Taipei Biennial Finds Bearing with Art Compass


Addressing poor VIP attendance at the 2006 Taipei Biennial, Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM) director Hsieh Hsiao-yun announced in December that the 6th Taipei Biennial in 2008 will “compete” with eight other biennials occurring simultaneously in East Asia and Australia. TFAM, which supervises the Taipei Biennial, plans to schedule the September opening during a frenzied two-week run of kick-off events at the start month. Additionally, the Biennale of Sydney, which opens in June, will hold its closing activities in September as part of Art Compass, a coalition of five festivals including the Yokohama Triennale and the Gwangju, Shanghai and Singapore biennials, which provides a platform for coordinated programming and international cross-promotion.

Revitalizing the Taipei Biennial is one of Hsieh’s major projects after assuming her position as director of TFAM in August 2007. Hsieh agrees with critics that the previous Taipei Biennial was  “marginalized” because of its November launch, two months after the opening of Asia’s other major biennials. For this year’s edition, Hsieh has met with city and museum officials in Singapore and Busan to coordinate opening events and festivities.

To further the Taipei Biennial’s competitiveness, Hsieh also announced that TFAM will increase the biennial’s budget to TWD 34 million (USD 1 million) from TWD 20 million ($600,000), where it remained for years even as spending skyrocketed elsewhere. “Biennials are major avenues for cities to market themselves and show their competitiveness,” said Hsieh. Pragmatic and outspoken, she called Gwangju a major draw and matter-of-factly referred to the Shanghai Biennial as “a black hole—everybody goes.”

Although the Art Compass exhibitions announced their schedules at the inauguration of the Venice Biennale in June 2007, TFAM never announces its biennial plans more than a year in advance. In prior years, curators have had as few as six months to prepare the show, which generally includes around 40 international artists. This year’s curatorial team of Vasif Kortun, director of Istanbul’s Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center, and independent Taiwanese curator Manray Hsu, has a 10-month lead time. Kortun has worked on biennials in Istanbul (1992 and 2005) and São Paolo (1998) and directed Turkey’s national pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale. Hsu was the first Taiwanese co-curator of the 2000 Taipei Biennial and was a co-curator of the 2006 Liverpool Biennial.

After less than a month on the job, the pair had yet to announce a theme, but they have declared that a biennial cannot be “imported purely as a final product,” indicating that community involvement will be a focus. Unlike the previous five biennials, this one will overflow the Taipei Fine Arts Museum into other city spaces.