Sun, Dec 12, 2004 - Page 20 News List

UNESCO conference blends art and politics

Taiwan recently held an international art conference that was political at heart


For years Taiwan has attempted to gain membership to the UN, to no avail, but it does manage to get its foot in the back door via cultural organizations of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) such as the International Association of Art Critics (AICA, a French acronym) which held its annual international meeting, the AICA 2004 World Congress, in Taiwan recently.

Headquartered in Paris, AICA comprises 76 national and regional chapters, including Taiwan. In the past, the local chapter was called AICA Taiwan/Free Section, UNESCO, UN (中華民國藝評人協會)much to the dismay of the Taiwanese members. This year, international AICA members voted on the name, and it is now called AICA Taiwan.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is honorary chairman of AICA Taiwan and said in his opening speech at the congress that started at the Taipei County Administration Building (in Banqiao) and finished at the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts that art critics serve as a bridge between artists and other people.

Chen talked about the importance of culture and the cultural institutions he established as Taipei mayor, such as the Hakka Cultural Foundation, the Taipei Film Festival and the Lantern Festival.

Pre-congress events included group tours to the National Palace Museum, the Huashan Cultural and Creative Industry Center, Yingge Ceramics Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Juming Museum, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and several art galleries. These tours gave the art critics from around the world a glimpse into Taiwan's art culture.

On AICA's Web site, one of the main objectives of the organization is to contribute to the shared knowledge and closer understanding of differing cultures.

However, as it takes a long time to understand a culture different from one's own, it seems unlikely that this aim was achieved during the 10-day congress packed with visits to art sites and day-long symposiums that were simultaneously translated in Chinese, English, Spanish and French.

Topics of the symposium held in Taipei included: The Establishment of Regional Dialogues among Art Critics, Art Criticism and the End of History, The Changing Role of Art Criticism, and Interdisciplinary Cooperation in Art Criticism.

Symposium 2, held in Kaohsiung, included: Spatial Interference of Art Criticism, Art Criticism and the State of the Humanities, and Historical Buildings versus Art Space.

Speakers included Tosi Lee, president of AICA Taiwan; Lin Mun-lee, an AICA Taiwan trustee; Joan Stanley Baker, contributing writer to the Taipei Times; Naoki Sakai, Cornell professor of Asian Studies; Domenique Nahas, NY curator; Yacouba Konate, philosophy professor at University of Abidjan, Ivory Coast; and Niilofur Farrukh, Pakistan-based critic.

A heated question-and-answer session ended the Taipei meeting on a contentious note since some members were perceived as arrogant, assuming the Western model was no doubt the ideal to impart on the rest of the world. This issue was not addressed directly in most of the presented papers but is the most pressing issue that AICA, as an international group, must address.

The issue wasn't presented as the main topic but rather remained as an underlying antagonistic tension throughout the several days of panel talks.

However, AICA Taiwan was responsible for choosing the papers with the main emphasis on Western modernism -- as seen through the eyes of art historians. Instead of choosing papers that had more relevance to current politics, rapid changes in global society, contemporary art and issues pertaining to Asia, or even trying to address Samuel Huntington's notion of the clash of cultures, the focus seemed more on 20th century artmaking and North (privileged) vs. South (developing) dichotomies. One thing the AICA World Congress did prove, but in a very subtle way, is that culture and art is extremely political.

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