Storage company holding more than 100 pieces of art hopes to recover $36,000 debt owed by Mandala Fine Art

More than 100 artworks from Mandala Fine Art are sitting in the warehouse of Alliance Logistics.
More than 100 artworks from Mandala Fine Art are sitting in the warehouse of Alliance Logistics.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

It is the second warehouse that shuttered Singapore art gallery, Mandala Fine Art, owes money

Storage company Alliance Logistics hopes artists will come forward to claim more than 100 pieces of art stored in its warehouse and help settle a $36,000 debt.

The company is owed more than a year's rent by shuttered Singapore art gallery, Mandala Fine Art.

When The Straits Times visited the warehouse in Yishun two weeks ago, the company was taking stock of the art pieces - stored in two wooden crates - which have been in its possession since October 2015.

 

Alliance Logistics does not know who these artists are, but hopes they will come forward so that it can recover the rent owed by Mandala Fine Art.

The Straits Times reported on Feb 8 that the gallery had ceased operations here and owed more than $18,000 to another storage company, Oceanic Logistics, in Jalan Pemimpin.

There are up to 100 art pieces stored there.

To date, up to 41 artists await the return of their artwork - estimated to be worth more than $1million.

Alliance Logistics has asked to be paid numerous times and sent a letter of demand to Mandala Fine Art in December, but it has gone unanswered as Mandala's Sri Lankan owner, Mr Vitharana Mudiyanselage Hemasiri Vitharana, has left Singapore.

If an artist is willing to pay off Mandala's debt, "we will definitely release all those paintings to them (after) proper procedures are done," says Mr Benson Toh from Alliance Logistics.

Since The Straits Times' report, nine more artists have come forward to say they also have unreturned artwork, some of which have been held by the gallery since early 2015.

These artists hail from all over the world, including the most recent claim by Ukrainian artist Alexander Belozor, whose paintings were exhibited by the gallery in Singapore in April last year.

Singapore-based Polish artist Kasia Pawlak, 40, says she has been waiting for the return of her three paintings, valued at $6,700, since July 2015. She filed a police report against the gallery in February last year. She also filed a claim at the Small Claims Tribunal in April, but it was found to be "outside the jurisdiction of the tribunal" and discontinued. Her appeal in May was also discontinued.

"I don't know what my possibilities are and what I can do, so I am waiting," she says.

According to the State Courts, even if claims are discontinued, the claimant "can consider filing a civil suit in the courts".

At least three former gallery employees have also told The Straits Times that they are owed salaries amounting to $17,000.

The Ministry of Manpower and Central Provident Fund Board say they are taking enforcement action against the company.

Mr Vitharana says in an e-mail to The Straits Times that he is working towards paying off the company's debts and returning the paintings.

But for now, the artists may have to resort to other options. They could sue the storage companies for their works if they "have not consented to Mandala storing the artworks with the storage companies", says Mr Eugene Quah, partner, litigation and dispute resolution practice, at law firm RHTLaw Taylor Wessing. He adds that the storage companies may also sue Mandala, but even if successful, receiving payment would depend on whether "Mandala has assets in Singapore that the judgment can be enforced against".

Ms Emi Eu, president of Art Galleries Association (Singapore), advises artists to "carry out due diligence before signing up with any gallery", such as looking up gallery associations "where they could consult or find more information on the specific galleries".

She adds: "I hope that this unfortunate incident can be resolved in a fair manner for (all) parties."

Additional reporting by Cara Wong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2017, with the headline 'Firm looking for artists to claim works'. Print Edition | Subscribe