EX: 1/30/2012
  >> Search features
>> Confirm subscribe
2013.02.05 Tue, by
“An Evening” at Gillman Barracks: Art Market Lab in Singapore

Gillman Barracks: 9 Lock Road, Singapore 108937

I got completely lost on my way to “An Evening”, the marathon of vernissages organized in Singapore’s new art district, the Gillman Barracks (or “GB”, in line with the Singaporean penchant for shortening everything to acronyms). A lone passer-by, a jogging Australian businessman, told me that if I continued “that way” I would find a shortcut to GB. However, “that way” involved going through an area of lush trees, then crossing a bridge frequented by monkeys. “They’re pretty aggressive”, he said. I imagined myself appearing bruised by monkeys before stunned Singaporean high society members at the opening. Kindly, he escorted me to the main entrance of GB.

As we walked, he gave a potted history of the place. Named after British general Sir Webb Gillman, this former military camp comprising 14 buildings was established in 1936 in dense jungle. During the British colonial period it was home to the First Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. Following the withdrawal of the British military in 1971, the camp was taken over by the Singapore Armed Forces; and eventually the buildings were used for commercial purposes in the ’90s. Now, retaining its distinctive colonial architectural character, GB reopens its doors as a contemporary art enclave and a home for the art market, its industries and businesses. As stated in the press release, “Gillman Barracks is Asia’s up-and-coming destination for contemporary art. It will be distinguished as a vibrant center in Asia for the creation, exhibition and discussion of contemporary art.” Why not? The “art market” is a versatile and imaginative beast, one willing to settle in the most unlikely places. We need only recall Beijing’s famous 798 art district, which occupies a former Cold War factory area; or Songzhuang, the outlying Beijing village, where artists are interspersed with locals selling fruit and vegetables on the street.

My Australian cicerone had already warned me that GB represents yet another attempt by a paternalistic local government to turn Singapore into an international destination for contemporary art in Asia. The Singapore Government is increasing spending in the arts and culture sector to an annual average of S$365 million over five years, starting from 2011, reflected in rapidly accumulating attempts to create an arts hub: public museums, commercial galleries, non-profit spaces, its own Biennale, and an art fair named Art Stage Singapore. As a result, my general impression that afternoon was that GB is an artificial ecosystem – a science lab for an “art market” where everything seems eerily perfect.

GB has 13 galleries from 10 different countries, including Mizuma Gallery, OTA Fine Arts and Future Perfect, all of which had exhibition-openings. The standouts were “Engaging Perspectives”, an exhibition organized by CCA and curated by Eugene Tan, focused on the younger generation of Singaporean emerging artists, and “Geng Jianyi: The Artist Researcher”, at ShanghART gallery

GB has been jointly developed by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), the lead government agency for planning and executing strategies to enhance Singapore’s position as a global business center, JTC Corporation, which for 40 years has been Singapore’s industrial infrastructure and real estate specialist, and the National Arts Council (NAC). Meanwhile, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is behind the development of Singapore’s Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) at GB, expected to open in the second half of 2013. CCA’s program will be devoted to international artist residencies, exhibitions and research, and cooperate with international art institutions, galleries, collectors and curators. CCA was responsible for some interesting talks at Art Stage 2013, including with curators Fumio Nanjo and Ute Meta Bauer, and collector-philanthropist Uli Sigg.