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Gillman Barracks gets ready to celebrate its fourth anniversary on Sept 23 and 24, with an Art After Dark party featuring live music acts and F&B pop-ups.

Gillman redefines role at its four-year mark

Singapore's high-end art cluster seeks to expand its goals beyond that of selling art.
Sep 16, 2016 5:50 AM

IF Gillman Barracks had started off with a bang in September 2012, the subsequent years saw its fortunes wax and wane.

The year 2015 was perhaps its worst, with five galleries pulling out of the high-end art cluster, citing poor sales and visitorship. This year, two more art spaces rolled down their shutters.

Today, there are 11 commercial galleries operating in the former military camp, compared to 17 galleries four years ago.

But behind Gillman Barracks are three government agencies - the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), the National Arts Council (NAC) and the JTC Corporation (JTC) - determined to make it succeed.

Earlier this year, EDB and NAC jointly set up the Gillman Barracks Programme Office headed by Low Eng Teong, director of NAC's Sector Development (Visual Arts).

The mission of the four-member office is to "strengthen the place-making efforts of Gillman with its tenants, boost programming so as to offer different kinds of experiences for the visitor, and help Gillman integrate with the larger art scene of Singapore", explains Mr Low.

As Gillman approaches its fourth-anniversary celebrations next week, Mr Low describes the art cluster as undergoing a "consolidation phase".

He adds: "We are now broadening the role of Gillman Barracks. We don't see it as a only a place for selling art, but also a place for presenting art and conducting a discourse on art ... We see our engagement with the public as long term."

The opening of NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (NTU CCA) in October 2013 is integral to this role expansion. Its high-quality, non-commercial exhibitions by top international names such as Joan Jonas, Yang Fudong and Amar Kanwar have drawn global attention. Its adventurous programming that includes theatre performances and talks by a wide range of individuals from academics to paranormal investigators have proved popular.

Spaces formerly occupied by the galleries that have left now house homegrown lifestyle store Supermama and two non-profit art organisations, Playeum and Art Outreach. There is also an increase in food and beverage (F&B) outlets to seven, including a bikers' bar called Handlebar happily hidden behind Block 9.

In an effort to integrate itself into the larger art scene, Gillman Barracks is partnering the Singapore International Photography Festival for the first time to showcase two photography exhibitions opening next week, one by American master Roger Ballen and the other by winners of the Tokyo International Photography Competition.

As part of its anniversary celebrations on Sept 23 and 24, there is the annual Art After Dark party featuring live music act and F&B pop-ups. See next story for details.

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