The Scent of a Woman is currently on view until Feb. 12 at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (NTMFA) in Taichung. It's a breezy exhibition of paintings and sculptures of women from the collections of three of Taiwan's most prestigious museums: The National Palace Museum in Taipei, the Chi Mei Museum in Tainan and the NTMFA.
The selection of works was chosen by prominent female curator Kao Chien-hui (
The exhibition tries to tell the multi-faceted stories of women, while giving a condensed version of art history and is divided thematically into six sections: "Fantasy Land" shows mythological images of women as goddesses and divine creatures; "Drawing Room" contains works on motherly love; "Palace" shows the sequestered yet privileged life of the royals in ancient China; "Chamber" touches on women's education and spiritual life; "Land of Shadow" shows women at work, mainly laboring in the fields; "Art Studio" focuses on how artists, both male and female, help to create the ideal image of the female.
The oldest piece on view is the Mesopotamian terracotta female idol, dated 5,000 BC to 4,500 BC and lent by the Chi Mei Museum. The 8cm-tall clay sculpture is a fertility relic with a bird-like head and pregnant shape.
The imagery encompasses the whole gamut of human history: from a painting by Giovanni Pedrini titled Salome with the Head of St. John the Baptist, to pastoral landscapes, romantic figures -- and even a bronze by Salvador Dali titled Cabinet Anthropomorphique, which depicts a nude whose torso is partly a chest of drawers.
There are other bronzes on view with a nice contrast posed by Auguste Rodin's famous figure, The Kiss, juxtaposed with his lover's (Camille Claudel) sculpture titled Abandonment. The form and materials are similar but the sentiments of the artists differs radically.
The exhibition also tries to compare Western and Asian images of women, with art work from the National Palace Museum standing out, in particular. A delicate porcelain vase from the Qing dynasty in subtle enamel glazes depicts women dancing and playing musical instruments in a serene garden, while the hand-painted scrolls arranged in the Chamber illustrate the life of leisure of the privileged classes.
Scrolls from the various Chinese dynasties show royal women doing a wide range of activities such as writing poetry, looking in the mirror, and traveling on horseback.
In Bathing Court, jolly and fat, Ming dynasty children are pampered and bathed in their idyllic courtly environment.
The catalog essays explain this is an exhibition presenting a wide spectrum of female aesthetics while acknowledging that throughout art history, both Western and Eastern, the majority of the artists were male, thus culminating in a one-sided art that directs the male gaze toward the female.
Yet, the work on view tries to show that around the world and throughout the centuries women have made incredible progress in their personal and professional lives.
What: 'Scent of a Woman'
Where: National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, 2 Whchuan W Rd, Sec 1, Taichung (台中市西區五權西路1段2號)
When: Tuesday to Sunday, 9am to 5pm, to Feb. 12