Sun, Aug 26, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Comic art is a national treasure

By Chang Hsun-ching 張勳慶

Chien Hsiu-chih (簡秀枝), president of the Art and Collection (典藏雜誌社) publishing house, has written an article criticizing the National Palace Museum for mounting an exhibition at its library titled “The Legacy of Chen Uen: Art, Life and Philosophy” (千年一問─鄭問故宮大展), which exhibits work by the Taiwanese cartoonist Chen Uen (鄭問), who passed away in March last year.

Chien said that comics are not a real art form; that politics intervened to have the National Palace Museum hold the exhibition; that the exhibition should have been held at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum or the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei; and that the exhibition has failed to draw large crowds.

She wondered whether cartoonists such as Tsai Chih-chung (蔡志忠), Ao Yu-hsiang (敖幼祥), Ye Hung-chia (葉宏甲) and Wang Che (王澤) would also be allowed to exhibit at the museum.

Chien claimed that comics are applied art and not seen as “real art” by the international community, so the National Palace Museum should not belittle its reputation and collections.

Her basic argument was that as a temple of national treasures, the museum should not blur its role.

However, this view seems outdated and rigid.

Today’s comics differ from past paintings in terms of their material and content, just as Spanish painter Pablo Picasso’s abstract paintings differed from the paintings of previous eras. Simply because the aesthetics of comics differs from that of traditional works of art does not mean that comics cannot join the halls of great human art, nor does it mean that a venue of national cultural relics cannot hold a comic exhibition.

Some people complain that the pyramid at Paris’ Louvre does not match the rest of the museum, while even more people praise the pyramid.

Chien used to serve on the Ministry of Culture’s public art review committee to appraise visual art. Was she able to adapt to new thinking, to surpass her preconceptions?

More controversially, Chien said the National Palace Museum agreed to hold the exhibition from mid-June to mid-September after politicians and the event organizer visited the museum and the Ministry of Culture promised unofficial assistance, pushing out a planned exhibit of European art.

While every artist wants their work shown at the National Palace Museum, it is up to the gatekeepers to decide what they exhibit. If the curators are judging works based purely on artistic criteria, then no one can claim that a politician visiting the museum pollutes invaluable art with politics.

According to Chien’s logic, an exhibition organized by the media would mean that the fourth estate had overstepped its power to obtain government approval for the show and stood to profit by it.

The creation of comics is still a remote wilderness in Taiwan and cartoonists work on their own, like gold prospectors. There is a chasm between Taiwan and Japan, where creating comics is an artistic endeavor and has turned into a large industry, with Japanese often presenting comic books to foreign guests as gifts.

The Ministry of Culture has tried to promote comics in Taiwan, but it remains to be seen whether they will be accepted by the market and in society as literature has been.

Chen devoted his life to creating comics, winning praise at home and abroad, but he is now being humiliated by critics because his work is being exhibited at a national-level museum.

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