The Taipei Fine Arts Museum has outdone itself with three worthwhile exhibitions currently on display. This reviewer has often criticized the paucity of exhibitions on the museum’s first floor, which many Taiwanese artists and art critics view as the museum’s pre-eminent space, and which is often given over to “super exhibitions” such as last year’s Monet Garden.
With Formless Form — Taiwan Abstract Art (非形之形 — 台灣抽象藝術), a large-scale exhibition covering three generations of Taiwanese artists working in the genre, it shows the museum’s in-house curators are capable of mounting a superb show when they put their considerable resources to the task. The scale of the exhibition is complimented by, somewhat uncharacteristically, a clearly-worded introduction to an art form that many find to be one of the most inaccessible.
Contrasting the early Modernist explorations into the natural world of art, the introductory blurb tells us that “abstract art was an epoch-making visual assault on the breakthrough beyond traditionalistic artistic perspectives.” Artists no longer confined themselves to an accurate depiction of the natural world, and instead “shattered the original paradigm centered on the realistic representation of subject matter, instead adopting the fundamental building blocks of art — points, lines, colors and textures — as independently meaningful elements in their own right.”
Formless Form brings together 68 works of painting and sculpture by over 30 artists, some of whom are Taiwan’s most recognizable. From Richard Lin’s (林壽宇) 1972-74 minimalist Autumn Leaves to Tsong Pu’s (莊普) large-scale meditation on Taiwan’s current society, Phantom of Liberty (自由的幻影, 2012), the exhibit illustrates that abstract art in all its varied manifestations has developed into a mature school. It is perhaps the largest exhibition of its kind ever shown in Taiwan, and is not to be missed.
The exhibition’s theme is divided into two distinct, though complementary, genres of abstraction: lyrical and rational. The former’s free-flowing expressionistic brushstrokes “pours out contingent, rich emotions onto the canvas, opening up the possibility of unearthing an artistic language within the subconscious,” while the latter, with its geometric shapes, rich coloring and awareness of linearity, forces the viewer to recognize painting as a plastic medium.
As with any artistic movement that isn’t homegrown, however, there is bound to be mimicry. Ava Pao-shia Hsueh’s (薛保瑕) Embodiment (即身性, 2011), for example, bears a striking resemblance to the drippings of Jackson Pollock’s later expressionist works, dotted here and there with circular disks reminiscent of Liu Kuo-sung’s (劉國松) moons. Or Hollow Cube (虛心正方形, 2005), a limestone sculpture by Jian Shen-min (姜憲明). With its mass resting on one of its corners, the work resembles Tony Rosenthal’s 1968 The Cube – Endover.
But for the most part, the artists have used the visual language of their American and European precursors and imbued them with their own aesthetic and psychological values. Rational, or what Taiwanese art historian and critic Jason Wang (王嘉驥) calls geometrical, abstract art, began in the early 20th century with Wassily Kandinsky’s and Piet Mondrian’s non-objective paintings that placed these forms of color within a non-representational framework. Though there is no consensus among art critics in Taiwan as to when geometrical abstraction took root, Wang says literary journals during the late 1960s featured Russian-like geometric designs on their covers. But it was only with the return of Richard Lin to Taiwan in the early 1980s, that geometric abstraction came into its own.