Sun, Feb 16, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Who let the the kids into the porn show?

A city councilwoman's attack on the Taipei Biennial fails to address important issues of museum management and the purpose of art

By David Frazier  /  STAFF REPORTER

Kyoichi Tsuzuki's Satellite of Love, a photographic installation about Japanese love hotels, was not singled out for criticism by Taipei City Councilwoman Lee Wen-ying.

PHOTO COURTESY OF TFAM

Taipei City Councilwoman Lee Wen-ying (李文英) on Feb. 6 attacked a nude sketch in the 2002 Taipei Biennial, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum's (TFAM) most internationally important regular exhibition, as being pornographic and unsuitable for children. It was the ignorant kind of attack that Taipei city councilors so often make to get on television, but that's not to say it won't have an effect.

When reporters later confronted Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), he was palliative on the issue, saying that the museum should try to consider these issues when putting together future exhibitions. Did he mean this?

The sketch in question was one in the series Duel in the Sun by the German artist Johannes Kahrs. It is a very rough and expressionistic sketch of a woman lying on her back with her vagina exposed.

But rather than trying to defend the drawing for artistic value or pedigree -- as TFAM did in saying it was a study of a painting by the French realist Goustav Courbet -- let's talk for a moment about penises and vaginas at TFAM, because they've been there for a long time.

Two years ago, in fact, people were buck naked and having sex in the museum while auditioning for a porno film as part of ShuLea Cheang's (鄭淑麗) installation at the 2000 Biennial. The salient feature of the film and the installation, Cheang noted, was "lots of cum." Though the audition was only open to those consenting adults who auditioned, the installation that followed included photographs of sexual acts and was open to the public.

Then during April and May of last year, a male performance artist spent 17 full days in the museum wearing only a leather bag pulled down over his head and a gourd tied over his privates. The piece was by a local group called the House of Wuchi (無忌宮) and was titled Image of Carnal Sacrifice.

In the 1998 Biennial, the paper block prints of Hou Jun-ming (侯俊明) included numerous grotesque penises and vaginas. Anatomically, the images are pretty analogous to the Kahrs drawing currently under criticism by Lee, but Hou offered dozens of them while Kahrs only included one or two.

Hou, Cheang and the House of Wuchi are all Taiwanese -- and here let me mention that TFAM's fundamental mission is to promote Taiwanese art and artists. I mention this because in 20 or so minutes of perusing catalogues of TFAM's permanent collection, which consists nearly exclusively of Taiwanese artists, I found about a dozen nudes, some showing penises or vaginas, that the museum bought with its Taipei City Council-provided budget. Taiwanese master Hsi Teh-chin's (席德進) impressively endowed Nude Youth, CJ Yao's (姚慶章) Model in Studio (II) and Hung Jui-lin's (洪瑞麟) Nude Man are just a few examples.

So nudity is nothing new at TFAM. But in this context it's very strange that Lee picked a foreigner's work to attack -- that's why I called her ignorant.

But where she may have a point is that the work may not be suitable for unsupervised children, and here blame should be directed at TFAM, whose program of youth education has opened up shows with mature content to kids, like the 2002 Biennial. For the current Biennial, the museum has produced a brochure-sized guide for kids that's free in the galleries. I recently mused on the pamphlet's irony while watching an 8-year-old spinning pleasantly on the circular, rotating bed of another Biennial installation, Kyoichi Tsuzuki's love hotel. It was, of course, omitted from the kids' guide, as was Kahrs' work. Now, as an awkward stopgap, the museum has placed barriers around these sections warding off underage viewers.

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