Cafe at National Gallery Singapore apologises for closing art exhibit by young artists

Renn (right) and Aira Lim taking down an art work from their exhibition at the National Gallery Singapore's Gallery & Co cafe.
Renn (right) and Aira Lim taking down an art work from their exhibition at the National Gallery Singapore's Gallery & Co cafe. PHOTO: PANN LIM/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Gallery & Co, a retail cafe in the newly-opened National Gallery Singapore, has apologised for the abrupt closure of a local art exhibition by a pair of young artists on Saturday (Nov 28).

When Renndom Met Airany: A Visual Duologue by Renn and Aira Lim, about the siblings growing up together and inspiring each other, had to be taken down due to "error" on Gallery & Co's part, the cafe said in a statement on Facebook on Sunday afternoon.

The exhibition had gone up at the cafe on Nov 24 - the day the NGS officially opened to the public - and had been due to run till Jan 24 next year.

"The National Gallery has a sound policy that no art exhibitions can be launched in its premises which are not curated or approved by them," the statement said.

Gallery & Co clarified that while the exhibition's concept had been approved by the National Gallery, the format of presentation - with the works hung on the walls - had not been approved.

The statement added that the ordeal suffered by Renn, 11, Aira, nine, and their parents Pann and Claire Lim, could have been prevented if Gallery & Co had sought greater clarity on the National Gallery's guidelines from the start.

Gallery & Co combines a cafe and a retail space at the NGS that curates specially-designed products such as books and collectibles. It is co-owned by restaurateur Loh Lik Peng; Mr Alwyn Chong, managing director of cosmetics and fragrance distributor Luxasia; and Foreign Policy Design Group’s Yah-Leng Yu and Arthur Chin.

In a statement to The Straits Times on Sunday evening, a National Gallery spokesman confirmed that Gallery& Co had not communicated clearly to the artists that their agreement with the National Gallery does not permit them to stage exhibitions in their space, which is intended for retail and F&B. 

The spokesman added that the National Gallery had “suggested to Gallery & Co to offer the artists the option to convert their presentation into a workshop alongside the plan to sell their hand-made books as merchandise”. 

“However, the parents of the artists have decided to remove the exhibition rather than take this option.”

The incident has been gaining attention on social media as Mr and Mrs Lim posted long Facebook updates on the sudden closure of the exhibition and the distraught reactions of their children.

Mr Lim, the head of advertising and design firm Kinetic, also revealed that Renn and Aira had been working every weekend since the exhibition was commissioned in August, with Renn juggling his studies in his Primary School Leaving Examination year.

The family of four, who call themselves Holycrap after the initials of their names, bond by working on their own family magazines and art exhibitions.

They have been putting up annual art exhibitions since 2011 and launched their family magazine, Rubbish Famzine, two years ago.

Netizens, commenting directly on the National Gallery's  Facebook page, have criticised its handling of the issue. 

Wrote user Catherin Tan EK: "Very poor handling of Renn and Aira's case. You could have turned this into a big PR success, putting a cherry on top of your opening celebration cake but you decided to crush the dreams of local artists. Isn't art where you can be flexible and explore?"

Another user, Waikin Chan, said: "Shame on you, National Gallery Singapore! On this opening weekend, you were supposed to celebrate ART but instead you chose to exercise and reinforce authoritarianism."