Sun, Jan 23, 2005 - Page 19 News List

A behind-the-scenes look at the private side of public art

Jun Lai's show at the Taiepi Fine Art Museum illustrates how one artist's ideas become public property

By Susan Kendzulak  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Not many local art exhibitions give a behind-the-scenes look at Taiwan's major public art projects. Jun Lai's (賴純純) solo exhibition New Vision: The Melody of Color and Light, at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum until Feb. 13, is an exception since it provides an overview of her award-winning public art sculptures and includes architectural models, large scale photographs, framed drawings and a light-hearted documentary video that gives insight into how a major mega-bucks public art installation starts as an individual artist's idea.

Public art is a recent phenomenon for Taiwan. The percent-for-art program (inspired by Western programs) became law in 1992 and public art came into being six years later. According to recent government statistics, there were 42 public art projects in the year 2001 and 121 projects in 2002.

In 2001, NT$400 million was spent on public art in the city of Taipei alone. As public art projects increase, so do opportunities for Taiwan's artists to gain

visibility.

Public art projects are normally conducted as competitions with either open calls for submissions or selected invitations to submit. The artist then makes a written proposal along with digital imagery of what the finished art project would look like on site.

The proposals are judged by committees, most often by a committee of government officials and then by another committee composed of art experts.

The first-prize winner is funded to create the public art, while the second-prize winner receives money to cover the artist's initial research and proposal costs.

On view at Lai's clearly organized exhibition are examples of Lai's prize-winning public art projects such as South Melody, a set of colorful geometric Plexiglas shapes installed at the Nanshijiao MRT Station. The cheerful lime- green and tomato-red mobiles and glowing azure-blue wall plaques brighten up an otherwise dreary public passageway and bring to mind the pleasing and playful qualities of the work of early modernists such as Miro and Picasso.

In most of Lai's work, the qualities of lightness and translucency are dominant and the durable pieces of shaped plastic -- based on organic forms -- look like glass and so allow the sculptures to interact with the natural light of the environments where they are installed.

The Penghu Mangong Airport project is a perfect example of this interplay of light and color. Lai's fish shapes made from painted Plexiglas are suspended from the ceiling and seem to float in mid-air.

As light from the skylights filters through the terminal, it picks up the dots of blue and green on the fish and allows the bits of color to shimmer onto the floor, thus giving visitors a feel and preview of the island's natural scenery with its breezy winds and sparkling waters.

The huge free-standing multi-colored sculpture placed at the Sihu Service Area of the Second Highway and titled Sihu Concentric brings to mind the corporate-plaza-sized sculptures of Alexander Calder.

Using a modernist vocabulary of shapes and sizes, Lai also incorporates Chinese mythical creatures such as the dragon, phoenix and Chilin (Chinese unicorn). Whimsical and colorful, the sculpture is a joyful sentinel to a dull part of a non-descript flat highway.

Ocean Garden is a glittery, candy-hued collection of shapes to be installed this March at the bland Airport Arrival Hall of Hong Kong's MTRC.

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