Singapore’s famed art cluster at Gillman Barracks loses one third of its tenants.

The fairly new Gillman Barracks has not yet had time to fill up all of its space, and already is losing some of its most prized local and international tenants. Nevertheless, Singapore’s art scene continues to grow at a staggering pace.

Block 9, Gillman Barracks. © Jacklee/Wikimedia Commons, 2013

Block 9, Gillman Barracks. © Jacklee/Wikimedia Commons, 2013

The ambitious Gillman Barracks opened on 15 September 2012 to optimistic fanfare, having been in development since 2010. It was the result of a SGD10 million (about USD7.3 million) investment from Singaporean governmental agencies like the National Arts Council (NAC) and the Economic Development Board.

Located on the grounds of an old colonial military complex amidst lush greenery, the arts cluster comprises 14 renovated colonial barracks housing 17 international galleries, the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) and three restaurants.

The complex launched with 13 galleries, including international ones such as:

The only local tenant who dove into the new venture at the time was FOST Gallery, although others were also invited.

NTU CCA launched in 2013, while Pearl Lam Galleries and Singapore’s Yavuz Gallery joined the ranks in 2014. Kaikai KikiTakashi Murakami’s venture, did not open although it had announced that it would. Yeo Workshop also launched in 2013, as well as ARNDT from Berlin.

Installation view at Pearl Lam Galleries Singapore. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

Installation view at Pearl Lam Galleries Singapore. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

Low footfall, lack of infrastructure

Recently, the rumours that some of the tenants at the site would depart after their leases expire in May 2015 were confirmed. Four galleries located in Block 47 on Malan Road – Equator Art Projects, Space Cottonseed, Tomio Koyama Gallery and Silverlens – which amount to nearly a third of Gillman Barracks’ presently occupied spaces, have cited poor sales, low traffic and a slow start as reasons for their decision.

Malan Road is the innermost area of Gillman Barracks and perhaps the most affected by the low sales and number of visitors. But even The Drawing Room, located in the more desirable portion of the complex on Lock Road, has declined to renew their lease. Sidd Perez, the gallery’s Curatorial Associate, told Art Asia Pacific that opening a permanent space in Singapore was simply too much for maintaining the gallery’s international operative standards:

Not renewing the lease is primarily a business decision. A three-year programme was ample time to get to know what Singapore can provide.

From Block 47, Future Perfect might also leave its space, but it will not be announced until later this year. Curator David Teh revealed to Art Asia Pacific the impossibility of keeping the location in Malan Road, adding that:

We’d be happy to relocate within Gillman Barracks, but we’ll have to see whether there are suitable spaces.

A lack of infrastructure and the slow, unrelenting construction work that took place well after the launch of the site – failing to deliver – were also cited among the reasons for leaving. In the heat of Singapore, the promised shaded walkways that never materialised and the art programmes that took place during the day also did not help. An anonymous gallerist, quoted by The Art Newspaper, said:

Promises were made by the developers, and they were not met. […] we were operating in a ghost town/construction site for most of the past three years. Audiences would come once, and not return due to lack of basic infrastructure to the development—difficult public access and transportation, no walkways and places to sit, nowhere affordable to eat, or have an iced coffee.

David Teh further told Art Asia Pacific about the necessity to provide a better commercial platform for art from the Southeast Asian region, as local collectors are still risk-averse, while galleries cannot afford the sky-high rents.

Fort Canning Arts Centre façade. © Singapore Pinacothèque de Paris

Fort Canning Arts Centre façade. © Singapore Pinacothèque de Paris

Singapore’s art scene still growing

Although such a great number of galleries will be leaving Gillman Barracks, others will soon be opening and will be announced in May, according to Singapore’s Economic Development Board, who built the site. Meanwhile, Ota Fine Arts, which was originally situated in Block 47, has moved to a better and larger location on Lock Road, and ARNDT is also expanding its space. Kow Ree Na, responsible for the site at the Singapore Economic Development Board, told The Art Newspaper:

We expect some turnover due to business decisions. We value the contribution of our galleries in defining Gillman Barracks as Singapore’s contemporary art enclave, and look forward to continue working together with them in a variety of ways. […] We will be announcing further plans to develop Gillman Barracks in due course.”

Despite the wavering success of the Barracks, Singapore’s art scene is still building up to reinforce its status as a art hub in Southeast Asia. In May 2015, the Singapore Pinacothèque de Paris – the first Asia-Pacific expansion of the Pinacothèque de Paris – will open at Fort Canning Arts Centre (PDF download). In November 2015, the long-awaited National Gallery Singapore will launch, housed in City Hall and the former Supreme Court, focusing on South­east Asian art, includ­ing Singa­porean art from the nineteenth cen­tury to the present day.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia


Related Topics: art spaces, art districts, Singapore art scene, Southeast Asian artists

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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