Following the closure of Singapore art gallery Mandala Fine Art, up to 39 artists have not been able to reclaim their artworks, estimated to be worth a total of more than S$1 million (US$705,800).
Sri Lankan gallery owner Vitharana Mudiyanselage Hemasiri Vitharana fled Singapore last year. He left the artworks with at least two storage companies, which will not release them because of unpaid rent. Meanwhile, the Kallang Avenue gallery sits empty with its glass doors chained.
Vitharana also owes artists and former employees thousands of dollars in salaries and transportation costs, according to former gallery staff and 15 artists.
Among the artists hoping to reclaim their work back is Ukrainian underwater painter Alexander Belozor, who has appealed for help from his country’s embassy in Singapore. He claims that 14 of his works are still in Singapore after being exhibited at the Asia Dive Expo last April. Mandala Fine Art also owes Belozor about $2800 in transportation costs.
Admitting he had lost $500,000 since setting up the company in 2014, Vitharana says Belozor’s works are “safe and secure in a private place in Singapore”.
He says the works are “stuck” because “we do need to do some payments”.
Meanwhile, a police report has been made on behalf of 38 artists from countries such as South Africa, Thailand and the UK. They had sent their works to Singapore in 2015 for the Mandala Wildlife Art Exhibition, mounted by the gallery, and had been “stonewalled” by Vitharana when asking for their works to be returned.
Police confirm a report was lodged in September and that “the complainant was advised on his legal recourse”.
UK artist Jeremy Paul says three of his paintings, valued at about $10,000, have not been returned. He says the gallery also owes him $886 for framing and delivery of the art.
Vitharana says the paintings are in storage owned by Ocean Logistics, and claims to have paid 40 to 50 per cent of the fees owed. Ocean Logistics owner Gary Yeo says he brought the matter to the small claims court last April. As a result, Vitharana paid half of the bill, $5000 in May, promising to settle the balance by the end of the month.
However, the outstanding amount has snowballed to $18,776, and Yeo says he will be discussing his next steps with his lawyer.
Gallery employees claim they are owed between $3000 and $11,000 in unpaid salaries.
“We accept our mistakes and would like to apologise officially to all the parties who have had to undergo difficulties because of us and the situation,” says Vitharana, who says he plans to return to Singapore.