NTU Centre for Contemporary Art to close Gillman Barracks exhibition and studio spaces next year

NTU CCA, which opened in October 2013, was jointly set up by Nanyang Technological University and the Economic Development Board.
NTU CCA, which opened in October 2013, was jointly set up by Nanyang Technological University and the Economic Development Board.PHOTO: GILLMANBARRACKS.COM

SINGAPORE - NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, the anchor tenant of the Gillman Barracks arts cluster, will close its exhibition space and residency studios next year.

This deals yet another blow to the arts enclave off Alexandra Road, which in the past five years has seen many art galleries pull out from the area due to low sales and visitorship.

While NTU CCA's exhibition hall and residential studio spaces in Blocks 43, 37 and 38 will be gone after March 2021, the institution will still exist, retaining its research centre and office in Block 6.

NTU CCA, which opened in October 2013, was jointly set up by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Economic Development Board.

Prof Joseph Liow, dean of NTU's college of humanities, arts and social sciences, said in an e-mail statement to The Straits Times: "CCA will retain its Public Resource Centre, its administrative and research facilities at Gilman Barracks, but is looking at diversifying the locations of its exhibition and other activities, and increasing its presence at NTU main campus and other NTU locations.

"It will not extend its lease of block 43, its exhibition hall and blocks 37 and 38, its residency studios."

Over the years, NTU CCA has conducted artist residencies and mounted large-scale exhibitions featuring top contemporary artists such as Simryn Gill, Joan Jonas and Yang Fudong. It also organised hundreds of public programmes and events, including lectures, workshops and the annual Singapore Art Book Fair.

The centre was temporarily closed due to Covid-19 restrictions earlier this year, but reopened to the public last month.

"The current environment is not easy for many sectors including those in arts and culture. Many are looking at how to navigate in the new normal, and the CCA is no different," Prof Liow added.

"The CCA is going through a period of transition and transformation of its longer-term capabilities for the post Covid-19 recovery."

The news comes mere months after fellow Gillman Barracks tenant Chan + Hori Contemporary announced it was leaving the enclave to focus on becoming a curatorial, advisory and artists' management business.

 
 

Indication that NTU CCA would close most of its spaces had surfaced in a press release on the centre's upcoming Online Benefit Art Auction.

The auction, to run from Oct 1 to Oct 18, will raise funds for two ongoing projects - an online archive documenting the centre's work from its inception to the present, and a publication titled Climates. Habitats. Environments.

"These endeavours take on greater significance and are particularly urgent due to the cessation of the Centre's exhibition hall and residency studios at Blocks 43, 37 and 38 of Gillman Barracks in March 2021, making the months leading up to it crucial to the institution," the press release said.

An exhibition with works by filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha, slated to run from Oct 17 to Feb 28, will be the centre's last show at the enclave.

Artist Milenko Prvacki, 69, a senior fellow at Lasalle College of the Arts, bemoaned the loss of what he felt was a "very specific and needed space in Singapore".

"Singapore artists had the opportunity to collaborate and have a dialogue in conversation with international artists - and compare their placement in the world, not only in Singapore...  I (also) know many people who came here and they really enjoyed their residencies, learning a lot about Singapore."

Former artist-in-residence Robert Zhao, 37, said the centre had opened doors for him.

"I met a lot of curators who were visiting Singapore, and I (later) had a lot of exhibition opportunities overseas... (The centre) was very good at making different artists' works visible to the different people that were visiting."

The displacement of various arts institutions in Singapore has thrown the spotlight on issues of funding and policy in the arts scene.

 
 

The Straits Times reported last month that the Intercultural Theatre Institute and theatre company The Necessary Stage would be losing their long-time homes.

In January, it was announced that Centre 42, a theatre development venue in Waterloo Street, would be renovated and a new Arts Resource Hub - an NAC initiative to support freelancers - would co-run the venue. Many in the arts community greeted this news with dismay, expressing concerned that the changes would affect Centre 42's operations.

The Substation, a contemporary arts institution founded by late playwright Kuo Pao Kun in 1990, had also said it was worried about potential venue loss after the NAC takes back the building for renovations in July next year.