Daunting visit for art newbie

Daunting visit for art newbie
The Drawing Room (left) and Sundaram Tagore (right) are art galleries located at Gillman Barracks.

A visit to Gillman Barracks to see art is like looking for a needle in a haystack. There are some wonderful artworks and exhibitions, but be prepared to spend a full afternoon trudging around the sprawling gallery cluster to find the good stuff.

When I went there for the first time on a weekday afternoon late last month, I saw more empty buildings than people. What has been touted as a hub for art collectors in the region is instead a sleepy and underwhelming cluster of galleries that seem to be poorly laid out.

My friend and I began our visit to the cluster off Alexandra Road with lunch at Masons before starting on our tour. If you are there before 6pm, the European restaurant is the only eatery in the compound that is open.

The cluster is made up of 14 galleries, housed in restored buildings that were former British army barracks. It was not a particularly warm day, but poor signposting and dead-end roads made navigating a tedious experience.

The galleries are spread out over a massive area bisected by Malan and Lock Roads - 6.4ha or about the size of nine football fields. The signs do not bear the names of the galleries, only block numbers. While there are directories with maps at the entrance of the compound and at major junctions, these are few and far between.

There is also no shelter between buildings, most of which stand in isolation, which makes it difficult to gallery-hop in inclement weather. While there is ample parking throughout the cluster, driving around would defeat the purpose of having the galleries within walking distance.

The long walk does have its benefits. The generous space means that most galleries are set up amid vast stretches of green, and the barracks' high ceilings give the artworks ample room to breathe.

This is particularly true for the larger galleries, such as the Sundaram Tagore Gallery in Block 5, that is exhibiting large galvanised steel works by Israeli artist Nathan Slate Joseph, and ShanghArt's Going Where? exhibition by local artists on the second floor of the main three- storey block in the cluster.

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