Editor's note: This article was almost erased to oblivion from cyberspace, but our quick thinking rescued it from Google's cache servers. It was originally hosted at Happening - thank you. The graphics are lost. We do not know who the author is, so we are not able to pay compliments nor request for formal permission. The article was written in 1997.
UTOPIA - an acronym for "United Together to Organise and Provide Interesting Art" - was more than an art gallery. We saw it as a place for artists to work together as friends, and as artists. We wanted to provide a platform for young "unproven" artists to launch their careers by offering an opportunity to exhibit.
Running a gallery was very stressful. Because there were only three of us, we were constantly changing roles, from artists to technicians, from technicians to marketing representatives, and from marketing representatives to gallery managers.
Artists have to be reminded constantly of things they have to do for their exhibition, and they are not well-known for keeping deadlines. In one instance, all the guests were already present when the artist sauntered in, dressed in T-shirt and slippers, to set up his works just five minutes to the launch. I was on the verge of tears!
Dealing with procrastinating artists was simple though, compared with the problem of introducing young talents to art collectors. They would rather fork out $4,000 for a painting by well-known local artist Prabhakara than to pay $500 for the work of a young artist like Chua Chye Teck.
We faced an uphill battle trying to educate the public that when they acquired art, they were buying an idea, and the workmanship and manipulation of material and images.
The selection of artists to be presented by us was based on these qualities, and Chye Teck was one of the most promising. From majoring in sculpture, he had ventured into painting. He believes strongly that both media are linked and his study sketches and paintings inspire the forms in his sculptures.
An incident I'll never forget was when a customer saw one of Chye Teck's sculptures and really liked it. He wanted to buy it, but when he saw Chye Teck's resumé, he saw that it filled only half an A4-sheet. He immediately asked to see works by artists with longer resumés.
Virus series II - "Untitled" 1995, mixed media on paper. 87 by 87 cm. By Chua Chye Teck. One of the paintings that was sold at UTOPIA. Chye Teck is now undergoing National Service.
Chye Teck was one of the lucky ones though. We sold four of his works. Many other artists we presented weren't as lucky. I was one of the less fortunate. Only one of my paintings left UTOPIA under the arms of a customer. Nonetheless, I was ecstatic when it happened because it was the first painting I had ever managed to sell.
"Xin Bao Qing Tian", 1996, oil on fabric, 30 by 30 cm. By Yvonne Lee. This painting was sold at UTOPIA.
The risky business of introducing new talent into the scene was short on material rewards. This put strains on the relationship between the three of us who ran the space. Tension started to build up between us and so despite increasingly strong support from artists, UTOPIA had to shut its doors for good on November 30 - six months after we began.
Closing the space was the hardest thing we had to do.
The end of UTOPIA didn't stop these young artists from pursuing their dreams though. Many turned to The Substation seeking an opportunity to exhibit or to work on projects. Others however, have stopped. Looking back now, I believe that a space like UTOPIA has a place in Singapore. Hopefully someday, another will emerge.
Jason Lim, his wife Zawiah Mohd,
UTOPIA was based at 7500A, Beach Road, The Plaza, #B1-321. It occupied one unit in a shopping mall. It lasted six months - from May 1 to November 30. During that time, there were 11 exhibitions. It was run by three artists - Vincent Leow, Jason Lim and Yvonne Lee.
Vincent Leow, 35, now teaches art part-time at the Lycée Français. He is working on his next solo exhibition scheduled for the end of next year (1997). For a sample of his work, see Flying Circus, Friends, and Art Sweetener - a condensed statement about art in Singapore.
Jason Lim, 30, is a practising full-time artist.
Yvonne Lee, 24, now works for Sembawang Media. A sample of her works can be seen at World's Women Online.