At first glimpse it seems a fairly ordinary still life table arrangement. A plate of peaches on a table; a couple of the riper fruits placed on the table cloth, as if someone had casually picked them from the rest, but was called away before they could be eaten. It could be a painting full of delicious possibilities, yet there is something terribly heavy about Paul Cezanne's Still Life: Plate Of Peaches. The dark blue plate is illogically tilted forward, giving a sense that the curiously flattened fruits might tumble to the ground. And there is no table leg to the left, forcing the shroud-like cloth to hold up the two peaches on its own, impossibly. This apparently 'still' world lacks stability. It is about to fall in on itself, and something is going to get hurt. The work was painted in 1879, the third consecutive year Cezanne was turned down by the Paris Salon. It shows an important step in his move towards geometric forms. It also marks a significant time in the history of art when, already destabilised by impressionism, the Western art world was about to be toppled and bruised by abstractionism. And it is also the earliest work in a major touring exhibition of 58 modern paintings and sculptures from the Guggenheim Museum in New York, which opened at the new Singapore Art Museum (SAM) earlier this month. Until now the only chance Singaporeans have had to see so many paintings by important modern artists was when they left the country. 'There has been nothing like this here or in Southeast Asia before,' affirmed SAM director Kwok Kian Chow. The Cezanne, as well as a small Van Gogh oil of a snowy winter landscape inspired by Japanese art styles, is from the Justin K Thannhauser collection. 'They were bequeathed to the Guggenheim on condition that they did not leave New York; so we had a lot of negotiations to get these works to Singapore,' explained assistant curator, Tay Swee Lin. 'But we really wanted these two paintings, because we wanted to show how it all started; it is a major coup for us,' she said. It is, unfortunately, not a major coup for the Hong Kong Museum of Art. The territory will not enjoy a show like this in the foreseeable future; after Singapore these works are touring to New Zealand's new Dunedin Public Art Gallery, then to the new Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. And in 1998 they bypass Hong Kong once again as they complete their Asian triangle at Taiwan's National Museum of History, which will also be hosting an important Impressionist show from the Musee D'Orsay this January. That the handover probably gives Hong Kong more than enough to keep it busy next year, is the ostensible reason given by both Taiwan and Singapore museum staff that Tsim Sha Tsui will not be hosting either of these important travelling exhibitions. The official story from the Urban Council, which runs the Hong Kong Museum of Art, is that 'we had not been approached; we don't know about this'. It is at best disappointing that, with so few big art museums in the Asia Pacific region, our curators should not seem to have heard about what is happening just next door. The price tag - confidential, but certainly several million US dollars - of borrowing, transporting, insuring, and keeping such a valuable collection in the kind of low humidity it is accustomed to, could be the reason for the lack of interest. In Singapore, the art museum staff have had to be energetic and creative to raise corporate sponsorship for the show. The effort is worth it. The Guggenheim exhibition makes a languorous stretch in time from 1879 through to a bright 1965 oil painting by Corneille, called Spell Of The Island. Geographically, the show stretches from Russia (Vasily Kandinsky) to South America, with works by Chilean scientific-surreal artist Matta as well as Guatemala-born Alfred Jensen. Jensen's Uaxactun is one of the few covered by glass, because touching it is almost irresistible. Within a larger square he has painted 64 small chessboards; each 'square' is a conical daub of such thick oil paint that it stands out several centimetres from the canvas. The effect is of a beautiful piece of patchwork, which, although Central American in inspiration, appeals particularly in Southeast Asia, where textiles are a vital part of cultural life. When planning the show all the curators wanted to put together a collection that would not only 'show good things from' the West, but also would show the influence of Asian art forms on Western art development. 'You can see a lot of Asia there already,' said Tay, pointing to how some of the abstractions are reminiscent of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy or simple sculptural forms. The other interesting thread in this show is the development of individual artists. One of the headliners for the show is a fiddler on the roof by Marc Chagall, painted in 1923 when he had returned to Paris after eight important years in Russia. He was already homesick for the villages he remembered from childhood, where the violinist was the main artist in the area. It is a very recognisable example of a Chagall painting: as a central character performs, life goes on around, and angels fly around soft pillows of clouds. Yet there is another piece, a portrait of his sister Aniuta, painted in 1910, where the sad-looking sitter is wearing a fluffy red sweater, and there is nothing of the celebratory fantasy Chagall is now famous for. There are two Kandinskys in this collection: one is a cubistic but recognisably figurative painting of a rainy day in a village. By the time he painted Blue Circle in 1922, he was working on compositional theories that would reduce his paintings to symbols and colours. Similarly Spanish artist Joan Miro, painting The Tilled Field in 1923, produced something that was cartoon-like, with recognisable cats in buckets and houses and horses. By July 1939, when he created The Flight Of The Bird Over The Plain III, he had more important preoccupations than figurative ones, and this is a much more 'typical' Miro. Kwok explained that the museum wanted to show how styles in art had developed, not just to showcase the 'best' of any particular artist or style, as if they had appeared from nowhere. 'We want this to be a chance to learn, as well as to look.' Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Museum. Singapore Art Museum. 71 Bras Basah Road. S$10. Until February 10, 1997.