Gallerists and artists are optimistic that Singapore’s Gillman Barracks will have a positive impact on the contemporary art scene in Asia.
Gillman Barracks, which officially opened on 14 September 2012, is Singapore’s newest contemporary art district, with fifteen international contemporary art galleries, two not-for-profit contemporary art centres and three eateries. Art Radar was in attendance on opening night.
Lay of the land at Gillman Barracks
Thirteen galleries at Gillman Barracks opened their doors to invited guests on the night of 14 September 2012.
- Equator Art Projects
- FOST Gallery
- Future Perfect
- Michael Janssen Gallery
- Mizuma Gallery
- Ota Fine Arts
- Partners & Mucciaccia
- ShanghART Gallery
- Space Cottonseed
- Sundaram Tagore Gallery Singapore
- The Drawing Room
- Tomio Koyama Gallery
Two more galleries, Kaikai Kiki Gallery and Pearl Lam Gallery, will open in 2013 and the Yellow River Arts Centre, one of two not-for-profit spaces at Gillman Barracks, opened its Singapore base with the majority of the galleries in September 2012. The Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) will open in 2013.
Galleries are spread out over two winding roads: Malan and Lock, and are housed in single to three-story buildings that were previously colonial barracks. The Gillman Barracks project was developed by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), JTC Corporation (JTC) and the National Arts Council (NAC). Helming the project is Eugene Tan, the Programme Director at EDB, who joined EDB in 2010 to oversee the development of Gillman Barracks.
Single local gallery shows local artists
The only local gallery at Gillman Barracks, FOST Gallery snagged a prime spot at the entrance of Gillman Barracks. Gallery manager, Clarissa Cortes, shared with Art Radar that in setting up the gallery’s inaugural show, titled “UNTITLED (SINGAPURA #90)” at its new space, gallery owner and director Stephanie Fong was keenly aware of FOST Gallery’s local identity in a sea of international galleries.
For the first show, Stephanie chose specifically Singaporean artists, because we are the only local gallery, and the rest are international, and they will probably bring in Singapore artists later, but we want to represent our artists, at least for the first show.
When asked about possible collaborations between FOST Gallery and other galleries in Gillman Barracks, Cortes says that while collaborations are not possible all the time since each gallery would understandably have its own agenda, it would be good in the future to have a themed duet exhibition with another gallery.
Academia, commercial interests go hand in hand
Located around the bend from FOST Gallery is Sundaram Tagore Gallery Singapore‘s fourth stop; gallerist Tagore already has locations in New York, Beverly Hills and Hong Kong.
At 400 square metres, the gallery is the largest at Gillman Barracks. Tagore comments that the space is perfect for the nature of the works the gallery exhibits.
Obviously, it costs more to have a bigger space… I look at it, and think of the shows that I’m envisioning, and we show really large, large works. We are known in New York for showing the biggest works, and so this is a good space for us.
Tagore also discusses Tan’s rationale for building a Centre for Contemporary Arts at Gillman Barracks, and comments that academia and commercial undertakings in the art world go hand in hand.
What Eugene was saying… that there isn’t a conflict between the world of academics and the commercial… and the term he used was dialectic. Instead of conflict, you rise up and create a synthesis, and we are totally interdependent. And if you happen to be a socially conscious enterprise, you’re automatically going to think about the educational side of things; … we feed off each other, and they need the value to increase in the commercial side of it, because that gives a standing in the market place. We kind of dance a tango together.
Value of choice
Directly across the road from Sundaram Tagore Gallery is Partners & Mucciaccia from Italy. The star pieces on opening night were Pablo Picasso’s The Artist and his Model, an oil on canvas from 1964, and Lucio Fontana’s Spatial Concept, Waiting, a water-based paint on canvas work from 1968.
On the economic savvy of having a cluster of galleries selling different genres of art, Massimiliano Mucciaccia, director at Partners & Mucciaccia gallery, draws an analogy with the food industry.
It’s good for everyone. Because you come here and you can walk across and see other galleries. We can’t force anyone to come buy a Picasso. … You like it or you don’t. You can have a beautiful Japanese restaurant, but maybe tonight you want to have Italian food. When you are ready, there has to be the Italian restaurant. … Otherwise, you’re ready and there’s nothing. If you want to choose and there’s no choice, what do you do?
Yellow River Arts Centre’s Southeast Asia outpost
The Yellow River Arts Centre’s (YRAC) Singapore base is the only non-commercial space at Gillman Barracks, aside from the Centre for Contemporary Arts, which is due to open in 2013. The YRAC’s China location is currently under construction, and is just one of several private art museums being developed in Asia in recent years.
Xue Li Qing, the curator at YRAC says that the centre is determined to participate fully in the goings-on at Gillman Barracks and more broadly in the Singapore art scene.
We look forward to collaborating with the Centre for Contemporary Art as well as the galleries, the latter in public programmes and even exhibition programmes, provided that such efforts are curatorial and not commercially driven… As the international office of the Yellow River Art Centre, the Singapore base will focus on developing the museological framework and curatorial content of the Centre. By being in Singapore, we will also participate in the local discourse and learn Singapore’s development in these areas.
With regard to the atmosphere of skepticism that shrouds the government’s involvement in this art project, Xue views local art community criticism as a good sign for Gillman Barracks.
It is the nature of art discourse that one should maintain criticality. I think the concern shown by the art community is positive.
Artists flown in by representing galleries
At ShanghART Gallery, Art Radar spoke briefly to Chinese artist Zhang Enli to get his take on the Gillman Barracks development. The artist notes that this is his second visit to Singapore, but the first time his works have been exhibited in the country.
Zhang finds Gillman Barracks alternative in its concept: the government re-appropriating old colonial houses in a former army barracks into art spaces. He says that this is unlike the situation in China, where art spaces have been springing up organically in old factory complexes. As for the suitability of Gillman Barracks for the display of art works, he conveys that he is pleased to see his works exhibited in such an unexpected and unusual venue.
Proliferation of Asian contemporary art in Singapore
At the end of Lock Road is Mizuma Gallery. For its début show at Gillman Barracks, Mizuma Gallery has curated a solo exhibition, titled “Crossing Gazes”, of work by Korean artist Hyung Koo Kang.
Hyung says that as a participating artist, he is very heartened at the turnout, not just at Mizuma Gallery but across the Barracks, and he believes that the art district will be instrumental in the development of the fine art industry in Singapore.
Hyung is no stranger to Singapore. The artist’s works were exhibited at the Singapore Art Museum in 2011 and early in 2012, Hyung’s works were brought to Art Stage Singapore.
Gallery manager Antoine Perrin is optimistic about the co-existence of the Centre for Contemporary Arts and the commercial galleries at Gillman Barracks.
I think galleries will be happy to have this kind of centre just next door, to be able to invite artists and present them to the contemporary art centre… And if we can have residencies and establish partnerships … there’s going to be a good synergy between the commercial side and the academic side…. It can only be a plus for us.
Perrin also shares Mizuma Gallery’s plans to use its space at Gillman Barracks as a gateway to meeting and eventually representing artists in Singapore and in Southeast Asia.
Maybe not always Singapore artists but also Indonesian, Malaysian, Vietnamese… We are looking at the region in general, and will use Singapore as the hub for Southeast Asian artists. Of course, we will represent Japanese artists too, being a Japanese gallery.
Efforts for a cohesive Gillman Barracks
Concurrent with the individual shows at the galleries is an exhibition curated by Eugene Tan, titled “Gillman Barracks: Encounter, Experience and Environment“. The works in this exhibition, placed in the various spaces at Gillman Barracks that have yet to be claimed, have been created by Singapore artists – Heman Chong, Genevieve Chua, Jane Lee, Donna Ong, Ana Prvacki, Erika Tan, Vertical Submarine and Ming Wong – and international artists – Indieguerillas and Filippo Sciascia from Indonesia, Yayoi Kusama and Kishio Suga from Japan, Jang Min-Seung and Jung Jaeil from Korea, Gary-Ross Pastrana from the Philippines, Yu Ji from China and Joris Van de Moortel from Belgium. Tan curated the Singapore platform at Art Stage Singapore earlier this year.
Gillman Barracks was abuzz on opening night, and the local and regional art communities were out in full force. Art Radar talked to a few of the guests, and the feedback was generally positive: the Barracks had become an instant must-visit destination on the Singapore art map.
A contemporary art collector from Indonesia who prefers not to be named likens Gillman Barracks to Dubai’s Al Quoz area where art galleries congregate. He believes that it is always good to have galleries gathered in one place because if one gallery holds an exhibition opening, visitors are likely to pop into surrounding spaces, too. That said, he believes Singapore still has a long way to go to before it is seen as the go-to destination for art collectors.
Singapore, with Art Stage and Gillman Barracks, will be a new destination for contemporary art in Asia, but it will not take the position of Hong Kong or Shanghai. There is still a lot [that needs to be done] to develop Singapore as the top position to visit for art.
Discourse for the opening weekend
In addition to a broadsheet entitled “ARTICLE: The Singapore Art Review 2012”, which was distributed to guests on opening night, talks were held throughout the opening weekend. Artist lectures were given by Australian Christian Thompson, Malaysian Sulaiman Esa and Chinese Zhang Enli with international art critic and curator Hou Hanru. There was also a group talk by Indonesian artists Arahmaiani, Indieguerillas and Filippo Sciascia. Tagore gave a special gallery talk titled “Sharing on the ‘Big Picture'” and a curator’s panel discussion in two parts was held as well. The first was “New Ecologies of Art”, with speakers David Elliott, Kwok Kian Chow and Charles Merewether, moderated by Eugene Tan. The second was “Art Histories in Asia”, with speakers Patrick Flores, Hou Hanru, Wee Wan Ling, moderated by Michael Walsh.
Share your thoughts on Gillman Barracks with us!
On opening night, Art Radar managed to visit only some of the galleries in the vast Gillman Barracks, so we want to know what you think of this newest art district in Singapore. Were you there on opening night? Did you attend the talks by artists and curators on the opening weekend? If you have not visited Gillman Barracks yet, would you? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.
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