This year could prove to be a watershed for Taiwan’s art scene, with established artists using exhibitions as platforms to publicly criticize the art industry’s practices.
Installation artist and painter Tsong Pu (莊普) fired the first salvo in May with Art From Underground (地下藝術), an exhibit that drew attention to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum’s (TFAM) practice of relegating contemporary Taiwanese artists to its basement space. A few weeks ago, Chen Chieh-jen (陳界仁), a video artist who is currently showing a retrospective, On the Empire’s Borders (在帝國的邊界上), in the same space, said that he would never again exhibit at TFAM for similar reasons.
Now, Shi Jin-hua (石晉華) is taking aim at the commercialism of the art industry with A Trilogy of Contemporary Art Alchemy (當代藝術煉金術三部曲), an astonishingly risky exhibit at Nou Gallery (新畫廊) presented in three parts: Episode One: Cost of Concept (首部曲:觀念的代價), Episode Two: Art Earning (二部曲 藝術所得) and Episode Three: Cover Project (三部曲 封面計畫).
The three sections are being sold together as one work of art, and Shi produced five editions of A Trilogy of Contemporary Art Alchemy.
Each segment of A Trilogy serves as a kind of unfolding conceptual drama with the artist playing David to the art industry’s Goliath. The exhibit calls into question the professionalism of art magazines, the gallery system and by extension the art industry itself.
Shi made a deal with collector and ArtCo (今藝術) publisher Chien Hsiu-chih (簡秀枝) to trade the first edition of A Trilogy for a cover story, which appeared in July. It is the kind of exchange that might raise eyebrows in London or
New York, but seems par for the course in Taipei.
What: A Trilogy of Contemporary Art Alchemy (當代藝術煉金術三部曲)
Where: Nou Gallery (新畫廊), 232, Renai Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市仁愛路四段232號)
When: Until Oct. 7. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 11am to 7pm, closed Mondays.
Tel: (02) 2700-0239
“It’s sort of an open secret, an unofficial rule in the arts industry, that all the covers, all the articles you read — everything in the magazines — can be bought. This includes Artists Magazine (藝術家雜誌), Cans [Arts Magazine] and Contemporary Art News Magazine (當代藝術新聞),” said Nou Gallery’s (新畫廊) Sophie Huang (黃鉉心).
“Many of these magazines don’t have any editors on their staff, they only have sales people,” Huang added.
Those who read the ArtCo story, however, would have learned that Shi collaborated with Chien to draw attention to such ethically questionable practices. The 14-page spread — including a cover story, feature and editorial — sits behind framed glass and forms part of Episode Three: Cover Project.
Huang said that although ArtCo’s “covers could be bought” in the past, Shi’s cover story was published to draw attention to the practice, and to “cleanse the magazine” — a kind of baptism absolving it of its former publishing sins.
At the exhibition, I wandered over to Episode One. The photograph on display shows a painting sold at a group exhibition in Kaohsiung in December 2008, held in response to the global financial meltdown. The gallery invited 116 artists to exhibit work with a price tag of under NT$30,000. As Shi didn’t have anything in that price range, he submitted a one-quarter section of Walking Pencil#24 (走筆#24), a painting originally valued at NT$120,000.
The photograph’s context illustrates the effect market forces have on the value of art and the role perception plays in that process. It also shows that high prices can become a Faustian pact for artists, who are inevitably pressured by galleries and collectors who have already bought their work into producing works of ever-higher value.