National Gallery Singapore Presents Cheong Soo Pieng: Layer by Layer Exhibition


Experience art in a whole new light and reacquaint yourself with a prominent Singaporean artist as the National Gallery presents Cheong Soo Pieng’s Layer by Layer exhibition.

National Gallery Singapore presents Cheong Soo Pieng Layer by Layer.

Discover the captivating narratives contained within the artworks of renowned Singaporean artist Cheong Soo Pieng in the upcoming exhibition Cheong Soo Pieng: Layer by Layer at the National Gallery Singapore. The first exhibition of its kind in Southeast Asia, this free exhibition opens on April 5th and uses cutting-edge material analysis techniques—including x-ray scans and infrared photography—to shed new light on Cheong’s creative methods and groundbreaking material choices. An interactive installation, Layer by Layer explains Cheong’s process to viewers of all ages. Through exploration, discovery, and play, guests will have a better grasp of Cheong’s groundbreaking method at a number of interactive stations that bring the science of analysing paintings to life.

Rediscover Pieng’s Art Layer by Layer

Cheong Soo Pieng: Layer by Layer is the inaugural instalment of the Singapore Artist series. The other three solo exhibitions in the series will feature works by Singaporean artists Teo Eng Seng, Kim Lim, and Lim Tze Peng. They lay the groundwork for the Gallery to continue its tradition of supporting Singaporean artists, attract new audiences, and increase understanding and appreciation of our rich cultural legacy and artistic traditions.

Cheong Soo Pieng. Balinese Selling Toddy. 1954. Gouache and ink on Chinese paper, marouflaged on paper, 46 × 37.5 cm. Gift of the Loke Wan Tho Collection. Collection of National Gallery Singapore.

Layer by Layer showcases more than 30 paintings created by Cheong spanning the years 1950–1980. Part one asks: “What makes a painting?” while Part two poses the question: “When is a painting complete?” and Part three seeks to question “What is painting?”

All three go into essential concerns regarding the creative process. Dr. Diana Tay, a conservator and founder of BARC Labs, contributed her knowledge of material analysis and worked with conservators from the Heritage Conservation Centre to undertake the analyses shown in this one-of-a-kind exhibition. Teo Hui Min, the exhibition curator, cooperated with Tay on this project. The group also collaborated with radiographers from Singapore General Hospital, who made available the facility’s X-ray scanning equipment to examine the artworks that were chosen.

Cheong Soo Pieng. Life in Longhouse. 1978. Oil on canvas, 93 × 122 × 3 cm. Collection of National Gallery Singapore.

According to Dr. Patrick Flores, Deputy Director at the National Gallery Singapore, Cheong Soo Pieng: Layer by Layer integrates the scientific method with the arts and storytelling to reveal the hidden meanings in the artworks and provide a more thorough examination of the creative process of a prominent artist from Singapore.

An Interactive Art Exhibition

Visitors of all ages will be captivated by the interactive exhibits. Activities range from hands-on experiences with the various materials used by Cheong to microscope stations where guests may examine canvases made of cotton and linen side by side and learn about the evolution of Cheong’s style and the materials he preferred.

Installation view, Cheong Soo Pieng: Layer by Layer, National Gallery Singapore, 2024.

The Gallery has created a game that visitors can play either in-person or online. It combines the exhibition’s two main goals of learning through discovery and play by allowing visitors to examine Cheong’s painting techniques through the process of matching tiny samples of the paintings in the exhibition with cross-sections, which show the layered structure of the paintings. The unique wallpapers that visitors can download highlight the artistic side of scientific study and help them retain more of what they learn.

Cheong Soo Pieng, Artist, and Innovator

A master of many crafts, Cheong Soo Pieng’s work is defined by an indefatigable drive for originality and progress. Cheong ceaselessly worked in painting, sculpture, batik, and printmaking, reworking, and translating beloved motifs throughout mediums. He had numerous exhibitions throughout his life. Cheong integrated various types of liquid ink into his iconic painting on silk, Drying Salted Fish (1978), which is featured on the back of Singapore’s 50-dollar banknote. This demonstrates the inherent dynamism in Cheong’s practice, even in seemingly conventional paintings like this one.

Cheong Soo Pieng painting in his studio at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, c. 1950. Digitised by National Gallery Singapore Library & Archive with kind permission from Cheong Leng Guat.

Cheong Soo Pieng: Layer by Layer runs from 5 April to 29 September 2024 at the Ngee Ann Kongsi Concourse Gallery, National Gallery Singapore. More information can be found in the following annex, or you may visit


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Marky is a travel writer and photographer. He narrates his experiences wandering the tropical paradise of the Philippines, South East Asia, Sri Lanka and India on his travel blog Nomadic Experiences.

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