Taipei has long dominated the country's art scene, almost to the exclusion of other cities, but the opening today of the exhibition "Rembrandt and his Followers" at the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts is a clear indication that, in the cultural realm at least, the winds of change are shifting in favor of Taiwan's southern cities.
"Rembrandt and His Followers," made up of works on loan from from the Museum Geelvinck Hinlopen Huis and the Museum Het Rembrandhuis, was originally slated to arrive in Taiwan as part of the Holland Festival in 1999, but was repeatedly delayed due to concerns over the safety of the collection.
"The requirements [in terms of guarantees and liability] were much more strict than we have encountered in the past," Chen Shieh-ni (
The exhibition features 72 prints, mostly by Rembrandt, but includes 21 prints by artists inspired by the Dutch master. For many, Rembrandt is best known for his oil paintings, but according to Chen, the artist's reputation was in fact solidified through the proliferation of prints, which were available to a much wider public.
"The enjoyment of oil paintings was pretty much restricted to the wealthy," she said. The inclusion of works by Rembrandt's imitators in this show also gives an interesting perspective on the artist's influence.
Because of the extreme fragility of the prints, the demands placed on any venue aiming to host such a show are considerable. Although the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts is only six years old, Robin Ruizendaal, the director of the Holland Festival, regarded it as a far superior site to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum.
Larger exhibition space and more advanced technology in such areas as humidity control are all likely to give the KMFA a strong claim for preeminence over its more established relative in Taipei for future high-profile exhibitions.
The long period needed to hammer out the details of bringing the Rembrandt exhibition to Kaohsiung highlighted some of the problems faced by Taiwan in international arts exchanges. According to.A.W. Buisman, the chairman of the Geelvinck Hinlopen Huis Foundation, which has provided 51 Rembrandt originals for the show, the fact that Taiwan lies outside the framework of many international agreements makes administrative issues for large-scale cultural exchanges difficult, especially with such national heritage items as the Rembrandt works.
"During the negotiations for the exhibition, we were forced to develop our own methods for getting things done," Chen said, "because the infrastructure for international exchanges [in Taiwan] is still not sufficiently developed."
On more than one occasion the arrangements for the exhibition nearly fell through, but Buisman gave credit to the enthusiasm of the museum staff for keeping negotiations on track. Chen also said sponsorship by Philips Electronic Building Elements, based in Kaohsiung, helped convince the Dutch museums of the high quality facilities that could be expected in Taiwan.
"We have lots of exhibition space," Chen said, "and the danger is that if the works are not of sufficient quality, they may be simply overwhelmed by the size of the venue."
The prints, some of them little more than a 5cm2, are displayed in specially arranged subdued lighting space on the ground floor of the museum.