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After seven years in the industry, the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (NTU CCA) will be ceasing operations at the Gillman Barracks art complex. From March 2021, it will be closing its exhibitions and residency programmes at its physical venue, joining a string of independent arts organisations that have been displaced as a result of the pandemic.
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According to ArtReview, CCA has cited the reason for the decision as part of a period of transition and transformation for the post COVID-19 recovery.
While the organisation will not be closing completely – it will still be retaining its Public Resource Centre and administrative and research facilities at Gillman Barracks – the displacement has been described by many arts publications as a “major blow to Singapore’s arts and cultural communities”.
History of the space
Opened in October 2013, it is the brainchild of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Economic Development Board – the national research centre for contemporary art. German-born founding director Ute Meta Bauer heads the small, full-time team of 14, curating exhibits that bring forth innovative and experiential forms of art that highlight the social-political spheres and other fields of knowledge.
With a collection of experimental practices, NTU CCA is a prominent centre for critical discourse in Southeast Asia and beyond. Amid the cluster of art galleries in the Gillman Barracks, it has served as a safe haven for many a millennial artist and enthusiast, eager to explore their learnings of contemporary art in Singapore and the region.
Over the years, its residency programme has enabled both local and international artists to immerse fully in their pursuit of the arts, and nurtured talents like Charles Lim, Lee Wen, and Sam Durant.
Its contribution to the art scene
Because of its internationally minded roster of exhibitions, workshops, screenings, and performances, the NTU CCA is thus one of the few spaces in Singapore known for its global purview on contemporary art.
Solo exhibitions of the likes of Amar Kanwar, Joan Jonas, and Yang Fudong have graced its walls, elevating the local art scene with the work of leading international artists for the first time. Its final exhibition will be on the films of Vietnamese-American academic-filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha, running from 17 October to 28 February.
Beyond being an establishment housing exhibits, NTU CCA served to encourage dialogue between local and international artists, allowing artists to compare placements in the world and interconnect with others driven by the same passion. It also opened doors for artists in Singapore – in an interview with The Straits Times, Robert Zhao, former artist-in-residence said that he met a lot of curators and had a lot of exhibition opportunities overseas because the centre spotlighted his work.
Events of significance held there over the years
Aside from being the organiser of the Singapore Art Book Fair, the centre has hosted the NTU Ideas Fest – a public summit with the most eminent of artists, researchers, and community leaders in 2016/17 and now, 2020. The platform encouraged the bridging of artistic practices and academic research from the ground up, to that of the community at large.
This year, the event was guest-curated by IdeasCity, New Museum, New York, building on the premise that art and culture are essential to the future vitality of cities. The initiative provided a forum where practitioners and policymakers could exchange ideas, identify challenges, and propose solutions – especially relevant in a country where the government has been criticised for demonstrating wavering commitment towards the arts.
The future of the art space
Like many businesses, the NTU CCA intends to diversify its locations and go digital, creating an online archive that will better document and promote its programmes and initiatives long-term. As Yvonne Tham, CEO of Esplanade has said in an interview with CNBC, post-pandemic music and theatre performances will likely have to veer towards a hybrid model, where live and digital performance complement each other to be unlimited by time and space.
It’s a feasible solution to counter the shortfall of funding that has affected many Singapore arts groups like the CCA following the pandemic. In efforts to continue trying to bring the community together, the NTU CCA plans to host more virtual events that will showcase the work of local and international artists and arts organisations, as well as grow its educational link and focus on art research with NTU.