Wed, May 26, 2010 - Page 15 News List

Stirring it up

Taiwanese artist Tsong Pu’s exhibit, Art From the Underground, presents more than 100 works of installation, painting and drawing spanning his 30-year career

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

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A genial atmosphere permeated the crowded basement galleries of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM) on Saturday for the opening of Art From the Underground (地下藝術), a retrospective exhibit on the work of Taiwanese artist Tsong Pu (莊普). The exhibit’s title, an unambiguous reference to the subterranean placement of the show, suggested that Tsong, 63, was going to use the launch as a platform to criticize the museum’s perceived policy of relegating Taiwanese artists to “the underground.” The protest, however, was mostly muted.

As university-aged art students wandered the space wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with phrases such as “I don’t like Yoshitomo Nara,” “I detest Takashi Murakami” and “I hate Cai Guo-qiang (蔡國強),” Tsong, sporting his trademark goatee and dressed casually in jeans and an un-tucked dress shirt, commented on his relationship with TFAM.

“My first exhibit was held in this space 20 years ago. It seems that I haven’t improved much over that time because 20 years later I’m still ... underground,” Tsong said.

“Hopefully my work will improve in the future so that I can be elevated to the first floor,” he quipped.

Tsong’s concerns, ironically expressed, about Taiwanese artists being relegated to the basement follow increasingly vocal complaints from the arts community and media that TFAM is marginalizing Taiwanese artists in favor of international ones. (Cai Guo-qiang is Chinese, Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara are Japanese.)

Galleries D, E, F and G, or the basement venue, typically house group or solo exhibits by nascent or established Taiwanese artists. Prominent artists grumble (usually in private) that they are rarely given the opportunity to exhibit on the first floor, missing out on the big budgets and press that this entails.

EXHIBITION NOTES

What: Art From the Underground (地下藝術)

Where: Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM — 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 Aug. 8. Open daily from 9:30am to 5:30pm, closes at 9:30pm on Saturdays. Tel: (02) 2595-7656

Admission: Free

On the Net: www.tfam.museum


Art From the Underground displays more than 100 of Tsong’s sketches, paintings and installations dating from 1978, complete with a documentary on his artistic development over the past 30 years.

“At least there’s one picture of Tsong’s hanging on the first floor,” said Yang Shun-wen (楊舜雯) of TFAM’s promotional department when asked about the exhibit’s location. She giggled a little sheepishly, as if aware of how lame this sounded.

To be fair, TFAM seems to be heeding its critics because it’s completely altered the basement space. The four galleries have become one large showroom (where the installations are given prominent display) and two anterooms (for the paintings).

Gone is the maze of walls that caused museumgoers to feel as if they were part of a psychology experiment. Removed are the boards that covered the floor-to-ceiling French windows, transforming what had been a gloomy space into one with considerable natural lighting and unobstructed views of the outside courtyard.

According to the press release, Tsong’s abstract art is “richly poetic and replete with utopian ideals.” Perhaps, but there is the sense when looking at his work that not all is well in the artist’s imagination.

We sense this with The Sound With No Name (無名的聲音), a 1982 sketch that hints at the style and themes Tsong would develop in his later paintings and installations. A matrix of penciled lines is interspersed here and there with scribbles and patches of ultramarine, magenta and yellow. Tsong’s obsession with uniformity and perfection — a utopian gesture on paper — is obvious. And yet, the addition of color, randomly placed throughout the work, suggests fallibility in the grand design.

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