Gillman Barracks is another top down approach to boost the art, but is that a bad thing?

Singapore has long harbored hope of positioning itself as a contemporary art hub in Asia. With three Biennales, the opening of the Freeport and Art Stage, it has made some headways in that direction. Come May, the govermnet is hoping to add one more piece to the puzzle by opening Gillman Barracks, which is billed as a new “contemporary art destination” in the region. In its usual top down approach, various governments bodies have banded together and “curated” the space by selecting 13 contemporary art galleries as “pioneer tenants” in renovated military barracks outside the center of town.

In total there are plans for 20 galleries, 9 artist studios and a Center of Contemporary art institute (though details have been fuzzy)

So far the selected galleries includes well-established galleries such as ShanghART Gallery, Sundaram Tagore Gallery and Tomio Koyama Gallery, along with newly set-up galleries helmed by prominent gallery directors such as Deddy Irianto (Equator Art Projects) – founder of Indonesian gallery Langgeng Gallery – and Janice Kim (Space Cottonseed) who worked for major Korean galleries Gallery Hyundai and Kukje Gallery. The galleries hail predominantly from Asian countries such as China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Singapore. 

They have been selected on the strength of their previous programming and/or the artists they represent (Zeng Fanzhi (ShanghART Gallery), Yayoi Kusama (Ota Fine Arts) and Agus Suwage (Equator Art Projects).

In short, the new project is a mini 798 District, though completely scrubbed and top down (as opposed to the original ground up approach in Beijing). But is that a bad thing…?

Here are a few random thoughts:

-Helutrans is all very nice, as a ground up approach, but it’s out of the way and is completely dead unless you go on opening night.. There isn’t quite a critical mass of galleries to make it a go-to destination (though it has been improving), and of course it lacks all the caf├ęs/restaurants (that you will find at Gillman) that are necessary to attract a more general crowd of Singaporeans.

-Outside of Helutrans and the failed attempt at Mount Sophia, it’s quite clear local galleries were not going to create a cluster on their own. Even around the so-called art district, there are very few galleries to find for art lovers. Gillman is not the most accessible location if you don’t have a car, but at least the sheer size of the project should make it worth it going there as a destination on the weekend (especially if galleries manage to coordinate their opening efforts, let’s say 3-4 galleries opening new show at the same time to get some critical mass)

-It’s unfortunate there will be very few Singaporean art galleries in Gillman. Some were offered to take a space, but declined because 1. It was too expansive; 2. They have to spend additional money to put the space in shape and 3. It’s only a 3 year lease.. so not quite worth all the expenses if you’re not very established already..