality of its ingredients and the memorability of its delicious smells. Produced 100% in New Zealand so that the production can be closely monitored, Ashley & Co currently is only sold across New Zealand and in Singapore. For me the Blossom & Gilt was too good to be true and I would happily bathe, and slather myself in it forever more! If you would like to be invited to a friend’s house for eternity, I would arm yourselves next visit with some Ashley & Co products (and sneak a few for your home too).
Amado Gudek Jewelry Up next we have local grown talent, jewelry designer Amando Gudek who hand makes each unique handcrafted pieces out of stones and well as eco-friendly bioresins that she uses to combine with and encapsulate natural elements from petals and wood to tea, gold, stone and fabric.
The Artist Project For this project, Gallery & Co reached out to a number of local and international artists and asked them to tell the story of Singapore through usable and wearable forms of art. The artist were prompted to respond specifically to the question “Siapa Nama Kamu?” or “What is your name?” in Malay – the title of the inaugural exhibition at the DBS Singapore Gallery. The response to this call was so overwhelming that the project had to be expanded into a three part series so that the works and collaborations could each be given enough time and space to breath their myriad of answers. Currently the third and final edition is displayed along one wall in the space, with objects from the earlier editions scattered around the rest of the shop.
Menu teapot This is a simple and immedialy pleasing. Here east meets West in this highly covetable tea pot – it is one of those objects that you see and instantly decide that you must drink more tea, not only for your health and wellbeing, but also so you can bring this little guy into your home life! As with all Scandinavian designs, the economy of design and practicality of function meet gracefully in form.
Barefoot Toys Not forgetting the kids, these adorable little toys made the top list cut. There is a lot more than meets the eye here - these toys are made in Sir Lanka, each completely produced by a single crafts woman from the natural dying of the material to the final stitching of the eyes. Barefoot is known for its support and collaboration with local craftsmen who work in their own villages and workshops rather than having to move to the city and work in factories.
Marou – Vietnamese chocolate Last but by no means least (and in fact, after learning about this product, it has become one of my favorite in the shop) are the beautiful and delicious slabs of Marou chocolate that pack a cultural punch. Marou, a tiny artistnal Vietnamese cholcolate company, has won numerous awards for its rare and exceptional taste that is completely overseen from farm to bar. Beyond the deep and complex taste of this chocolate, the packaging of the bars is literally a work of art in and of themselves. In a nod to a 500 year old tradition that celebrates the beauty of nature, each cholocate wrapper has been hand block printed with natural dyes by local artisans. For the exclusive collaboration with Gallery & Co, Marou took inspriation from architectural elements of the National Gallery, from its tiles to its showcase entrance canopy, for the patterns on the wappers.
The long and the short of it is, there is so much to see and learn and do in Gallery & Co! Fluid in concept and always changing in design and product, it is a retail descovery zone that allows the buyer to feel connected to the objects so that once you buy something you almost feel like you have become their guardian. It is a wonderful counter to the fast and incosidered buying we are all guilty of at times and what is better than to leave having learnt somehing, no matter how small? Get on over there.