Those depressed over the government’s reality-defying rapprochement with China can take solace in Madden Reality: Post-Taipei Art Group (叛離異象:後台北畫派), a recently opened exhibit on the third floor of the Taipei Fine Art Museum.
The works on display — paintings and sculpture culled from a group of artists who seek to reveal something about the psyche of the country’s people — can be seen as an antidote to the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration’s fixation with placating Beijing at the expense of Taiwan’s identity and sovereignty.
The exhibit features 72 works by eight artists who formed an artist collective called the Hantoo Art Group (悍圖社), which literally means, “defending pictures.” Begun in 1998 as a response to the art community’s perceived obsession with conceptual art, Hantoo had splintered away from the Taipei Art Group (台北畫派) — itself a collective of artists known for their fervent social commentary in the wake of the lifting of martial law in 1987. Whereas the earlier incarnation was fueled by a desire to portray Taiwan’s social gashes, warts and scars, Hantoo takes an introspective approach, while remaining engaged in the exploration of the nation’s history, myths, folk culture and identity — much of it with a dose of playfulness.
Caricature mixed with a sense of ambivalence toward their subjects characterise the works of Wu Tien-chang (吳天章) and Kuo Wei-guo (郭維國).
In Wu’s digital print Being in the Same Boat (同舟共濟), four smiling clowns dressed in bright yellow costumes stand on striped stilts and attempt to row a dragon boat through a vague landscape rendered in metallic blue and purple. It is not clear where the clowns are going or why they are rowing the boat on land rather than water. And yet they appear happy in their quixotic efforts to reach an unknown goal. Sharing a similar burlesque aesthetic (and a tendency towards the monumental in canvas size), Kuo’s bizarre Mr Desperado’s Fancy Car of Leather Shoe (黛絲不拉多先生的皮鞋花車) shows the artist driving an old leather shoe while embracing a stuffed rabbit. The lit fuse (reminiscent of the kind used with dynamite) in the boot’s toe creates tension and hints that this scene will soon explode.
Artificial materials enclosing the natural world are recurring images found in Lien Chien-hsin’s (連建興) imaginative canvases. Sharks, seals and tortoises share the same aquarium in Secret Dance in Frivolous Mood 2 (隱舞情弄2). Concrete, glass and metal enclose the creatures and replace the natural environment. The work leaves the viewer with a feeling of confinement rather than the title’s ironic suggestion of frivolous play.
Similar to Lien’s animal captivity, Lu Hsien-ming (陸先銘) portrays what amounts to human internment in metropolitan centers — the effects of Taiwan’s rapid industrialization over the past half century. No evidence is given of the island’s natural beauty. Instead, the mixed media canvases rendered in darkened tones of blue and gray depict concrete urban centers with a sense of loneliness. This is made explicit in Hesitation (躇) in which an elderly man with his back facing the viewer stands alone in a doorway waiting for a bus with only the silhouette of deserted buildings in the background to keep him company.
If many of the artists portray their imaginative worlds in a realistic fashion, Lee Ming-jong (李民中) and Yang Jen-ming (楊仁明) take their work in a different direction by employing more abstract techniques to reveal the musings of the subconscious. Less pessimistic about the destruction of Taiwan’s once Arcadian vistas, Lee’s expressionist Four Seasons (四季) interprets the multitude of colors and shapes found in Taiwan’s natural environment. Yang’s four-panel Unstable Ties-Happening (不安定的聯結—發生中) is an abstract rendering of the explosion of light — here in yellows, reds and whites — after the creation of the world.