Life too still at Singapore's $10m art hub

Several tenants at the Lion City's Gillman Barracks art hub are planning to pull up stakes, citing low sales and a dearth of international collectors and local buyers.

Singapore’s premier arts cluster at Gillman Barracks was launched in September 2012. After witnessing the continuing success of local and international galleries, art fairs, and auctions in Hong Kong, the government swung into action with a $10 million revamping of the former British army site built in 1936.

However, after less than three years, all may not be well with the government’s attempt to create a vibrant art market in the Lion City.

From the original group of 17 galleries that rented space in the refurbished colonial barracks, five – including The Drawing Room, Equator Art Projects, Space Cottonseed, Timio Koyama, and Silverlens – have already indicated that they will not be renewing their leases. They cite low sales figures, an awkward location, and difficult parking. Not only have there been fewer-than-expected local buyers but international collectors have also been thin on the ground, the dealers said.

The art audience in Singapore is young, according to international gallery owner Sundaram Tagore, and collectors need quite a bit of handholding before buying. “They appreciate being taken to dinner and given private showings of exhibitions before considering any purchase.”

The Singapore Economic Development Board, which helped develop Gillman Barracks, remains upbeat. “The vision for Gillman Barracks is to be Asia’s destination for contemporary art,” Kow Ree Na, an EDB director, said. “Anecdotally, we have heard from our tenants that buyers come from countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. The buyers from Singapore are a healthy mix of expatriates and locals.”

Among the galleries currently renting out space at the barracks are Arndt and Michael Janssen of Germany, Mizuma Gallery and Ota Fine Arts of Japan, Partners & Mucciaccia of Italy, as well as Sundaram Tagore and local and regional players such as Pearl Lam Galleries, FOST, Future Perfect, ShanghART, and Yavuz.

“We have just renewed our tenancy and are excited at the enclave’s next phase of growth,” said Stephanie Fong, Founder and Director of Singapore’s FOST Gallery.

Recent FOST exhibitions include Jimmy Ong’s {The History of Java}, which consists of four epic drawings (3 x 1.3 metres) of imagined historical scenes of the 1812 British invasion of Jogjakarta. The art’s inspiration is Sir Stamford Raffles’s book of the same name.

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