Five galleries are closing at Gillman Barracks in Singapore, a contemporary art cluster that houses 17 commercial spaces in a series of conserved colonial barracks dating from 1936.
Set on a sloped site surrounded by tropical greenery, the barracks houses a number of international names such as Arndt, Pearl Lam Galleries, Ota Fine Arts, ShangART, and Sundaram Tagore, as well as the non-profit Centre for Contemporary Art. A government-backed initiative, SG$10m ($7.3m) was spent renovating it, and the loss of the galleries is a blow to Singapore’s ambitions to be a significant art hub in the region.
The Drawing Room, Equator Art Projects, Space Cottonseed, Tomio Koyama Gallery and Silverlens will not renew their leases in May, according to The Straits Times
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one gallery owner said: “Promises were made by the developers, and they were not met. We ran a full gallery programme to the best of our ability and mutual interest. However, 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.” He believes “the same feeling goes for the rest of the galleries [that are closing].” Other gallerists complained of lack of support and a refusal to understand their problems.
Kow Ree Na, who is responsible for the site at the Singapore Economic Development Board, would not confirm the number of galleries leaving in May, but, she said: “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 are also optimistic about upcoming new developments in the belt; such as a non-profit art space, F&B outlets and the introduction of creative business. We will be announcing further plans to develop Gillman Barracks in due course.”
“There is much potential for Gillman as we all know, and the Art Gallery Association of Singapore is working to ensure the diversity of galleries and a certain standard for Singapore and the region,” said Emi Eu, vice-president of the Association. “When all the galleries in Gillman are on board—at the moment there are only four—I am certain this unity will be both felt and seen by the arts community.”