Art cities to watch 2021: Taipei, Taiwan –

For a glimpse of what lies ahead as the art world looks to the future, ARTnews devoted part of the June-July 2021 issue of the magazine to 10 cities to watch: Philadelphia, Atlanta, Vancouver, Guadalajara, Bogotá, Oslo, Tallinn, Casablanca, Abu Dhabi and Taipei. Stay tuned as each city will be joining the Seoul and Paris related reports online in the coming weeks.

Taiwan, an island off the southeast coast of mainland China with a population of over 23 million, has never been a big star on the world stage, but it has caught the limelight in 2020 as one of the few successes at the start of the pandemic. Taipei, the capital, was spared the fate of a total foreclosure, and the city’s art scene flourished as a result. The Art Taipei Fair went as planned in October, followed by the Taipei Biennale in November. Activities have since continued, all against the backdrop of a liberal and progressive society – the first in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage and hold fully democratic elections – as well as a degree of technological progress to be envied.

Institutional action, at home and abroad

With over 40 museums and 85 galleries in the greater Taipei area, Taiwan’s contemporary art scene thrives on a large local scene. Taipei’s museums and institutions recorded more than one million visitors last January alone, according to data from the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, providing a solid foundation for the region’s arts community.

But increasing the visibility of contemporary Taiwanese art on the world map is a priority among art institutions. “As a small island, we have to overcome geographic and trade barriers by reaching overseas, engaging the international community for dialogue,” said Wang Jun-jieh, director of Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Among the museum’s many initiatives, there was an effort to maintain Taiwan’s presence in international artistic extravagances such as the Venice Biennale, despite the difficulties encountered: the Taipei Fine Arts Museum was leading the Taiwanese exhibition at the Biennale. of Venice since 1995, but the Island was excluded from the category of national pavilions under pressure from mainland China in 2003. Since then, the Taiwan Exhibition has functioned as a collateral event.

Fu-Sheng Ku’s The bedroom at the top of the stairs, 1983, was included in the exhibition “Spectrosynthesis”, 2017, at MOCA Taipei.
Courtesy of MOCA Taipei

Building bridges with the outside world has also been a goal for the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts in Taichung City, about 100 miles south of Taipei. In the spring, the museum continued its plans for a side event to the Venice Architecture Biennale, which was due to open at the end of May after delays linked to the pandemic. Its offering was “Primitive Migration from / to Taiwan”, organized by Divooe Zein Architects and Double-Grass International Co. “We want to focus on the exhibition to get more international visibility,” said Liang Yung-fei, director from the National Taiwan Museum. “We will also strengthen our collaborations with other global institutions. “

Another way to get global exposure is to organize thematic exhibitions that can attract media attention. In 2017, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Taipei, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, presented “Spectrosynthesis – Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now,” the first investigative exhibition of LGBTQ art in a major museum in Asia, before the island adopted a law authorizing same-sex marriage in the same year. . In 2019, MOCA Taipei presented a series of melancholy photographs of Liu Xia, wife of the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, in an exhibition titled “Atemschaukel”; it was her first exposure since being released from house arrest in China two years earlier. “MOCA’s exhibits cover a range of topics from race and colonialism to gender and digital technology,” said Li-Chen Loh, director of MOCA Taipei. “Our choice of topics demonstrates our intention to connect with a global audience. “

The exterior of MOCA Taipei.

The exterior of MOCA Taipei.
Courtesy of MOCA Taipei

Market measures

According to a report released by the Ministry of Culture in 2019, art sales in Taiwan increased 14% to $ 225.4 million from the previous year, with 97% of sales made locally. And enthusiastic local Taiwan collectors have been the base of the island’s market, said Oliver Chang, chairman of the Taiwan Art Galleries Association, which organizes art fairs around the island, including Taipei Art, the oldest in the region. For its 27th edition, last October, the five-day show attracted more than 70,000 visitors despite international travel restrictions, with sales totaling $ 35 million.

“The previous editions show that we have a strong collector base and that we are seeing more young collectors in recent years,” said Chang, whose next fair is scheduled for next October. “Many exhibitors at the 2020 edition of Art Taipei have met a new generation of collectors who are not only young but also well-educated and have experience abroad. They have new ideas and more control over their art collection budget.

If they are less known in the West, Taiwanese collectors and their strong purchasing power are recognized throughout Asia. While Hong Kong remains an art auction center, it has long been customary for auction houses to exhibit future sales highlights in Taipei. This purchasing power was enough to attract Magnus renfrew, who directed ART HK in Hong Kong and Art Basel Hong Kong, to create Taipei Dangdai, an art fair that brings together international galleries and art lovers on the island. The first two editions, in 2019 and 2020 (the second in January, just before the outbreak of the pandemic), were well received locally and received praise from foreign visitors.

Renfrew described the artistic audience in Taiwan as “extremely sophisticated” and interested in an “active collection”. He also noted the growing presence of young, Western-educated collectors who “have attended exhibitions and fairs internationally and engage in art that resonates with them”.

The next full-scale Taipei Dangdai is slated for May 2022, due to pandemic travel restrictions, but Renfrew said he believes Taiwan’s success in containing the coronavirus has given “confidence to the world that it is a safe place to visit “. With its economy largely intact, Taiwan’s status as an art market destination is in a strong and credible position.

A change, Renfrew said, could make it even more important when it comes to taxes. “Import tax and sales tax are not prohibitive in Taiwan, but if you asked me to choose one thing that could advance the cause of Taipei as a market destination, it would be to forgo the tax. on importing and selling art, ”he said. Others share the sentiment. Hu Yung-fen, curator and board member of the National Culture and Arts Foundation, has repeatedly said Taiwan’s hostile tax system has driven auction houses away from Hong Kong, a hub of duty-free trade. An amendment to ease taxation on fine art was introduced to the local legislature late last year, but consensus has yet to be reached and debate and deliberation continues.

Three sculptures rest on a bar lit by purple neon lights in front of two stools cast in a magenta neon light.

Wang Jiajia’s exhibition “FOMO: Fear of Missing Out”, 2020, at TAO Art Space.
Courtesy of Tao Art

Artists and Galleries

“Taiwanese artists have relatively low visibility in the eyes of foreign collectors,” said Niu Jun-qiang, a Taipei-based artist focused on video, experimental film, photography and multimedia installations who has exhibited frequently in the city. One of the reasons for the challenge has to do with politics: China’s dominance on the world stage overshadows Taiwan’s global presence, Niu said.

Two still images from the film Transcript with Shadows by Niu Jun-qiang, 2019.

Two photos from Niu Jun-qiang’s film Transcription with shadows, 2019.
Courtesy of Niu Jun-qiang

Wu Chi-tsung, an artist based in Taipei while operating in Berlin and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is one of a handful of Taiwanese artists who have an international presence. His works sold well at Art Basel Hong Kong, and in March he mounted a solo exhibition at the Hong Kong World Gallery. He is also preparing his first solo exhibition in New York, with the Sean Kelly Gallery, in the fall. Despite all this, Wu expressed a sense of solidarity with the artists who are still trying to find their way. “There is a lack of channels to bridge the gap with the international art world,” he said.

Wu also hopes that young collectors in Taipei could look more to local artists, especially given the current global circumstances. “They are ready to travel everywhere and find the hottest works,” he said of Taiwanese buyers. “But when easy international travel is no longer available, things have to change.”

The rise of young collectors has helped revitalize the local scene. Some of them have have even founded their own spaces to showcase their favorite artists, such as Vicky Chen, who with his father founded ART TAO space in Taipei last year. Designed by Japanese architect Jun Aoki, it is positioned not only as an exhibition space, but also as a platform to connect Taiwan’s contemporary art scene with the world, with collaborative projects with international galleries, according to Chen. “In the future, we might cross or swap spaces,” she said. “There are already a lot of large art spaces in Taiwan, but more art lovers and collectors like [me] have set up ours, ”Chen said. “I feel there will be even more interesting art.”

A version of this article appears in the June / July 2021 issue of ARTnews, under the title “The Island Safe Zone: Taipei”.

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