Sun, Feb 03, 2008 - Page 18 News List

[SUNDAY PROFILE] National Palace Museum finds a new direction

Lin Mun-lee has been taking one of the world's greatest museums into uncharted territory over the past two years; the results are already speaking for themselves

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Clearly she is doing something right. Two-and-a-half million visitors passed through the NPM's doors last year, 30 percent more than the previous highest recorded figure. Part of this increase may be due to Lin's insistence on catering to the domestic market as much as tourists. Moves like opening on Saturday evenings and holding concerts, initiated in July 2007 have proved a great success. The first series, tied to the Great Hapsburg Collectors Masterpieces exhibition, brought the music of Viennese cafes to the NPM's lobby and main forecourt.

"It doesn't matter whether people came to listen to the music, or look at the art, the important thing is we have extended our appeal," Lin said.

She is particularly proud of her achievement in introducing these activities because the NPM "didn't use a cent of government money to make the changes."

The director said the NPM is gradually learning to leverage its reputation within the international arts community to attract sponsorship from the private sector. "We want to provide access to art for people without demanding they spend a lot of money," she said. "This is something I regard as being a crucial part of our mandate."

Diplomatic to a fault, Lin's antipathy towards ideological considerations in the presentation of art appears briefly as she talks about the latest challenge. That is establishing the NPM's southern branch, whose mission is to be "a world-class museum of Asian art and culture that will foster a new consciousness of the cultural connections between Taiwan and the rest of Asia and the world beyond."

This is a significant departure from the image of the NPM as the preserver of imperial Chinese heritage. To gear up for this project, NPM researchers and curators are busy at work on a new exhibition to be titled Exploring Asia: Episode One of the NPM Southern Branch (探索亞洲 - 故宮南院首部曲特展), which will open March 25.

"We will … use the artifacts to tell a different story. We have 650,000 artifacts, but many of them have never seen the light of day. This is not because of a lack of space, but due to the effects of a dominant cultural discourse," Lin said. "This discourse has given importance to some objects, while relegating others to obscurity. By taking an Asian rather than Chinese perspective, all that changes, and objects that where previously overlooked in the framework of one discourse, assume a central importance within another."

Lin puts an emphatically practical spin on her reasons for promoting the pan-Asian idea, which from an ideological point of view could be seen as an effort to blur the museum's national and ideological associations. "You want to make the most of what you've got," she said. "There isn't a museum in the world which wouldn't want to do that."

Lin this past week presided over the packing of the NPM's fourth major overseas show, which will see 116 items displayed at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. She hopes to see more exchanges such as these in which the NPM can use its formidable reputation to create new and exciting exhibitions.

"For me, art is a fundamental value. I think art is an important value in our life. It is what gives us dignity … . Whether I'm a creative artist or an administrator, my main emphasis is on people. Art needs to link up with the way people live," she said. "Even the most precious things enshrined in the NPM were only made because people had a need to make, use or simply appreciate these things. Art needs to link up with life, and we use art to create our own civilization and our own culture. That is the value of this kind of heritage. "

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