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If you want to visit Singapore’s best museums, you’ll find one of them at the forefront of the skyline, the ArtScience Museum. The lotus-shaped structure houses three rooms of material that straddles the art and science realms. It is here that an ancient Chinese scroll, Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine and the Kongmin lantern come together. This is also the temporary resting place for international traveling exhibitions, like Salvador Dalí’s surreal Dali: Mind of a Genius’ and the epic Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition.
A rival to this prominent structure is the Maritime Experiential Museum & Aquarium at Sentosa’s waterfront. This newly anchored steel-and-glass hull space houses permanent exhibitions based on the theme of the Maritime Silk Road. A replica of a 9th-century Arab dhow that was a gift from the sultanate of Oman is moored permanently here.
The largest museum on the island keeps the focus local: The National Museum traces the history of Singapore back to its beginnings in the 14th century. Its Living Galleries explore the food, fashion, film, photography and wayang (Javanese shadow theater) components, while the newly opened William Farquhar Collection archives important botanical and zoological discoveries made and commissioned by the first resident and commandant of Singapore when she was still a British colony.
The Asian Civilisations Museum is similar in that it specializes in the material history of China, Southeast Asia, South Asia and West Asia. The interactive touchscreen kiosks and barcode readers help customize your tour through the historic Empress Place Building.
The most comprehensive collection of Peranakan artifacts in the world resides in the Peranakan Museum; 10 galleries explore the various facets of this vibrant Nusantara Chinese-immigrant Nyonya-Baba culture. The importance of the sarong kebaya — the inspiration for the Singapore Airlines flight attendant uniforms — is displayed in the Nonya Gallery. In the Conversations Gallery, a myriad of the culture’s clothing, food, jewelry and artifacts are laid out.
Unlike the rest, the Singapore Art Museum has never held blockbuster shows. Because of its small, unusual and hidden gallery spaces, it specializes in smaller exhibitions, mostly 20th-century Asian visual art. It often draws from its own collection of Southeast Asian pioneer art.