Contemporary Art Scene in Taiwan

Taiwan is a beautiful island in the Pacific with a rich history of despair and triumph. The Portuguese call it Formosa meaning “beautiful island”. I started to have an interest in visiting Taiwan after hearing stories from friends about their trip and how much they enjoyed the food. Reading the history of Taiwan, I find it interesting that it has a good mixture of Chinese and Japanese influence that I can’t wait to see what the culture is like. Aside from the culture, not many have explored the art scene which I find intriguing.

Old Formosa yellow striped tiger flag seen in Taiwan National Museum.

After the realization that I am about to start getting busy soon. I booked a short trip to Taiwan. I’ve marked the locations where I wanted to go and created offline maps just in case I don’t have internet access. Below is my offline map. The stars mark the places I went to and how far I’ve traveled during my first visit.

Navigating Taiwan is very easy as long as you have a portable wifi and a phone. Although most of the signs are in Chinese, there are English characters which makes it easier to move around. The train system is outstanding, most of the places I went to is within walking distance from the train station. There are bikes which you can rent using an Easy card. On my first day, I got the card from the airport in the information counter. You can also top up on the spot if you want an easier time in Taiwan, otherwise you can always top up at any station, the card is worth TWD 100. I didn’t end up using the card immediately because I thought I would save time and energy by getting a cab to my hostel.

After checking in, I went straight to Taipei Artist village. It looks like an old building redesigned to accommodate artists and their work. In their website, it shows that any artist can apply for residency. They are open to foreign artists which makes the artwork shown in their gallery diversified. My favorite in this space is the work by Karl Van Laere. Both of his performance art shown in the gallery are thought provoking and dramatic. The time and the patience he exerted in his work is remarkable. Aside from the performance art I saw in the gallery he has other performance art shown in his Vimeo account.  He creates social experiments and provides his observations through interviews after the performance. I also like the work by Junya Kataoka, he called it “Moving devices”. It’s a circuit of everyday objects creating a range of motion. It was convenient that after viewing their gallery, there’s a cafe next to it. I didn’t have enough rest the night before, it was a relief that I don’t have to go far just to have coffee.

Getting a great sleep on my first night, I went gallery hopping the next day (Sunday). Thinking that most of the galleries are closed on a Monday, I took advantage of seeking them out the entire day. The only disadvantage of gallery hopping on a Sunday is that there are more people viewing the galleries. The first stop is at Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). I was beginning to get excited when I saw lots of public art around the station but then when I got there, it looks like the Museum was under renovations. When I came in, the ladies at the reception said they do not have any exhibitions going on and that it is closed. I was very disappointed. I should have phoned in to check if they are open or sent a message to them. Keeping my spirits up, I just thought that I can still visit it at another time.

From MOCA, I went to Taipei Fine Arts Museum which is just three stations away from Zhongshan. It was a relaxing walk going there. There are trees, a park, and a food court. I went past the Farmer’s market (lots of bountiful harvest!), went to  Maji Maji and had lunch there. After resting and getting some souvenirs for my loved ones, I finally went to Taipei Fine Arts Museum. It was a worthwhile visit, the entrance fee is TWD 30.00. The top floor has different exhibitions. They also have a space showing the previous biennials  with pictures of artwork from 1998 to 2014. I found out that my visit was a bit too early because there is going to be a biennale this year from Sept 10, 2016 to February 5, 2017. The most interesting part of the exhibit is the Image Imaginings (2016) which is a collaborative work from different artist. You look into a box with a picture completing the story using the pamphlet provided at the entrance of the installation. It not only makes you fill in the gaps in the story, it was like an adventure, finding out for yourself what the mystery is all about.

Coming from the Fine Arts Museum, I made my way to Huashan Creative Park.  Researching a bit further, the space was once a factory and was converted to a creative art space. It is somewhat similar to the Youth Park in Singapore, only that the surrounding buildings and spaces are art spaces and not malls. The space attracts lots of performers and spectators. I’d compare it to a small version of Universal Studios without the rides. At the back of the factory buildings, near the park, there are tents set up for independent vendors selling hand made goods from food to items you can wear or display. I thought it was a great way to utilize an old structure to bring more life in the neighborhood. I had a full day with lots of walking that I decided to go home after the trip to Huashan.

Paintings spotted in Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall Station

Early to bed, early to rise. I left my hostel early and viewed the sites before everybody else can. The train stations are not usually crowded, and by the time it does get crowded, I’m off somewhere viewing a gallery or eating a meal. It was very convenient for me since I don’t have to wait for anyone and I can go at my own pace. Monday, I went to see Taipei’s historical monuments. I’m glad I booked accommodations which is not far from the center of the city, I can just hop in the train station and hop out. Most of the train stations I’ve observed has art work. I’m very pleased to see them in big cities because it makes any concrete jungle feel more alive. Art fills up our senses, it causes an equilibrium effect to our emotions whatever it may be.

I had a quick nap back at my hostel and freshened up. I thought going to Songshan Cultural and Creative Park was a good idea since it’s near the place where I’m staying so I walked my way there. It was too late when I thought that it was a bad idea because it took me about 30 minutes getting there instead of 20 minutes. I’ve forgotten that the time in Google Maps are estimates. Yes, the google estimates are for people with long legs! I happen to have shorter legs. I got there anyway, and was a bit disappointed because most of the spaces are closed. They were getting ready for the exhibitions in September. Ces’t la vie. Although it was a failure, some of the spaces are open and I found Cafe Solé . The space looks promising, something to look forward to on the next visit.

Tuesday was an outdoors day for me, a break from the gallery and museum hopping. In the morning I hiked Elephant Mountain to see a magnificent view of Taipei. It was a beautiful sunny weather. I’m glad I went even though the weather forecast says there is a chance of rain and thunderstorm. Going to Jiufen was easy, I booked a package tour in advance. I can definitely go on my own, but sometimes booking a packaged tour saves a lot of time and energy. I met a lady from Canada and two Hungarian men. It’s always a pleasure to get acquainted with other tourists, you’ll never know who you’ll bump into. Sometimes, you can gain new friends out of the encounter. The trip going to the North East to see Jiufen and Bitou cape was a great way to see a glimpse of Taiwan’s beautiful landscape.

On my last day, I checked out early from my hostel then went to Taipei  101. Many works of art appear in and around Taipei 101. It includes German artist Rebecca Horn‘s Dialogue between Yin and Yang in 2002 (steel, iron), American artist Robert Indiana‘s 1-0 in 2002 and Love in 2003 (aluminum), French artist Ariel Moscovici‘s Between Earth and Sky in 2002 (rose de la claret granite), Taiwanese artist Chung Pu’s Global Circle In 2002 (black granite, white marble), British artist Jill Watson’s City Composition in 2002 (Bronze), and Taiwanese artist Kang Mu Hsiang’s Infinite Life in 2013 (aluminum). 

In the afternoon before heading to the airport, I went to the National Taiwan Museum. The Museum is the oldest in Taiwan, it was established in 1908 and one of the most noteworthy public buildings built by the Japanese colonial government in Taiwan. The Museum was designed by Japanese architect Ichiro Nomura and Eiichi Araki and construction was carried out by the Takaishi Group. I thought the museum visit was a great finale to my trip. The museum exhibits pictures and artifacts of the history of Taiwan.

I can’t help but notice how the Taiwanese developed a good blend of Chinese and Japanese influence with a “down-to-earth” character which probably originated from its tribes. It is also noticeable in the art created by the local artists and artists who considered Taiwan to be their second home.

Verdict: The contemporary art scene in Taiwan is rich and full of potential. There are a lot of galleries accommodating to local and international artists but they haven’t seen the potential of the international market. It seems like they want to sell the work only to the locals without entirely realizing that there is a potential in international sales through tourism. Most of the websites are in Chinese and not very easy for tourist or English speakers  unlike Hong Kong or Singapore, all of the content are in English which makes it easy for locals and tourists.