CHIEN-CHI CHANG, Burma: The Promise Betrayed, 2017, still from single-channel video with color and sound: 15 mins 59 secs. Courtesy the artist; Chi-Wen Gallery, Taipei; and Magnum Photos, New York.


Also available in:  Chinese

Along with casting ballots for the leaders of local municipalities and counties, Taiwanese citizens voted on ten referendums on November 24. Voters rejected same-sex marriage and the adoption of “Taiwan” as the country’s name at international sporting events. The results saw a heavy defeat for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which lost mayoral elections in Taiwan’s three largest cities. 

Though Taiwan has held de facto independence since 1949, China considers Taiwan a renegade province and demands eventual reunification. On November 17, Taiwanese documentary director Fu Yue delivered a pro-independence acceptance speech at the Golden Horse Awards ceremony in Taipei, where she received the Best Documentary prize for her work Our Youth in Taiwan (2018). The backlash from Chinese netizens was immediate. In defense of Fu, President Tsai Ing-wen stated: “[In Taiwan], no one will disappear or be silenced for their differing opinions.” 

Following the lifting of martial law in 1987, Taiwan has enjoyed an open, democratic and independent system of governance that translates to a lively and fairly international cultural scene. However, public institutions are sometimes hurt by the lack of insulation from politics. Following the midterm elections, newly appointed mayors may change out the directors of museums and cultural bureaus.  

Cheng Li-chiun, the minister of culture since May 2016, has secured NTD 20.2 billion (USD 665 million) for the Ministry of Culture (MOC)’s 2019–20 budget. It is the first time the allotment has surpassed the NTD 20 billion mark, with a majority of the funds intended for cultural operations rather than hardware. The MOC comprises several agencies implementing national art policies, governs national museums, and supports cultural and creative industries, with a budget of NTD 18.4 billion (USD 598 million) in 2018. Its programs include subsidies to galleries attending international art fairs and artists participating in international exchange exhibitions and residencies. 

Through the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, the MOC administers Art Bank Taiwan, which now holds more than 1,795 contemporary artworks available for lease. Additionally, the MOC channels funds from the Ministry of Economic Affairs to the National Culture and Arts Foundation (NCAF), which in 2017 distributed NTD 121 million (USD 3.9 million) to 779 cultural projects, including 188 visual arts projects. The NCAF also sponsors the National Award for Arts.

The city of Taipei supports the arts through the Department of Cultural Affairs, which had a budget of NTD 1.5 billion (USD 50 million) in 2018. It distributes funds directly through the Taipei Culture Foundation and oversees three of the nation’s most important art institutions: the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, and Artist-In-Residence (AIR) Taipei.

The Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM) was founded in 1983 as Taiwan’s first museum for 20th-century modern and contemporary art. TFAM has hosted the Taipei Biennial since 1998, and has organized the Taiwan Pavilion at the Venice Biennale since 1995. After nine months of closure for the museum’s most extensive renovation to date, TFAM resumed full operations in November with the 2018 Taipei Biennial, titled “Post-Nature: A Museum as an Ecosystem” (11/17–3/10/19), curated by Mali Wu and Francesco Manacorda, who brought together diverse projects about the biochemical and ecological states of our world. Mycelium Network Society (Franz Xaver, Taro Klemens Knop, Martin Howse and Shu Lea Cheang) grew mushrooms in spheres fitted with sensors, transmitters and receivers that picked up on the communications between the fungal colonies in an exploration of spore-based consciousness. Bird calls were emitted from Hsiao Sheng-Chien’s tree-like installation Return (2018), suggesting endangered soundscapes, while Ke Chin-Yuan’s “Our Island” project followed Taiwan’s environmental conservation issues from the 1980s to 2018.  

Opened in 2001, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei hosts local, regional and international exhibitions, embracing young artists and recent trends. The group show “(Not) Just a Historical Document: Hong Kong-Taiwan Video Art 1980–1990s” (4/7–6/3) was co-organized with Hong Kong’s Videotage, while “Trans-Justice: Para-Colonial @ Technology” (8/4–10/21) featured 12 local and international artists and collectives, looking back on the end of martial law in Taiwan in 1987 and the spread of Western liberalism in the 20th century, and tracing the lingering effects of authoritarianism.

A new addition to the network of public institutions in 2018 was the Taiwan Contemporary Culture Laboratory, overseen by MOC’s Taiwan Living Arts Foundation. Located in the former Air Force Command Headquarters, the platform will run performances and exhibitions.

Private and university-run museums occasionally host international exhibitions of significant interest. The Taipei National University of the Arts is home to the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, which runs a residency program for international artists and curators. For the 6th Kuandu Biennale, “Seven Questions for Asia” (10/5–1/6/19), the museum engaged seven curators who were each paired with 15 local and international artists, probing how conceptions of Asia have been shaped by global and local forces. Highlights included Chen Fei-hao’s video Love Suicide at Snow Melting Train (2017), based on a forbidden love affair between a Japanese prostitute and a clerk in the town of Beitou during the Japanese colonial period, and Onejoon Che’s installations looking into gifts traded between North Korea and African nations during the Cold War. 

In recent years, the Museum of National Taipei University of Education (MoNTUE) has presented well-researched exhibitions of modern paintings from both the West and Taiwan. In 2018, MoNTUE held “Ten-Ka” (9/8–11/18) with multimedia landscape works by photographer Hsieh Chun-Te.

The private Hong-gah Museum introduced “Offline Browser” (10/20–1/13/19), curated by artist Hsu Chia-Wei and curator Hsu Fong-Ray as part of the 6th Taiwan International Video Art Exhibition. Rounding up 44 participants through an open call, the show investigated the filtering of contemporary experiences through multimedia digital screens.

Taipei’s major artist-residency programs are run by AIR Taipei at its flagship venue, Taipei Artist Village, established in 2001 in the city center. Satellite facilities include the Treasure Hill Artist Village, which took over one of the first officially recognized historical settlements of Taipei City in 2010.

The gentrification and commercialization of so-called art districts is a common trend, with Huashan 1914 Creative Park and Songshan Cultural and Creative Park as prime examples of industrial spaces reclaimed first by artists, then converted into culture-themed shopping complexes. Taipei has also instituted ten Urban Regeneration Stations to make derelict properties available for arts and other uses, a program backed by various foundations and commercial-property developers. 

Many artists, however, feel that government spaces are too restrictive, and have developed independent spaces as an alternative. Established in 2010, the nonprofit organization Taipei Contemporary Art Center includes Taiwan’s leading curators, artists and critics as its members. It conducts research on local artists, and hosts talks, workshops, and exhibitions, in some cases critiques of major exhibitions or events in the art system. Five-year-old Polymer Art Space in Beitou district is a complex of artist studios and includes an exhibition space operated by a group of artists and curators. Polymer closed its doors in December, as the property owner, who plans to redevelop the site as another “artist space,” had not renewed its lease. 

The domestic gallery system is robust. There are currently around 149 galleries of all genres in Taiwan, with about 133 of them members of the Taiwan Art Gallery Association. A huge drive behind this development is the rise of Taiwanese collectors, who are viewed as some of the most progressive in Asia.

One of the leaders of the commercial gallery scene is Eslite Gallery, part of the Eslite Bookstore empire. The gallery maintains an expansive, modern space and represents top artists from Taiwan and China. “Romantic Barricade” (9/8–10/7) spotlighted Teppei Kaneuji’s inventive assemblages of found materials. Michael Lin presented wall paintings with his signature motif of textile patterns while Beat Streuli brought photographs of urban Taipei in “One Plus One” (11/3–25).     

The Neihu district has emerged as a hotspot, with expansive white cube spaces setting up amid the glass-tower headquarters of Taipei’s technology companies. TKG+, the contemporary platform of modern specialists Tina Keng Gallery, leads the way in terms of programming. Yuan Goang-Ming debuted an immersive looping video installation in “Tomorrowland” (3/3–4/29) that depicts an amusement park exploding. The work then toured to London’s Hayward Gallery (6/20–8/6) and the Bangkok Art Biennale (10/19–2/3/19). Mit Jai Inn’s canvases, covered in technicolored pigments, were shown in “Light, Dark, Other” (10/27–11/25), followed by Charwei Tsai’s videos and drawings of various landscapes, based on a Buddhist sutra that discusses gender equality, in “Root of Desire” (12/8–1/20/19).  

Nearby, Liang Gallery presented a group exhibition with modern Taiwanese painters to mark its 25th anniversary, “Passing Inheritance to the Future Generations / Visible Invisible” (5/19–7/1).

Along the Keelung River, Double  Square Gallery showcased the much-anticipated exhibition of Tsui Kuang-Yu (6/23–8/4), with video vignettes of the artist performing daily interventions in public spaces in Taipei.

Among galleries known for emerging artists and new-media art, Project Fulfill Art Space screened Zhang Xu Zhan’s  Hsin Hsin Joss Paper (2017), an animation of a funeral procession with paper rats, in “Si So Mi” (12/9/17–1/20) and showed Chen Chien-Jung’s architectural paintings in “Defection from Definition” (6/23–7/21). “Same As It Ever Was” (9/29–11/3) was an ecosystem of Yuko Mohri’s installations using everyday objects, while Dinh Q. Lê addressed visual representations of sex in his photo weavings shown in “Earthly Delights” (11/17–12/21). 

Chi-Wen Gallery moved from Da-an district to the Tianmu area of Taipei, and presented video and photographic works by Chien-Chi Chang that record  the migration of refugees from Syria to Europe, as well as the Rohingya refugee crisis, in “Azma and Burma: the Promise Betrayed” (3/10–4/28). The show was presented simultaneously with Chang’s “The War That Never Was” (3/10–4/29) at The Cube Project Space, run by academic Amy Huei-hua Cheng and music critic Jeph Lo, as part of the curatorial project on Asian Cold War histories, “Towards Mysterious Realities,” co-organized with the Total Museum of Contemporary Art Seoul. 

IT Park, Taiwan’s oldest artist-run gallery and a pioneer in experimental art practices since its opening in 1988, suspended its activities in 2018. Aki Gallery spotlighted three Gutai artists—Etsuko Nakatsuji, her husband Sadamasa Motonaga and Takesada Matsutani—and traced the impacts of Gutai on contemporary artists (10/13–11/11). EACH Modern (formerly Aura Gallery Taipei) re-established itself in March, inaugurating with Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama (3/16–5/6), followed by a presentation of quotidian scenes and female portraits by the late Taiwanese photographer Teng Nan Kuang (6/9–7/15).

Mind Set Art Center, Taipei’s first gallery to consistently show Filipino contemporary artists, mounted a solo show by Patricia Perez Eustaquio (6/2–7/14), showcasing her latest black-and-white tapestry work inspired by the 1881 Juan Luna painting, The Death of Cleopatra. A group show of women artists, “Casting Stones into Still Water” (10/27–12/8), curated by Patrick D. Flores, rounded out the year. Filipino artists were also represented at Nunu Fine Art, who showed found-object assemblages by Ari Bayuaji (7/1–8/11), as well as Iabadiou Piko (1/13–3/11) from Indonesia. 

Soka Art Center mounted contemporary paintings of ink and shanshui landscapes by eight Taiwanese artists, including Hsu Yujen and Yuan Huili (1/27–3/4). Gallery 100, recently renamed as Tso Gallery, mounted an exhibition of Zhao Gang (6/17–7/28), inspired by the stories of the Northern Yuan dynasty of China. Michael Ku Gallery featured the works of five emerging artists working in painting, video, installation and photography (3/11–5/6). Asia Art Center displayed works from Chu Weibor (3/10–4/15), a member of the seminal 1960s modernist collective, Fifth Moon Group.

Taipei’s main art fair is Art Taipei, organized by the Taiwan Art Gallery Association since 1992. The 2018 edition attracted 70,000 visitors—5,000 more than in 2017—while gallery attendance increased to 135 galleries, compared to 123 galleries from 2017 and 150 galleries in 2016. Around half the galleries were from Taiwan, while the international cohort was primarily from the region. 

Outside Taipei, the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts underwent its first renovation in 23 years following the appointment of its new director Lee Yulin in 2016. The show “Still Waters Run Deep” (2/10–6/10) featured poetic interpretations of vegetation and landscape—particularly around the area of Love River, or Ai He, the spine of Kaohsiung—with artists such as Su-Mei Tse, Charwei Tsai, Yannick Dauby and Yoshihiro Suda, among others.

In Taichung, Taiwan’s third-largest city, the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts has sponsored the Asian Art Biennial in odd-numbered years since 2007 and the Taiwan Biennial in even-numbered years since 2008. The 2018 Taiwan Biennial, titled “Wild Rhizome” (9/22–2/10/19), featured 32 artists and collectives that explored narratives outside of institutional frameworks (defined in prior biennial iterations), referring instead to the history of the avant-garde and of radicalized art groups. Taichung is also home to a small network of galleries such as Da Xiang Art Space, which mounted the photographs of Ko Si Chi (7/21–9/2).

Tainan, Taiwan’s oldest city, has established a network of alternative art spaces, galleries and artist-curator connections, with artists and curators living in and running spaces such as Fotoaura Institute of Photography, Absolute Art Space for the Arts and Art Square Taiwan, which facilitate critical conversations around art-making. The southeast city of Taitung launched its first land-art festival, “The Hidden South” (5/26–9/1), curated by Eva Lin, featuring artist collective Luxury Logico, Po-Chih Huang, Sih-Chin Wu and Tsan-Cheng Wu, mobilizing art communities in Taipei and elsewhere to travel to the southeastern coast.

Several private foundations support the arts. The Fubon Art Foundation, supported by the Fubon Financial Group, sponsors public-art projects and lectures. Since 2002, the Taishin Bank Foundation for Arts and Culture has sponsored the Taishin Arts Award. In 2018, its grand prize of NTD 1.5 million (USD 49,000) was awarded to “Kau-Puê, Mutual Companionship in Near Future: 2017 Soulangh International Contemporary Art Festival,” spearheaded by chief curator Gong Jow-Jiun (also curator of the Taiwan Biennial in 2018) and the team of curators Chen Po-I, Eric Chen, Chen Yen-Ing and Huang Chiung-Ying, initiating aesthetic dialogue between craft and contemporary art with religious cultural folk festivals. The Visual Arts Award of NTD 1 million (USD 32,000) went to Yao Jui-Chung for his series on the rise and fall of large religious statues in Taiwan, while the Performance Arts Award of NTD 1 million (USD 32,000) went to the Bulareyaung Dance and Cultural Foundation.

Around the region, Chen Chieh-jen was named Artist of the Year at the Award of Art China ceremony in May. He also showed at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Busan (6/16–8/12). Lee Mingwei was featured in several international museum exhibitions, most notably at Centre Pompidou in Paris (10/10–11/4) and at Jakarta’s Museum MACAN (11/17–3/10/19). 

In demand for his projects about the aftermath of the Second World War, Hsu Chia-Wei participated in the 21st Biennale of Sydney (3/16–6/11), the 12th Gwangju Biennale (9/7–11/11), Busan Biennale 2018 (9/8–11/11), the 12th Shanghai Biennale (11/10–3/10/19) and Bangkok Art Biennale 2018 (10/19–2/3/19). Hsu’s new work, exploring the life of the Malayan tapir, was screened at the International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York (10/30–1/25/19). At the Thailand Biennale 2018 (11/2–2/28/19), Tu Wei-Cheng presented his “Giant Ruins” series (2018) in the Khao Kanabnam caves, and collective Luxury Logico showed Voyage in Time (2018). Chou Yu-Cheng featured in the Liverpool Biennial 2018 (7/14–10/28), while Hou I-Ting and Joyce Ho participated in the 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (11/24–4/28/19). In Manchester, Charwei Tsai presented a solo exhibition at Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (10/12–1/20/19), and participated in institutions across Taichung, New York, San Jose, Kaohsiung and Singapore. 

In 2019, a new art fair, Taipei Dangdai, headed by founding fair director of Art HK, Magnus Renfrew, will be hosted at Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center in late January. Multimedia artist Shu Lea Cheang will represent Taiwan for the 58th Venice Biennale—the first woman to represent Taiwan in Venice—with a solo presentation curated by Spanish philosopher Paul B. Preciado. It will be based on ten historical and contemporary imprisonment cases related to gender, sexual and racial nonconformity. 

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