Thu, Dec 31, 2009 - Page 14 News List

YEAR IN REVIEW: The arts in 2009

Some things old, some things new

By Noah Buchan and Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTERS

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The Taiwan Museum of Fine Art’s Jewels of 25 Years Museum Collection (25年典藏精粹) examined the intermingling of art and politics in Taiwan’s history. Organized for the most part chronologically, from the middle of the Japanese colonial period to the end of Martial Law and beyond, the pieces on display were chosen from among the 4,000 works in the museum’s possession because, according to the exhibit’s literature, they “illustrate the development of Taiwan’s art history.” The show revealed how two occupying powers imposed their aesthetic views on Taiwanese artists, resulting in a repetition of styles and lack of innovation — especially when contrasted with the artistic movements flourishing in European painting that found their center in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s, in American painting centered around New York after the 1950s and up to the 1970s, and in Taiwanese painting just before and after the lifting of martial law in 1987. While Jewels of 25 Years Museum Collection did not explicitly suggest that authoritarian regimes — at least in Taiwan’s case — stifle innovation, it is hard to imagine that it was not organized with this thought in mind.

TFAM’s exhibt Open Flexibility: Innovative Contemporary Ink Art (開顯與時變-創新水墨藝術展) explored the evolution of ink painting in Taiwan since the 1960s and China since the 1980s. Curator Liu Yung-jen (劉永仁) assembled 80 works by 27 artists — 15 from Taiwan, 12 from China — to trace the revolutionary changes in ink painting that have occurred in both countries. The juxtaposition of Chinese experimental ventures and Taiwanese modernist undertakings illustrated the flexibility of ink painting, which is able to engage the multiple preoccupations of contemporary aesthetics while remaining somewhat grounded in tradition. The exhibit’s subtext, of course, made it perfectly clear that Chinese innovative ink painters lagged 20 years behind their Taiwanese counterparts because of China’s tumultuous recent history.

Less impressive was the Futurism exhibit held this summer at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. The design of the show, which included manifestos, sculpture, painting, furniture and clothing, purported to demonstrate how relevant the movement is today by focusing on its obsession with youth, speed and technology. However, it unforgivably glossed over Futurism’s violent, anti-environment, anti-feminist and fascist elements. Consequently, the show failed to explain the ideological underpinnings that facilitated the movement’s rise. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine that the organizers weren’t aware of the message they were sending when they decided to hold an exhibit of artists who celebrated war and fascism inside a monument built to commemorate a right-wing dictator.

The National Museum of History should be commended for two exhibits. The Smiling Kingdom: The Terra-Cotta Warriors of Han Yang Ling (微笑彩俑—漢景帝的地下王國) displayed figurines and ancient funerary objects excavated from the mausoleum of the Emperor Jing of the early Han Dynasty. It focused on two aspects of Emperor Jing’s tomb to show how changes in society can be examined through funerary practices. The main part focused on clay figurines buried with the emperor, while a smaller section was devoted to building materials employed to construct his mausoleum. Small replica burial sites, illustrations detailing the excavation area and a documentary of the archeological dig complemented the 200 objects on display, which included bronze utensils and jade decorations.

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