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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Gillman galleries see good crowd

A steady stream of visitors checked out the new galleries that opened over the weekend
The Straits Times - September 17, 2012
By: Corrie Tan
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Gillman galleries see good crowd PHOTOS: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Gallery owners are feeling generally upbeat about the newly opened arts enclave Gillman Barracks, off Alexandra Road, which drew both serious art lovers and browsers over the first weekend of its opening.

A small but steady stream of visitors could be seen wandering in and out of the 13 open galleries, spread over 6ha or about the size of nine soccer fields, last Saturday. Its official opening was on Friday.

Singaporean gallerist Stephanie Fong, 37, who runs Fost Gallery in Block 1, had already sold two works: an installation by The Artists' Village founder Tang Da Wu priced at $35,000 and a mixed-media work by young artist Chun Kai Qun priced at $7,900.

She says: "This is just the beginning but it's been a pretty auspicious start. Selling even before the exhibition opening is really a validation of Singapore artists, both established and emerging."

Exhibitions director of Equator Art Projects Tony Godfrey, 60, shared the same hopeful outlook.

For the gallery's inaugural exhibition, he invited more than 40 artists to create works that in some ways reflect on or respond to the legacy of French artist Marcel Duchamp, the "father of conceptual art", who famously called a urinal art.

He says: "We're really trying to have a conversation and introduce people to new works and ideas, and I think people have been having fun. Some people were puzzled and some people were interested, so I hope they will come back and spend a bit of time here."

Ms Janice Kim, 42, gallery director of Space Cottonseed, which specialises in Korean contemporary art, was slightly more reserved. The gallery has not sold anything yet.

She says: "We have received a lot of interest but not many collectors seemed to be around on opening night on Friday. I think the serious collectors will come by later."

The galleries were not the only attraction. There were also talks and panel discussions by various industry figures.

An afternoon panel discussion by six curators and academics on new ecologies of art and art histories in Asia drew nearly 200 audience members, and lively questions and viewpoints from those present, including arts writers, artists, curators and collectors.

Chinese artist Zhang Enli's talk in the morning, moderated by eminent curator Hou Hanru, was significantly less successful - only about 20 seats were filled in a room that could hold about 200.

One of the attendees was marketing consultant Jean Tsai, in her 50s. The art lover says: "It was a pathetic audience for Hou Hanru because he's such a luminary. I think it was badly timed, maybe because of the big party on opening night."

She did enjoy the talk, however, and says of the arts venue: "There is lots of promise. I think it depends on the ability of the institution here to draw luminary curators and quality artists."

A number of families also came to visit the sprawling arts complex.

Mr Eng Aik Meng, 42, for instance, made a family outing of his Gillman Barracks trip, accompanied by his wife, parents and 11-year-old daughter. The health-care executive says he collects a bit of South-east Asian art.

After a visit to the Sundaram Tagore Gallery, he says: "I used to work close by and would come to this area for lunch. I heard they were developing this place into an arts cluster, so I thought I would come check it out. Their ability to bring in such world-class work is really fantastic."

Couples with children were also spotted guiding their young, excited charges through the galleries.

Project manager Desmond Siah, 42, was there with his wife and four-year-old son. He said they would definitely return for future visits.

He says: "We like to go to art exhibitions, so we thought this would be something interesting. My parents used to live at Gillman Heights, so we were waiting for this place to open."

The only restaurant open at the barracks for lunch was the semi-casual, French-influenced Masons. Most of the seats were filled at the dining spot, which had both an alfresco verandah and a main dining room. A full food menu was not yet ready - the restaurant was serving only drinks and pizzas.

But the main draw was, after all, the art.

For writer and consultant Koh Buck Song, 49, Singapore artist Donna Ong's installation of beds suspended from a ceiling in Block 9 struck a deep chord, because he had once slept on beds like those.

The former journalist, who was exploring the various art installations tucked in and around the buildings, says: "It was really meaningful to me because I actually did a part of my national service here in this camp in 1982.

"Part of the charm of this place is that it resonates with many Singaporean men, whether they did their national service here or somewhere else."

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