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  • Vivian Teo

The beginner’s guide to the Children’s Biennale at National Gallery Singapore

Updated: Dec 26, 2020

The Children’s Biennale at the National Gallery Singapore exhibits eleven interactive art installations that will stir up your children's creativity and imagination.

Opening on 25 May 2019 and running till 29 December [though two installations are only till 15 September], we were engaged for quite a few hours by the eleven fun and interactive art installations at the Children’s Biennale at the National Gallery Singapore, which by the way, is free for Singaporeans. Hurray!

If like us, you’re quite suaku and it’s your first time with the kids to the #Childrensbiennale or the National Gallery Singapore [the Children’s Biennale is into its second edition this year btw], you’re going to want to read our beginner’s guide for the best way to navigate the exhibition and save yourself some time on unnecessary detours and queues - all very important with young children in tow!

1) Plan for at least a few hours at the exhibition

First and foremost, plan for at least a few hours at the exhibition. The Children’s Biennale's guide suggests three hours for the full experience, which was also around the amount of time we spent there, but mind you, we missed a few of the exhibitions due to the long queues on opening day [It’s free for locals, expect nothing less!]. If we didn't miss these, it could be be another hour or two more for us.

2) Know the opening hours

The exhibition is open as per the National Gallery Singapore's opening hours of 10am-7pm during Saturday-Thursday, and 10am-9pm on Fridays. During the opening weekends, which includes 1-2 June, the Children’s Biennale website states hours of 12-5pm - this is for festival activities during the opening weekends. You can still visit earlier at 10am for the exhibition.

3) Know the National Art Gallery's layout

The National Art Gallery is made up of two wings – the City Hall Wing and the Supreme Court Wing. The exhibitions at Children’s Biennale is spread across these two wings and over three levels - Basement 1, Level 1 and Level 3.

The National Gallery Singapore has a number of entrances, the main ones being the Supreme Court Lane entrance and the Padang Atrium Entrance. You can also enter from the side entrances, one at Coleman Street and another at Parliament Place via Courtyard Café.

You must be thinking if the installations are across both wings, can’t I just wonder around to view the exhibitions at random? Ah, that was what we were thinking too but we'd strongly suggest you get the tickets upon arrival regardless of the entrance you came in by. You'll see why.

4) Get your tickets at the B1 Ticketing Counter at City Hall Wing

Wait, didn’t I say it’s free for Singaporeans? Yes it is, but you’ll need to show [your free] physical tickets at some installations. So you’ll still need to join the ticketing queue at B1 at the City Hall Wing.

General admission is free for Singaporeans, PRs, locally-based students and teachers, all children six and below, and persons with disabilities with one caregiver. For non-Singaporeans, a standard ticket costs $20, with concessions for children aged 7–12 years old, and overseas students and teachers.

5) Bring proof you’re Singaporeans

Singaporeans will need to show their NRIC at the ticketing counter for free admission. Entrance is free for children below seven but those older will need to show IDs like their student passes.

We didn’t bring Big E and Little E’s student passes, thinking that like other attractions we’ve been to in Singapore that had Singaporean entrance fees, we’ll just need to show both parents’ NRIC. But the ticketing staff did ask for our children’s student passes to show that they are Singaporeans, of which we said we didn’t bring them and the staff let it pass, but told us to remember to bring them the next time. So just be kiasu and bring your kids’ student passes!

6) Expect queues to enter some exhibitions

Though we were there on opening day on a Saturday, the crowds were visibly thinner during early afternoon compared to late afternoon.

There are a few popular exhibitions – at least four [see below] which we saw - that you may have to queue, depending on when you’re there. These four are located on B1 so right after getting your tickets, you’ll be able to see which has a shorter queue and go for it first.

Some of these installations didn’t have queues during early afternoons. So if you have a choice, we’d recommend going during mornings or early afternoons as some of the queues had at least 20-30 people during late afternoon.

Chance Operations

The artwork is made up of colourful steel pipes where children can have a lot of fun throwing soft balls to make music out of them. This is located opposite the ticketing counter in the City Hall Wing.

Chance Operations

Big Hug

An interactive village with over 30 different activities across four different rooms including a magnetic puzzle wall, telescopes and colour wheels. This is located diagonally opposite the ticketing counter in the City Hall Wing and on display only till 15 September 2019.

Big Hug. Photo: National Art Gallery

Kenangan Kunang-Kunang (Memories of Fireflies)

The traditional Javanese lanterns will captivate your children with their shadows, colours and patterns. This is located at the Supreme Court Wing and on display only till 15 September 2019.

Kenangan Kunang-Kunang (Memories of Fireflies)

Stardust: Soaring through the Sky’s Embrace

Walk across a platform and look into an awe-inspiring optical illusion of mirrors. Warning: You might go a little weak in the knees! This is located at the Supreme Court Wing opposite Kenangan Kunang-Kunang.

Stardust: Soaring through the Sky’s Embrace

This was Big E, eight, and Little E’s, six, favourite installation. It was a bit scary for them at first as the mirrors created an illusion of infinite depth, but soon they got used to it and went onto the platform at least ten times! As it doesn’t take long to walk across the platform, the queue moved pretty fast for this.

Stardust: Soaring through the Sky’s Embrace

7) After you’re done with B1, head up to L1 for five other exhibitions

Level 1 consisted of five other artworks including Every World, five dome-shaped stations for children to view fantastical landscapes made of paper cutouts...

Every World

...Tightly Hugging Care, Love and Peace, an intricate mural featuring corals, leaves and vines...

Tightly Hugging Care, Love and Peace

...The Oort Cloud and the Blue Mountain, an interactive artwork that triggers sounds and flashing lights...

The Oort Cloud and the Blue Mountain

...Dayung Sampan, where children can explore giant objects inspired by Malay proverbs, riddles and folklore....

Dayung Sampan. Photo: National Art Gallery

...Play by the River, an immersive play area with traditional games, a family of ducks in and a boat...

Play by the River. Photo: National Art Gallery

...and The Story of Karang Guni Boy, an installation that brings to life the story of The Karung Guni Boy written by local author Lorraine Tan and illustrated by Eric Wang.

The Karang Guni Boy

Among these artwork on Level 1, Big E and Little E enjoyed The Karang Guni Boy the most for its giant books, and displays made of recycled cardboard.

The Karang Guni Boy

Here, you can also make and design paper robots to take home.

The Karang Guni Boy

8) After you're done with L1, head up to L3 for one more installation

When you’re done with the first two levels, head on to Level 3 for the last exhibition, The Other Wall, which consists of two charming Burmese-inspired gold houses...

The Other Wall

...where children can print and colour on Burmese story woodcuts, and spell their names in Burmese characters and stamp them on their drawings.

Bonus tips for your trip:

- The exhibition is suitable for children from pre-schoolers to primary school-going kids. Many of the the children we saw there were of this age range. Adults would find it interesting as well.

- If you like to be fully prepared, you can download a family guide for the Children’s Biennale at the National Gallery Singapore's website, which details the artworks and provide useful advice e.g. whether the installation produces loud noises, is in a closed space or it is wheelchair-friendly. It also tells you how to make the most of your visit to the artwork like how you can engage your child at the installation. A simpler guide is also available at the ticketing counter and there are instructions on how to interact with the installations at the individual artworks too.

- There are other fringe activities going on during the Children’s Biennale like opening festivities, September holiday specials, children films and closing weekend activities. See the National Gallery Singapore Children’s Biennale website for detailed listings.

- If you’re there on 1-2 June during its opening weekend, there'd be opening activities going on, like the Afternoon Croons by the Jukuleles at the Padang Atrium. During this time, the Padang Atrium on B1 will be closed, which means you can't walk across from the City Hall Wing to the Supreme Court Wing or vice versa on the B1 level. If you’re trying to access the artwork on the other wing on B1, you’ll need to head up to Level 1 first, walk across to the other wing, then take a lift down to the other wing on B1.

Which was your favourite artwork at the Children’s Biennale?

Find the National Gallery Singapore at 1 St Andrew’s Road #01-01 S(178957) or contact its visitor services helpdesk at +65 6271 7000.

Disclaimer: My opinions and reviews here are strictly my and my family’s own.

©Vivian Teo. All content and photos are copyrighted to Vivian Teo unless otherwise specified.


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