A former British military camp is now Asia's new Destination for Contemporary Art.
It’s no coincidence that Singapore’s climb through the ranks of liveability indices has happened in tandem with the burgeoning of its art-and-design scene. Arts hub Gillman Barracks and a new National Gallery are just two of many world-class destinations that have sprouted up in the past four years. A busy schedule of fairs and festivals from Art Stage Singapore to Maison et Objet Asia further bolsters Singapore’s fast-emerging reputation as Asia’s next big capital of culture. It all makes for a city-state with newfound creative confidence.
NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore: Under the sun
Uniting exhibitions, residencies, research and education under one umbrella, CCA’s progressive programming has pushed Singapore’s arts scene into brave new territory. Founding director Ute Meta Bauer, a curator with Documenta and Venice Biennale under her belt, brings intellectual mettle and a fresh perspective to the centre.
Top-notch names who have exhibited or spent time in residence here include performance artist Alex Murray-Leslie, curator Hendrik Folkerts and Singapore’s Venice Biennale artist Charles Lim.
Gillman Barracks: Martial art
An expanse of lush greenery in the city, this 1930s British military base was resurrected in 2012 as a charming arts enclave by the Singaporean government. Today, the conserved colonial barracks are home to the experimental NTU Centre for Contemporary Art alongside 11 international and local galleries.
Off the beaten track, Gillman Barracks offers a comprehensive view of art across many buildings. Powerhouse institutions such as Sundaram Tagore Gallery and Ota Fine Arts are within walking distance of each other. Look out for Art After Dark, a bi-monthly night of festivities when galleries open till late and the space hosts live music, street stalls and workshops.
Singapore Tyler Print Institute: Paper tigers
This state-of-the-art print facility is arguably one of the art world’s best-kept secrets. Established by American master printer Kenneth Tyler in 2002, it has been a playground and laboratory for artists such as Turner Prize-winner Richard Deacon, Cartsen Holler and Han Sai Por.
“This space is set aside for unconventional art making – a platform for international collaboration,” says STPI director Emi Eu. With its own paper mill and a team of 13 specialists, the institute has played a critical role in redefining 21st-century printmaking.
National Gallery Singapore: Worth the wait
Ten years in the making, Singapore’s largest visual-arts venue opened its doors last November. Architecture buffs will be familiar with this historic building. The former Supreme Court and city hall have been given a S$532m (€352m) facelift and now come with a new basement and striking metal-and-glass canopy roof linking the two national monuments.
As for the art, the gallery boasts the largest collection of modern and contemporary Southeast Asian art in the world. Works by major figures such as Georgette Chen and Liu Kang trace the region’s social, political and art history.
Asylum: Brand apart
A trailblazer on Singapore’s design scene, Asylum’s former space on Ann Siang Hill served as unofficial headquarters for the city’s creative community throughout the 2000s. Abuzz with talks and spontaneous late-night jams, it was a magnet for musicians, artists and fashion designers.
Now in its 17th year, the creative branding studio brings the same renegade spirit to well known luxury names and national institutions; one of its most recent projects was the popular logo for National Gallery Singapore.
Creative director Chris Lee says minimal design reflects his studio’s philosophy of solving design problems in a sensible and sophisticated manner. “I strive to create simplicity in all my work, not in terms of execution but distilling complex messages into a single most important vision.”
Foreign Policy: Beyond borders
Founders of Foreign Policy, a design agency that brands itself as a think-tank, Yu Yah-Leng and Arthur Chin (pictured) say the nurturing of creative ideas that drives their company stems from collaborations and pushing boundaries in their practice. “It’s not just about visual graphics but rethinking a need and doing it better,” says Chin. “Storytelling is at the heart of it.”
From global projects including The Swap Show (an exchange and display of works between five top agencies in Barcelona and Singapore) to the brand architecture for Nanjing’s Sifang Art Museum, the couple have not let international boundaries interfere with their ambitions. “It is all about collaboration and opening up perceptions,” says Yu. “In our former studio in New York, our colleagues came from everywhere from Venezuela to South Korea. We wanted to bring that DNA back here so we never take a myopic approach.”
Lekker: Child’s play
Helmed by architects Joshua Comaroff and Ong Ker-Shing (pictured), this firm’s kaleidoscopic portfolio includes installations for Hermès and a pop-up playground. The duo say their perspective is informed by how their children engage with the world. “It brings a childlike sense of wonder to each project and adds a sprinkle of fairy dust,” says Comaroff.
The Working Capitol: Fun factory
This former 1920s biscuit factory turned co-working space in Chinatown caters to budding start-ups but its sleek interiors are anything but makeshift. Spread across a vast space, the web of sun-drenched open spaces, private offices and freestanding desks was thoughtfully conceived by leading architecture firm Farm to prompt a free flow of creative thinking.
“We wanted to create a hybrid between people coming together to work and doing something with their passion,” says co-founder YC Teo. “This is a place where people want to get stuff done but also have fun while doing it.”
The Projector: Picture palace
Forty years back, long before piracy took its toll on the film industry, Golden Theatre was the biggest and most buzzing cinema in the city. Stumbling across the long-defunct space in 2014, development consultant Karen Tan saw the chance to revive a beloved bastion of old Singapore. Today the latest indie, foreign and arthouse flicks have replaced the Mandarin and Bollywood hits that once dominated its huge screens.
The retro charm of the 1970s haunt, however, remains thoroughly intact, from the original steel-frame theatre seats and fabric walls to the grand art deco-style chandelier hanging in its stairwell.