Sudden closure of Singapore Pinacotheque museum disappoints art-lovers, frustrates tenants

Visitors ar the Features Gallery at Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris, on April 9, 2016.
Visitors ar the Features Gallery at Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris, on April 9, 2016. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

News that private art museum Singapore Pinacotheque de Paris at Fort Canning will close from Monday drew a small stream of visitors on Saturday afternoon, but they found its permanent collection already shuttered.

Like the visitors, food-and-beverage and retail tenants in the same building had just learnt about the closure from media reports on Friday evening, and at least one tenant has decided to move out.

Most of the museum-goers yesterday wanted to catch the Pinacotheque's rarely seen masterpieces by Picasso, Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir and other artists at its permanent gallery but a sign said the gallery was closed due to a "revamp".

The museum's latest exhibition that traces the rise of graffiti was open, however, as was its free-admission heritage museum dedicated to the history of Fort Canning.

The impending closure surprised many as the museum had opened with much fanfare in May last year, and the Singapore Tourism Board had facilitated the Pinacotheque project to help grow the city's leisure offerings.

It was the only international outpost of the private museum Pinacotheque de Paris in France, which closed on Feb 15 this year.

The once popular Paris museum, which opened in 2007, had suffered from poor visitor numbers in recent years. The Singapore museum too had weaker than expected visitorship and faced other business and financial challenges, according to a statement from Art Heritage Singapore, which manages the museum, on Friday evening.

When The Sunday Times visited the museum at the Fort Canning Arts Centre around 12.30 pm yesterday, the ticketing counter was empty. A notice said the staff would be back in an hour.

Mr Charles Quah, 30, a project manager was lingering at the heritage gallery with a friend while waiting for the ticketing officer to return. He said: "We have not visited a private art gallery in Singapore before and wanted to experience what it's like."

They were disappointed that the permanent gallery was closed, but wanted to view the graffiti exhibition as they were already there. Eventually, they gave up waiting.

The ticketing officer returned around 2.15pm and, for the next hour or so, there were close to 20 visitors, mostly locals.

Most were also surprised and disappointed that the permanent gallery was closed. Nonetheless, they bought tickets for the graffiti exhibition, . Tickets cost $18 for Singaporeans, permanent citizens and work permit holders, and $22 for others.

After a 45-minute tour of the artworks, Mr Wilfred Wong, 32, and his fiance, Ms Corinna Choh, 29, both managers, were not very impressed. Said Mr Wong: "It's worth it only if you are into graffiti art." Art-lovers were not the only ones who were disappointed.

French restaurant Balzac Brasserie at basement one will close from this Saturday (April 16) while the other food-and-beverage tenants are staying put for now. French executive chef Jean-Charles Dubois from Balzac said: "They never told us that they were going to close. I had to hear about it from the media. That's very disappointing. I don't know who to contact or who to talk to."

He added: "They promised me a lot of things. I was supposed to get an outdoor terrace for dining, but it never happened. There is no proper signage and so there's no traffic. They said we would do catering for the events at the museum, but we never did because there were no events.

"We haven't decided what to do next as it is very sudden. But we have started to inform our diners about our closure."

On level one were Giojio Concepts, which houses Italian gelataria Giovanni L., and American chowder house Seattle Pike Chow, and Arch which sells heritage gifts and collectibles. There were few customers at their stores. Fort by Maison Ikkoku, a restaurant-bar, only opens at 4pm.

In the basement, the glass cases at La Boutique Pinacotheque, the museum's boutique, which used to stock art and lifestyle curiosities, were now empty.

Myra's, a restaurant serving Mexican and North Indian fare, was also devoid of diners. Next to it, Balzac was closed for lunch.

Mr Chetan Kapoor, who owns Myra's, said: "We have events and wedding reception bookings till July. We are not sure if we can continue to run our business. We came here because of the museum." The crowd was thin from the beginning, he said.

However, at Fort by Maison Ikkoku, executive chef and mixologist Ethan Leslie Leong said he will not move for now.

"We don't depend on traffic to the museum as we realise that it was a problem from the very beginning,'' he said. "So we focused on building up our dinner and drinking crowd on our own. Till today, people come for our 12-course omakase and bespoke cocktails. We will not move unless we are forced to."