Write-ups and Critiques

One Year On

World Sculpture News, Volume ,7 Number 1, Winter 2001

With the growing interest in sculpture in both the public and private sector in Singapore during the past decade it was only a matter of time before a space dedicated to sculpture was opened. Just over one year ago, Sculpture Square in Singapore became a reality and opened to the public with an inaugural exhibition entitled Provocative Things in October 1999. The success of that exhibition and succeeding shows and activities has proven the founders correct in their vision. Sculpture Square is an unusual space, reconstituted from an abandoned church that was later used as a car repair shop, and is the first area in the region-outside sculpture parks-dedicated solely to three-dimensional art. Sculpture Square's popularity has dramatically increased awareness in three-dimensional art, which many people felt had been neglected for too long. The Square, though it has experienced the usual difficulties of any new organization, looks to the future with undiminished enthusiasm.

"It was crucial that Singapore had a space that focused solely on sculpture," says Delia Prvacki, a sculptor who has conducted numerous workshops at Sculpture Square over the past year. "There was nowhere else for three-dimensional artists to show their work on a regular basis."

Sculpture Square's first anniversary show, entitled trans(formations), featured work by a group of Malaysian artists (see pages 33-39). The curator, art historian and critic T.K Sabapathy, who also curated Provocative Things, notes "it is too soon to say what Sculpture Square has meant to the Singapore art scene or to the artists, (but) the will is there to make the Square succeed, and the building blocks are in place."

Edmund Cheng, chairman of Sculpture Square, concedes that it will be some time before the success of Sculpture Square can be gauged. "We have to consider its day-to-day running," says Cheng. "We're anonprofit organization and unfortunately donors have not been so forthcoming." Sculpture Square has several major sponsors, including Wing Tai Holdings and the National Arts Council, which provided the site as part of its Arts Housing Scheme.

Patricia Chen-Law, the general manager of Sculpture Square, prefers to see the first year as a learning process that highlighted the strengths of Sculpture Square, as well as pointing out its weaknesses. "I think our initial model was overly simple," she said. "We thought that if we provided the space, artists would pay to exhibit. After three months we found that we had few bookings, certainly not enough to run an arts center." But she went on to say that they had failed to factor in the running-in time, "a period that allowed people to get used to us and what we were all about. We felt very early on that there was an interest, but that people were waiting to see what would happen. We had to ask ourselves several key questions about where we were going. We had two viable possibilities. The first was to make the Square a commercial space that anyone could rent. But we felt that that would not be true to the spirit of the Square, or to the art for which it was established in the first place. The second possibility, which is the one we have opted for, is to establish the Square's credibility as a serious art space that would contribute significantly to Singapore."

Early in 2000, Sculpture Square appointed T.K. Sabapathy as the senior curatorial advisor, whose role it is to help develop quality programs. "Getting a professional arts management body is crucial. Appointing Sabapathy is only the first step," said Chen-Law. "We are still looking for an experienced arts manager."

If the problems of running Sculpture Square are yet to be solved, this should not detract from what has already been achieved. Over the past year, Sculpture Square has organized and curated five local and regional shows. Sabapathy says that apart from Provocative Things, two other exhibitions, Creativity Processes and more recently Animaux Binatang, represented important shows. "Three exhibitions of that standard in one year is very good," he said. In addition, Sculpture Square has hosted and managed 20 local and regional arts events, including the Nokia Art Awards, Text and Subtext, a dynamic show of work by Asian women artists, and Oblique Shadows, a collaboration with Sculpture Square featuring 10 artists from Australia who have been inspired in their workby varied experiences in Asia. Alongside the exhibitions numerious workshops and talks have also been held.

Sian E. Jay, 2001