“Wear comfortable shoes” the invitation to the launch of Gillman Barracks reads. On September 14, 2012, thousands of well-heeled collectors, art aficionados and gallerists trooped to the hillside off Alexandra Road in Singapore for the opening gala of the new arts hub in and for the region — a much-awaited affair amongst Southeast Asian culturati.
Words & Photography: Abby Yao
Opening weekend also saw a series of talks and events to drum up interest in the new complex of 13 galleries from Singapore, Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Italy, Germany, and the United States. Two additional commercial galleries — Takeshi Murakami’s Kaikai Kiki Hidari Zingaro and the latest branch of Pearl Lam Galleries will open in 2013.
But Gillman Barracks is not only for the artistically-inclined elite. The whitewashed cluster of colonial buildings offers a great day out for students, couples and families looking for an alternative to Singapore’s diverse nature and themed attractions. Think of it as an ever-changing mini-museum with a little bit of trekking.
A restaurant row in its last incarnation, Gillman Barracks remains a lifestyle destination, with stylish restaurants making it a place to be seen—ideal for meeting friends and for extended conversations over thought-provoking visuals.
The former British military barracks is nestled in the gentle slopes of Malan Road and Lock Road, between the drone of vehicles on the busy main road on one side and the chirping birds and buzzing insects of the forest on the other. Stand still for a moment and you might be able to imagine army men doing their daily jog up and down the winding roads.
Modern (and Contemporary) Warfare
The non-profit spaces—the Singapore base of the Yellow River Arts Centre and the Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, under the auspices of the Nanyang Technological Institute and opening in 2013—promise international dialogues between institutions and artists.
The 80-hectare Yellow River Arts Centre is currently under construction in Yinchuan, China and will not be open until 2014… but the Singapore base is busy. “The S-base will focus on developing the museological framework and curatorial content of the Centre,” said curator Xue Liqing. In the past two months, 14 programmes and events have been held, and there is an upcoming round table discussion in November and a forum in January. The centre has a labyrinth of red sof as and a small library of materials on Chinese art, making it a cool and cosy place to escape the heat of the tropics.
Wherever you look, Gillman Barracks hosts the works of modern masters, today’s superstars and rising names in painting, sculpture, installation, performance, video, and photography.
The Singapore branch of Sundaram Tagore Gallery opened its doors with “The Big Picture”, a photography exhibition featuring works from the likes of Henri-Cartier Bresson, Annie Leibovitz, Sebastião Salgado, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Steve McCurry, lensman of National Geographic’s iconic covers.
Next door, Manila-based The Drawing Room introduced Filipino artists to a wider audience through its maiden exhibit “Short Memory”, which included the work of Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan.
“The first month has been very promising, to the point of having almost 200 visitors in one Saturday,” said The Drawing Room’s Siddharta Perez. “Gillman has certainly caused a buzz in the local community and everyone is fostering more critical exhibitions in the future.”
Across the road, Partners & Mucciaccia, headquartered in Rome, showcases renowned artists from the 20th century until the present in “From Picasso to the New Roman School”, including Pablo Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico and Marc Chagall. The gallery is preparing for a solo exhibition by most important Italian living artist — Agostino Bonalumi — in December.
Gallery director Irina Bourmistrova acknowledges the dominance of Chinese contemporary art and Indonesian art in the region, and explained that their first venture in Asia is for education and investment. “We believe it is only a question of time before collectors from Southeast Asia and China will start to demonstrate a pronounced interest in Western art,” she said.
Other prominent names whose works were seen at the launch include the dot-obsessed Yayoi Kusama at Ota Fine Arts and Yoshitomo Nara, known for his distinctive illustrations of children, at Tomio Koyama Gallery.
The Economic Development Board of Singapore has spent the past few years drawing up the plans for Gillman Barracks in cooperation with JTC Corporation and the National Arts Council.
With a calendar of events and exhibits changing every month or two, Gillman Barracks deserves to be visited again and again. Just remember to ditch the stilettos.
GETTING THERE Gillman Barracks is located at Malan Road and Lock Road, Singapore. Admission is free. Opening times: Tue-Sat 11am to 8pm, Sun 10am to 6pm. Closed Mondays and Public Holidays. www.gillmanbarracks.com
Nearest bus stop: Opp Alexandra Point (15059) with bus numbers 51, 57, 61, 93, 97, 97e, 100, 166, 175, 408, 953, 963e. Nearest MRT station: Labrador Park (CC27 on the Circle Line).
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