Myth is protean. Whether in the context of politics or culture, it is constantly shifting and changing. An exhibit at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM) attempts to capture the idea of myth in its artistic forms through the work of three artists.
Iris Huang (黃舒屏), the exhibit’s curator, has done a splendid job in selecting the artists and laying out the exhibition area. The artists are given their own separate spaces in Gallery D of the museum (in the basement level), but these spaces are near each other for the purpose of thematic cohesion.
Titled Mythology of Contemporary Art (當代藝術神話), the show investigates popular culture, history and archeology (real and invented) through the sculptures of two young Taiwanese artists, Tu Wei-cheng (涂維政) and Yang Mao-lin (楊茂林), and the paintings of New York-based Chinese artist Zhang Hong-tu (張宏圖).
Tu’s Aztec-like sculptures imitate the architecture and sculpture of an ancient civilization. The large stone slabs, bas-relief friezes and monumental steles deftly retain, through the use of color and material, the appearance of old artifacts.
The arrangement of the sculptures resembles an archeological museum’s exhibit, complete with photographs of the “excavation site,” a documentary about the civilization by “historians” and “archeologists” and a timeline of the excavation process. Dark walls, objects behind glass and spotlights beaming down on the works provide additional impact.
Stele No BM66 — Gate of the Fleeing Souls (BM66號石牆 — 魂遁之門人) illustrates Tu’s sculptural style and the civilization he continues to create. Two artificial stone steles stand in front of a large wall, the center of which is a circular tablet. Human figures in various positions, executed in bas-relief, serve as the plaque’s focal point, circular itself.
WHAT: Mythologies of Contemporary Art
WHERE: Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), Gallery D, 181, Zhongshan N Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市中山北路三段181號)
WHEN: Until May 5. Open daily from 9:30am to 5:30pm, closed Mondays
TELEPHONE: (02) 2595-7656
Upon closer inspection the tableau reveals a series of interlocking technological instruments. The small figurines of man and beast common to ancient cultures are conspicuously absent here. Instead we find keyboards, electric sockets, computer game consoles and other relics that hint that this ancient culture was similar to our own.
Zhang Hong-tu’s 12 paintings Re-Make of Ma Yuan’s Water Album (780 Years Later) (再製馬遠水圖 (780年之後)) also examine appearances and reflect on the passing of time. He explores the effects of human-made smog on the sky’s color and how these environmental changes might affect visual representation.
The oil on canvas works are based on the monochrome studies of water done by the Song Dynasty landscape painter Ma Yuan (馬遠) and informed by early modernist pictorial techniques.
Although Zhang is not an impressionist painter, these works suggest otherwise. The use of color in Re-Make of Ma Yuan’s Water Album — S(780 Years Later) (再製馬遠水圖 — S(780年之後)) could be taken from Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise. However, the oranges and yellows of Zhang’s sun are partially obscured, replaced by a murky purplish-gray — a visual alteration, Zhang suggests, that is due to air pollution.
Yang’s sculpture series adapts material and idols from Taiwan’s religious culture and supplants them with images taken from popular consumer culture. Superheroes such as Wonder Woman replace Buddhist icons such as Vajradhara; a Taoist altar becomes a pedestal at which society worships cartoon heroes; spiritual images transform into fairy-tale products that could be sold in the market place.