Japanese gallery makes comeback

Malaysian artist and curator Shooshie Sulaiman.

SINGAPORE - Following its recent departure from Gillman Barracks, Japan's Tomio Koyama Gallery is making a comeback and returning to its old spot in the gallery cluster.

It reopens on April 19 with a month-long exhibition featuring works by Malaysian artist Goh Chai Seng.

The Tokyo gallery was among the first wave of pedigreed foreign art galleries to open outposts in Gillman Barracks in 2012.

But it decided late last year, following a round of re-organisation, to cease operations in Singapore in February and concentrate on its two galleries in Tokyo.

However, it had a change of heart in January while finalising plans to wind down its business here.

A gallery spokesman tells Life! that it was "very encouraged" by recent developments in the art scene here, including the bustling Singapore Art Week in January that was anchored by the successful Art Stage fair and coincided with the Singapore Biennale exhibition.

The gallery took part in Art Stage where it sold four works by famed Japanese illustrator Yoshitomo Nara at $11,000 each.

The launch of the much-anticipated art and research hub, Centre for Contemporary Art, by Nanyang Technological University at Gillman Barracks and its well-received inaugural exhibition in January, which featured the Asian premiere of three critically acclaimed video art installations, also renewed the gallery's confidence in the once sleepy art enclave off Alexandra Road.

The spokesman says: "These developments reaffirmed our belief in the Singapore and regional art scene, and our decision to set up our gallery here in Singapore.

"We were also sad to leave the Gillman Barracks community as we were one of the founding galleries of the belt and had seen Gillman Barracks grow in stature and significance as part of the arts scene in Singapore."

The art enclave, which now houses 15 galleries, is jointly developed by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), JTC Corporation and the National Arts Council.

Ms Kow Ree Na, director of EDB's lifestyle programme office, says it is glad the gallery has decided to return, having been "an integral part of the Gillman Barracks community", and looks forward to continue working with the gallery.

The gallery's spokesman says it is also relooking its business strategy here and plans to broaden the focus of its exhibitions beyond Japanese artists, as was its practice in the past, to feature more artists from the region who may be better known here.

This shift is spurred by warm response to previous exhibitions it held, which featured South-east Asian artists such as Singapore's Ian Woo and Malaysia's Shooshie Sulaiman.

Its upcoming exhibitions include shows by Cambodian artist Khvay Samnang and Indonesian artist Muhammad "Ucup" Yusuf.

The spokesman adds of the gallery's renewed operations at Gillman Barracks: "It is the best way of building on our past efforts to expand our presence in this region."

This article was published on April 10 in The Straits Times.

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