Sun, Jul 18, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Rewarding artifice in the Taipei Arts Award

Pieces that are supposed to represent the best contemporary art flirt with inanity, though some shine


Sheu Jer-yu's Being There, above, and Chiou Jyian-ren's Narrative, below.


If postmodernism is the mix of high and low culture, swallowing in one gulp past and present, tradition and newness, and all different media, then Taiwan's new generation of artists have certainly caught on to the world's most fashionable movement.

Unfortunately, in the 2004 Taipei Arts Award exhibit at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), they also seem to be lacking aesthetic depth, a common malaise in contemporary art. Concepts that merit perhaps a wry grin on the part of the viewer replace truly moving experiences, with a few notable exceptions. Video or projection installations creating simple tricks of light or animation stretch the limits of utter inanity.

Nevertheless, the exhibit manages to construct a certain thematic flow, reinforcing weaknesses by suggestive juxtapositions.

The striking gold background and black frame of Li Hsuan-chih's (李宣芝) pencil illustration The Pumpkin Worker Slips plays a gentle joke on Wang Wu's more traditional woodcut print Summer of Qui-Wei on an adjacent wall. Block-like qualities in both series highlight the cartoonish characteristics of the more serious woodcut, and the parody of pretension in the illustration.

Further in, Wu Yong-chieh's (吳詠潔) The Blessed Garden and Hua Chien-chiang's (華健強) Land of the Divine extend the playful cartoon theme in new directions. Made of pasted canvas cutouts, Wu's frames show bouncy child-friendly silhouettes dancing headless in surreal garden settings. Black speech bubbles fly by on wings and appear unabashedly next to the characters' posteriors. Working in the vein of parody, the series mocks the absurdity of speech in a bubblegum world.

Hua's series creates a wackier cartoon world while squeezing in a jab at traditional Chinese scroll painting. Four vertical toiles make a complete set, like any good quartet of ink paintings, but instead feature devious-looking "saints" of four different natures. All four share a face and fiery halo, including a thin but greedy looking Santa Claus and a grinning Buddha clutching jewels. Mismatched scenes and all manners of multi-cultural costumes come together for a collaged postmodern effect. The artist makes a smirking nod to the artifice of his creation with the presence of a stage curtain, stage lights and sets hung on strings.

The theme of self-reflexivity comes to full fruition when it reaches works by Lai Chih-sheng (賴志盛), Tsai Wen-tin (蔡文汀) and award winner Sheu Jer-yu (許哲瑜). Lai's New Rainbow is the most common of the lot, a dull combination of three large photographs. Yes, they show overcast skies over different landscapes. Yes, the artist has left the color template and photoshop adjustment values on the print, thus showing the "rainbow" of a digital photographer. But after the viewer figures this out, the work may as well blend into the wall.

The blandness of New Rainbow is made somewhat more interesting by Lai's display, Time Wall-Space Body. Rocks presented on a white canvas seem to be dotted as a part of their painted texture, until the viewer walks closer to the open cube space set up by the artist. On a white bench, as if a painting itself, lies an actual rock, dotted with the same brushstrokes. The wall behind the canvas is also covered with dots, connecting the display space, to the painted space, to the real space which is itself painted.

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