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Above: The Ryan Foundation collector Ryan Su (left) with artist Ryder Ripps.

Above: Fyerool Darma's solo show Monsoon Song explores the kitsch, eclecticism, memory and beliefs of the Malay culture.

Above: Jason Wee's work Labyrinth (Open Fire) takes its cue from the erection of fences at this year's Pink Dot rally.

Live performances, a street party and the launch of Art-In-Sight are among the celebration highlights.

Gillman Barracks in mood to celebrate as it turns 5

It hasn't been smooth sailing for the government-backed visual arts precinct, but it has nonetheless made big strides in the sector.
Sep 22, 2017 5:50 AM

GILLMAN Barracks, Singapore's only dedicated visual arts precinct, turns five this week with a birthday bash on Friday night.

Live performances, F&B pop-ups, a lively street party and the launch of a new book Art-In-Sight surveying the precinct's history are among the celebration highlights. Galleries are open till late to showcase some outstanding works by artists such as Jason Wee at Yavuz, Fyerool Darma at Yeo Workshop, Angki Purbandono at Mizuma and Chen Wen Hsi at Element Art Space.

Meanwhile, some exceptional art can also be seen at the Ryan Foundation's collectors' show at Block 9 Lock Road. They include two delicate sculptures by Cambodian superstar Sopheap Pich, a rare semi-figurative work by Indonesia's Handiwirman Saputra and a movie billboard artwork by Singapore's Ming Wong that's taken from his Venice Biennale show in 2009.

Ryan Su of the Ryan Foundation, which is also showing Ryder Ripp's cool Virtual Reality work, says: "Gillman has come a long way in these past five years, and art lovers around the region are recognising it as a place for strong local, regional and international art."

Gillman's evolution from an old vacant military barracks to a premier visual art destination is, of course, no accident. The site was jointly opened in 2012 by the Economic Development Board (EDB), JTC Corporation and National Arts Council (NAC) at a cost of S$10 million to capitalise on the global interest in visual arts.

Its road to building a credible reputation has not been smooth. In recent years, it weathered bad press about poor footfall, weak sales and the dramatic exit of key galleries. However, strong government backing has helped it persist, adapt and evolve as its numbers steadily improved - especially with the opening of the Gillman Barracks Programme Office jointly set up by the EDB and NAC last year, as well as the ambitious curation of programme at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore.

Visitor numbers have grown year after year: The precinct now averages 500 visitors a day, while open house events draw over 4,200 visitors - almost double the number in 2015. To date, Gillman has hosted 470 exhibitions, or an average of at least 90 shows per year.

Considering the tumultuous five years that the art market has undergone, these are no small achievements.

Ning Chong, founder of independent art space The Culture Story, for instance, notes: "The art market has been going through some major shake-ups with many good galleries all around the world closing - and Gillman is naturally not immune to these bigger trends.

"Meanwhile, the collector base here is also small compared to that of major cities like London and New York, and Singaporeans continue to be generally guarded and not flashy about how they spend their money. We still have to figure out a magical formula of getting people with means here to appreciate and buy art."

Low Eng Teong, NAC assistant chief executive officer, says that these are challenges that Gillman Barracks hopes to overcome in due time because the growth of the art market in Singapore is not something that can be engineered. "I believe that the artists must firstly have a platform to present their art, a place where they can be understood deeply by the people who are interested in art, who may then convert to collecting as well.

"Over these years, several Singapore artists have gotten representation by local and international galleries. And when their art is being represented at a certain level, their value will naturally go up. But all this happens over time. You can't force it, and you can't inflate art prices. All you can do it is continue building and supporting the growth of the scene - not just to create quality art and artists, but also a quality audience."

  • Gillman Barracks 5th Anniversary Celebrations takes place on Sept 22 from 7pm till late. Admission is free.

Don't miss these shows

Labyrinth by Jason Wee

Jason Wee's solo show is one of the best of the year. He's turned the common green fence found on Singapore streets into assemblage art that comments on power, authority and control. One work titled Labyrinth (Open Fire) takes its cue from the erection of fences for the first time at this year's Pink Dot rally. Another work Labyrinth (Living Rooms) draws inspiration from the debate surrounding 38 Oxley Road. The show is playful, powerful and surprisingly poignant.
Yavuz Gallery, Block 9, Lock Road

Re|Collecting Asia by The Ryan Foundation

Gillman Barracks' first collectors' show features some real gems from terrific artists such as Ming Wong, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Xu Zhen, Robert Zhao, Handiwirman Saputra, Hong Sek Chern and Sopheap Pich. Curated by Khim Ong.
Block 9, Lock Road

Monsoon Song by Fyerool Darma

Emerging artist Fyerool Darma delves into the cultures and subcultures of the Malays to produce a broad and eclectic array of works, from photos to assemblages. They all serve to recall, subvert and distort dominant ideas of Malay-ness, while also injecting life into lesser-known customs and practices.
Yeo Workshop, 1 Lock Road

Antonio Puri

Indian-born, Bogotá-based artist Antonio Puri's first solo show here features extraordinarily beautiful abstracts that incorporate soil, henna motifs and other aspects of his birthplace Chandigarh.
Sundaram Tagore Gallery, 5 Lock Road

If You Give Me Lemon, I'll Make Lemonade by Angki Purbandono

The entire gallery space has been filled with metal scaffolds to hold up the latest lightboxes and photos by Indonesia's top experimental artist Angki Purbandono, who creates photographic images using a flatbed image scanner.
Mizuma Gallery, 22 Lock Road