Wed, Jul 30, 2008 - Page 15 News List

[ART JOURNAL] Ancient maps and modern conveniences

The National Palace Museum has put on display a selection of its vast collection of maps, while the Taipei Fine Arts Museum is mounting an exhibition by Hsu Pang-chieh, the first in his hometown

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Lin Tien-jen (林天人), one of the researchers behind the National Palace Museum’s (國立故宮博物院) new exhibition Outlining Geographical Expanse With a Brush (筆畫千里 — 院藏古輿圖特展), is excited by maps. "Maps represent the physical horizons of those in power," he said, as he led a group of journalists around the small display chamber filled with maps of various sizes and styles. "They are symbols of power. I like to emphasize that maps are not just documents that provide information, they also represent the way people in past times viewed the world."

The exhibition, which runs until Dec. 31, puts on display a small portion of the Museum’s huge collection of maps, including maps used for civil engineering projects, coastal defense and in reports from governors to the Chinese emperor. “These maps are extremely precious, for in most cases they are unique. Unlike Western maps, which often employed etching or other technology [which allowed accurate mass reproduction], most of these maps were hand drawn. In many cases they use the techniques of landscape painting, and can be very beautiful,” said Lin, drawing attention to Memorial to the Throne With Map of Wu-li-ya-su-tai (烏里雅蘇臺籌防圖), a map composed by a military inspector stationed in modern day Xinjiang Autonomous Region to outline the defensive posture of the Qing government against the restive local nomads. Its use of semi-abstract water color techniques makes it enormously attractive to look at. It is fascinating to speculate on the man behind the map and appreciate that this picture, along with an accompanying report, where a means of providing classified military data.

Unfortunately the lack of detailed notes in the exhibition, either in English or Chinese, is a major obstacle to non-specialists who without the assistance of a guide will find appreciation of the full impact of this and other fascinating documents on display difficult. The excellent catalog, however, available for NT$450, provides detailed Chinese notes and invaluable closeups of sections of various maps. An effort has been made in this volume to provide short introductions to the four sections of the exhibition in English, but these do little more than whet the appetite for more specific information.

EXHIBITION INFORMATION

What: Outlining Geographical Expanse With a Brush (筆畫千里 — 院藏古輿圖特展)

Where: National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院), 221, Zhishan Rd Sec 2, Shihlin Dist, Taipei City (台北市士林區至善路二段221號)

When: Until Dec. 31, with exhibits rotated out in October

Admission: General admission, NT$160

What: The Neglected Existence — Solo Exhibition by Hsu Pang-chieh (被遺忘的存在 — 徐邦傑個展)

Where: Taipei Fine Arts Museum (台北市立美術館), 181, Zhongshan N Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市中山北路三段181號)

When: Until Sept. 14

Admission: General admission, NT$30


One of the show’s highlights is the Map of Taiwan and the Pescadores (臺灣圖附澎湖群島圖) from the Yungcheng period (1678-1735) of the Qing Dynasty. This detailed map, which among many other fascinating features shows the Taipei basin as a lake, provides endless interest for anyone familiar with Taiwan’s geography. “We had written accounts of how there was a lake in this area,” Lin said, “but this was invaluable corroborative evidence.”

According to the Museum’s deputy director, many of these maps are on display for the first time, and given the fragility of many of these documents, the exhibition will be divided into two sections, with the current exhibits being rotated out in October.

Over at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (台北市立美術館), an exhibition by Taiwan-born artist Hsu Pang-chieh (徐邦傑), the first in his hometown, opened last week. Titled Neglected Existence (被遺忘的存在), the show consists of works from 2002 to 2008 and comprises two series, one of oil paintings of ghost money, often in such extreme closeup so as to blur the line between representation and abstraction, and the other of charcoal drawings of enormous refinement, whose subjects are spaces and textures rather than the objects that are depicted.

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