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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

Chinatown gets arty

Architectural charm and proximity to the CBD have turned Chinatown into an art enclave
The Straits Times - March 8, 2012
By: Deepika Shetty
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Chinatown gets arty -- PHOTO: GALERIE SOGAN & ART

Chinatown is known for its cultural heritage including quaint shophouses, temples and traditional food treats such as bak kwa and steaming hotpot, but now there is a contemporary addition: a flourishing art scene.

Around nine art galleries are now calling the area home, attracted by the twin factors of the old-world charm of restored shophouses and the modern dynamic of its promixity to the Central Business District.

While some galleries such as Utterly Art and Indigo Blue Art have been in Chinatown for almost 10 years, newer additions include Chan Hampe Galleries, which has moved to a new space in Kreta Ayer Road, Richard Koh Fine Art which has a ground floor space in Duxton Road, indie art space The Pigeonhole, also in Duxton Road, and Galerie Sogan & Art in Mosque Street.

And it is not just the galleries taking a shine to Chinatown. Next week, top-end contemporary art fair Art Stage Singapore is moving from its Club Street office to South Bridge Road. Earlier this year, the Affordable Art Fair moved its office from the River Valley area to Duxton Road, while curatorial and arts advisory services Fortune Cookie Projects has an office in Mosque Street.

Ms Camilla Hewitson, director of Affordable Art Fair, told Life! she had a meeting at a local cafe in the area in September last year and loved the vibe.

'The older buildings, the funky shops and restaurants reminded me of Shoreditch, an area in London where I worked years ago,' she said. 'When our lease came up, I jumped at the chance and found a space in the Duxton area. It offers good value rental for more space, great food choices and some great independent cafes, book shops, art spaces and galleries.'

While the shophouses do not offer high ceilings for displaying art, the lower rental compared to other areas is a huge draw.

Rents in Chinatown average $3.50 psf, while in the nearby Duxton and Tanjong Pagar area, they are around $4.50 psf, generally for units on the first floor.

So, a gallery with about 1,000 sq ft of space could be paying between $3,500 and $5,000, depending on the floor it picks and the condition of the shophouse.

Utterly Art's managing partner Pwee Keng Hock, 47, says: 'A prime unit in the Orchard area could cost more than 10 times the Chinatown rental.'

Indeed, rentals in areas such as Robertson Quay can go up to $10,000 for a similar floor area, while a prime location in Orchard Road could cost more than triple that.

Blue Lotus Fine Art, one of the newest entrants in the Chinatown area, is paying under $5,000 a month for a 750 sq ft space in Tanjong Pagar Road.

However, the gallery's owner, Ms Chen Man Lee, who is in her early 50s, says while rents are reasonable, the bigger draw is its compelling location and the history of the area.

'There is a good mix of office workers, tourists and locals who are drawn to the diverse and quaint mix of eateries and restaurants, wine bars, bookshops, the art and architecture.'

Mr Howard Rutkowski of Fortune Cookie Projects, who picked Mosque Street in the heart of Chinatown, gave up his space in Tanjong Pagar Distripark about three years ago.

Says Mr Rutkowski, 54: 'I chose Chinatown as it is one of the last authentic neighbourhoods in Singapore. I like the architecture and the fact that the old and new, the high and low are all in one place. Plus it is in close proximity to just about everything I need to be close to.'

Calling Mosque Street a 'good locus', he uses the space not as a gallery but to meet and entertain clients 'on a modest level. We have done the flat up in keeping with the flavour of the location and the conservation building we are in'.

Ms Vera Wijaya did not even look at areas beyond Chinatown when she opened Galerie Sogan & Art in Mosque Street in 2010.

Pointing to the view from her 1,100 sq ft gallery, Ms Wijaya, 35, said: 'My gallery is next to a historical mosque and I get great views of the Sri Mariamman Temple and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. When I moved in, the strong presence of galleries such as Utterly Art and Indigo Blue Art was a big draw. Recently, more galleries have added to the diverse quality. Gallery owners have been very helpful and we often try to do simultaneous openings.'

This synergy has been largely built by older galleries such as Utterly Art and Indigo Blue Art.

Since it opened in 2004, Indigo Blue Art has moved just once - to its current location - while Utterly Art has made its third move to a new gallery space in the same area.

Though most gallerists rely on their existing clientele, the opening of boutique hotels in the area and the area's presence on the tourist map bring tourists and locals to the galleries.

As Utterly Art's Pwee says: 'It is easy for people to pop by after work and to attend openings. They also come for the food. We have several good restaurants and hawker centres in the area, and food and art make for a good mix.'

Where to go


Where: 20B Mosque Street

Opened in: 2002. The gallery moves to its third location in the same area this month.

What it shows: Local and South-east Asian art, particularly from the Philippines. The inaugural exhibition in the new space, Breaking In, will show works of local artists including Boo Sze Yang, Jacqueline Ng and Yeo Siak Goon.

When: Opens on March 15. By appointment only till 8pm (Mondays to Saturdays), noon to 5.30pm (Sundays)

Info: Call 9487-2006 or go to


Where: 33B Mosque Street

Opened in: September 2010

What it shows: It specialises in contemporary South-east Asian art and works by young emerging Singapore artists.

When: Noon to 7pm (Mondays to Saturdays), 2 to 5pm (Sundays)

Info: Call 6225-7686 or go to


Where: 69A Pagoda Street

Opened in: December 2009

What it shows: Located in the heart of Chinatown, within walking distance from Chinatown MRT station, this contemporary art gallery presents works of promising young artists from Singapore, Malaysia, Korea and Australia.

When: 1 to 6pm (Tuesdays to Fridays), noon to 5pm (Saturdays and Sundays). Closed on Mondays and public holidays

Info: Call 9450-7749 or go to


Where: 27 Kreta Ayer Road

Opened in: 2008 and moved from its space in Tanjong Pagar to Kreta Ayer Road this year.

What it shows: Exhibits and promotes contemporary art with a focus on works by Singapore artists.

When: 11am to 7pm (Tuesdays to Fridays), 11am to 4pm (Saturdays and Sundays). Closed on Mondays and public holidays

Info: Call 6222-1667 or go to


Where: 71 Duxton Road

Opened in: January last year

What it shows: It represents about 10 South-east Asian artists and art collectives. These include Thailand's Natee Utarit and Kedsuda Loogthong, Malaysia's Chang Yoong Chia and Nadiah Bamadhaj, the Philippines' Annie Cabigting, and award-winning local art collective Vertical Submarine.

When: 11.30am to 7pm (Tuesdays to Fridays), noon to 6pm (Saturdays). Mondays by appointment only

Info: Call 6221-1209 or go to


Where: 33 Neil Road

Opened in: 2004 in a 1,400 sq ft gallery in Kreta Ayer Road before moving to its current location in 2008.

What it shows: From museum-quality paintings and photographs to more affordable prints, with a focus on Indian art. Its exhibitions include works by masters such as M.F. Husain and S.H. Raza, and those of younger artists such as Farhad Husain, Dhaneshwar Shah and Vibha Galhotra.

When: 11am to 6pm, closed on Sundays and public holidays

Info: Call 6372-1719 or go to



Where: 02-01, 108 Tanjong Pagar Road

Opens on: March 15

What it shows: Paintings, sculpture, glass and ceramic works by local and Asian contemporary artists. The gallery officially opens with a painting exhibition by Singapore artist Michelle Chang titled Purrealism: Eat.Paint.Love.

When: Noon to 6.30pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays). Viewings on Sundays by appointment only

Info: Call 6220-0420/9675-7721 or go to


Where: 52 & 53 Duxton Road

Opened in: March last year

What it shows: The gallery holds experimental shows such as the current one featuring Piplatchka Makerings, with works by photographer Joseph Nair and prints by illustrators Stick and Balloon's Sara Chong and Yanyun Chen.

When: 10am to 11pm (Tuesdays to Thursdays), 10am to 1am (Fridays), 11.30am to 1am (Saturdays) and 11.30am to 8pm (Sundays)

Info: Call 6226-2880 or go to


Where: 42/42A/42B Hongkong Street

Opened in: March 1995 in Stamford House, moved to Hongkong Street in December 2010.

What it shows: Specialises in Singapore, Asian, modern and contemporary art, as well as masterpieces from the Malay Archipelago from the 1960s to 1980s.

When: 10.30am to 7.30pm daily

Info: Call 6339-8297 or go to




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