Wed, Apr 08, 2009 - Page 13 News List

[ART JOURNAL] You can’t judge these books by their covers

Michael Lin’s latest exhibits are all about the relationship between art and its audience



At the Eslite Bookstore in Xinyi District, tens of thousands of books in the art section have been wrapped in decorated pink sheets of paper that hide any possible indication of their content. A project by Michael Lin (林明宏), 21.2.1972 is the artist’s latest exploration of the relationship between art and spectators.

Feb. 21, 1972 is “the date when US president [Richard] Nixon visited Mao Zedong (毛澤東),” explained Lin, who emigrated to the US with his family in 1973. “There is this photograph of Mao sitting in his library. The books on the shelf behind him are all wrapped up. For some reason the image has stuck in my mind.”

The prints of phoenixes and peonies that decorate the pink wrapping paper are similar to images Lin used for his huge floor paintings that were exhibited at the 2000 Taipei Biennial. The relationship between the bookstore’s customers and its books is altered as browsers have to open books at random to find out what’s inside each one. In this way, they invariably come across books they wouldn’t ordinarily look at.

“People buy the books and take them home. How long the book remains an artwork in someone’s home is a question I can’t answer,” Lin said.

A similar motif runs through Lin’s solo exhibition I Am the Sun (我是太陽), currently on display at the Eslite Gallery (誠品畫廊), which has just moved to a space in Eslite’s flagship Xinyi store that is three times larger than its old location at Eslite’s branch on Dunhua South Road (敦化南路).

Internationally known for his brightly colored murals and enormous, ornate paintings based on traditional Taiwanese floral prints, Lin has relocated to Shanghai and Paris but often visits home to look for new sources of inspiration. The muse for his this show is the sun cake (太陽餅), a pastry that Lin sees as a symbol of Taiwan.


WHAT: Michael Lin’s solo exhibition, I Am the Sun, and 21.2.1972

WHERE:Eslite Xinyi Bookstore (誠品信義店), 11 Songgao Rd, Taipei City (台北市松高路11號)

WHEN:21.2.1972 is on display through April 12 in the art section on the 4th floor; I Am the Sun runs through May 3 at the Eslite Gallery on the 5th floor. The gallery is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 11am to 7pm

TELEPHONE:(02) 8789-3388 X1588



The artist was intrigued by the numerous shops in Taichung that claim to be Tai Yang Tang (太陽堂), the purported inventor of the sun cake, seeing contradiction and ambiguity between claims of originality and the act of duplication. By reproducing Tai Yang Tang’s logo and trademark on canvas, he created a pattern that appears both familiar and alien at the same time, and which suggests that the idea of tradition is a playful construct.

“The logo and trademark of Tai Yang Tang can be read as a [symbol] of identity, just like a national flag. Their graphic elements are rearranged to form an empty frame, thus encouraging viewers to fill in the blanks with any name and image they can imagine,” Lin said.

Ambiguity is also treated in paintings based on the covers of notebooks used in Taiwan’s elementary schools. For Lin, Zhuyin Fuhao (注音符號, Bopomofo), the system used to teach Mandarin phonetics to young Taiwanese students, is a written language that has yet to come into being, a happenstance that echoes a student’s quest for identity during adolescence.

Also on display are two oversized tangrams, a kind of Chinese puzzle, painted with images of Bambi. Unlike jigsaw puzzles, the open-form tangram can be arranged into all kinds of shapes and patterns. Lin’s Bambi versions are an invitation for audiences to participate in the making of art.

“The distinction between contemporary and modern art is that [the latter] is divorced from everyday life. That my works suggest and think of an audience to converse with is an important aspect of my art,” Lin said.

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