Murakami not opening gallery here

Japanese art superstar Takashi Murakami has scrapped plans to open an outpost of his prominent gallery in Singapore.

Kaikai Kiki Gallery at Gillman Barracks was due to open this year and touted as one of the star attractions at the art enclave.

In an e-mail reply to Life!, Murakami, 51, says: "As far as was possible, Kaikai Kiki actively worked with the EDB on our set-up in Singapore."

But after the gallery reviewed its plans for Gillman Barracks earlier this year, it decided to withdraw from the project.

Murakami says: "While Gillman Barracks is seen as a conducive environment for our artists to grow and experiment, Kaikai Kiki has decided to re-strategise our plans.

"We still see Singapore as a potential location for Kaikai Kiki due to its growing importance as an Asian arts hub. To this end, we participated in the third edition of Art Stage Singapore in January."

The Tokyo gallery represents Murakami and a stable of popular artists, such as American graphic artist Kaws. It opened a branch in Taiwan in 2010, but the outlet ceased operations last year. Its departure from Gillman Barracks comes just nine months after the official opening of the Singapore art enclave, which was envisioned as an iconic international destination for contemporary art.

The arts cluster is developed by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), together with JTC Corporation and the National Arts Council.

Other projects slated for the enclave, however, are proceeding as planned.

The well-established Pearl Lam Galleries from China and the Centre for Contemporary Art, headed by the Nanyang Technological University to offer research and artist residency programmes, are both on schedule to open by the end of this year.

A new gallery, Yeo Workshop, founded by Singapore gallerist Audrey Yeo, will also debut in September.

Dr Eugene Tan, 41, programme director for EDB's lifestyle programme office, describes Kaikai Kiki's decision as "unfortunate".

However, he adds, EDB "fully respects it" and will "continue to engage the gallery to explore further opportunities".

"Singapore remains a potential location for Kaikai Kiki," he says.

EDB also says it is in talks with potential parties to take Kaikai Kiki's place on Gillman Barracks' roster of galleries.

Despite the big-name gallery pulling out, Dr Tan remains confident about Gillman Barracks' prospects.

He points out that the other galleries in the cluster, such as Tomio Koyama and ShanghArt, are prominent players with strong programmes. These tenants, he adds, "still believe in Gillman Barracks' long-term prospects of becoming a contemporary arts destination in Asia".

Mr Daisuke Watanabe, 39, director of Tomio Koyama Gallery in the enclave, echoes this sentiment.

"I think there still is potential for Gillman Barracks," he says.

"There are already excellent galleries from various countries located in Gillman Barracks and more are coming."

Still, the cluster has had to contend with sceptics, who point to its slightly out-of-the-way location, dispersed buildings on sprawling grounds and limited food and beverage options as drawbacks.

Mr Sueo Mizuma, 67, executive director of Mizuma Gallery, which opened last September in Gillman Barracks, says: "Visitors are scarce and, of the few of them, many are students. This situation doesn't bring enough business."

At six-month-old Galerie Michael Janssen, however, there is "a decent number of visitors every day", says German owner Michael Janssen, 49.

The gallery, he adds, is performing "better than anticipated".

Improvements could be made to the enclave, say some gallerists.

Mr Mizuma, as well as Mr Sundaram Tagore who is owner of a namesake gallery, suggests that transport options such as electric bicycles or golf carts be made available to help visitors get around the spread-out cluster easily.

Ota Fine Arts' director Yasuko Kaneko hopes the enclave will have more events such as pop-up art parties or restaurants and boutique cafes to bring more buzz to the area.

Nevertheless, Ms Yeo, 31, of Yeo Workshop, who was based in London as a gallerist, is optimistic about opening in the area.

The Gillman Barracks newcomer will show works by emerging international artists in her 124 sq m space.

She says: "As a young gallerist, it is inspiring to be among some of the best galleries in Singapore and to see such quality work in the galleries.

"As a competitive gallerist, this is the best place to incubate."