Sun, Mar 09, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Plaster German shepherds and other inanities

Visual arts exhibitions at Huashan have never been any good, and with the 2003 Artists' Expo, things haven't changed

By David Frazier  /  STAFF REPORTER

I'm always apprehensive when I hear about any art exhibition at Huashan. That's because the arts district offers democratic, no-cost access to enormous spaces, thus its warehouses have turned into magnets for crap.

The 2003 Artists Expo (藝術家博覽會), an exhibition by the Association of the Visual Arts in Taiwan (中華民國視覺藝術協會) which opened at Huashan yesterday and runs for a week, has attracted the usual collection of random debris, most of it coming from the ranks of its own members. The format is comically utilitarian: a big industrial-lit warehouse full of white plywood cubicles. It makes the exhibit look like a low-grade trade show. And to drive this entrepreneurial feel home, an attendant informed me that you could buy the art. Pointing to a wall of painted heart shapes, she said, "One for NT$3,800, or three for NT$10,000. And the proceeds go to charity."

"Charity? What charity?" I asked.

"The Association of the Visual Arts in Taiwan," she said.

"So you're telling me that most of the participants are members of the Association and that proceeds go to the Association, and that's charity?"

It doesn't bother me that they're trying to raise money, but lying about being a charity does. Then again, who knows? The government provides enough arts funding that artists may just consider it as their rightful dole. AVAT formed in 2000 as an independent association composed of member artists, though for some activities -- like this show -- it applies for government money. There are 70-odd artists in this the second ever Artists' Expo. Most but not all are members, and to be fair, some of them are accomplished. There's Akibo Lee (李明道), Tsung Pu (莊普) and a few other good artists who've exhibited in big shows, and from the looks of things, they've chipped in a piece or two, just to help out.

The rest of the show is interesting only in the sense that it provides reasons to mock contemporary art -- category by category, in fact. There is process-based art that investigates weaving rope, and there is environmental art concerned with arranging dirt and broken stones in symmetrical piles. As for the art of petty iconoclasm and deconstruction, there is one installation where the artist's point seems to be: If I glue 1,000 sanitary napkins to the wall, I must be a feminist.

The most common and annoying mistake however, is the naive belief that you can make art by combining any two things at random. For example, one artist seems to assert that an oversized theater mask won't look dumb if a Chinese landscape is painted on top of it. Another thinks that a giant plaster cast of a German shepherd by itself is not art, but that a giant plaster cast of a German shepherd with a silver, sequined scarf tied around its neck is. It's an affront to the old Dadaist spirit that found inspiration in novel combinations. And now, because of exhibitions like this, we can conclusively say that the Dadaist theory of juxtapositions is defunct. As a final, thrilling proof, Japanese anime meets photos of skin disease. The Comte de Lautreamenet is turning in his grave.

Now if the Dada formula has truly been displaced, I must offer something to take its place. So let me propose this: When you think Huashan, think crap. If you feel like seeing some art this week, spend NT$50 on a museum.

But if you must, Huashan (華山藝文特區) is located at 1 Pate Rd., Sec. 1, Taipei (北市八德路一段一號) and the 2003 Artists' Expo runs through March 16.

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