Reflecting on the Taipei Arts Awards (臺北美術獎), Taiwan’s top art prize, funded by the Taipei City Government and hosted by the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), 2009 jury member and independent curator Manray Hsu (徐文瑞) wrote that the entrants suffered from underdeveloped ideas and were limited in their research. Though the submitted works showed promise, Hsu wrote, the artists too often emphasized new technology over ideas, imagery over content. As if to confirm Hsu’s criticism, no award was granted in 2010.
So, how did the 2011 awards shape up? Pretty well. Liu Han-chih (劉瀚之), the winner, has revitalized the awards with his series of mechanical, kinetic sculptures that deftly combine form and content in a manner that should speak to anyone interested in the relationship between humans and functional objects.
“[Liu] was the unanimous winner for each of the three phases of the competition, which is very rare,” said TFAM’s Yang Shun-wen (楊舜雯).
But it’s not only Liu’s work that makes the awards exhibition, which runs until March 4 in TFAM’s basement gallery, worth a visit. The installations and videos, paintings and photos by the other 14 finalists — chosen from 264 submissions — illustrate that this generation of emerging artists, the majority of whom are under 35, are an aesthetic force to be reckoned with.
Initiated 41 years ago by the Taipei City’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the Taipei Arts Awards is an annual contest open to all artists. Liu’s win came with a NT$550,000 check and the opportunity to hold a solo show at TFAM in the near future. His mechanical, kinetic devices jape off contemporary obsessions with objects that serve a practical function. But in the best tradition of the avant-garde, he inverts commonly held assumptions about the function these gadgets are supposed to perform.
What: 2011 Taipei Arts Awards
When: Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 9:30am to 5:30pm and until 8:30pm on Saturdays. Until March 4
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), tel: (02) 2595-7656.
Admission: Free for Taipei Arts Awards exhibit. General admission: NT$30
On the Net: www.tfam.museum
“Design makes things easier for us, makes life more convenient. But this is a rational function. My [devices] aren’t meant to have any purpose that we would assume is necessary,” Liu, 29, told the Taipei Times.
The Page Turning Machine (翻書機), for example, allows the “reader” to rest his or her head on the table while the machine rapidly turns the pages, thus creating a light breeze. The Collar Seizing Device (揪領器) is a contraption that makes it easier for a collar to be grabbed by a bully. Functional, but without having a common function, Liu imagines gadgets that could have been created in an altered reality.
The consistently good work chosen for the 2011 awards may have something to do with the contest’s reorganization over the past two years — an extension of changes made in 2001, when TFAM took over as host and abolished the established categories of painting and sculpture to accommodate the emergence of new media art.
Yang said that in previous years, artists could only display a single work in the exhibition space for adjudication and public viewing, with every chosen artist receiving the same amount of space. Artists are now expected to present a body of work to jurors, with the size of the objects dictating how much space they are allotted. Additionally, finalists must give an oral presentation to the judges.
“It’s no longer just about submitting work. Artists have to be able to sell themselves and that includes being able to explain their work and setting up an exhibition,” Yang said.