This 10th edition of the Taipei Biennial, Taiwan’s top international exhibition for contemporary art, celebrates both a milestone and a watershed. It is 20 years since the Biennial boldly set out to become an important international exhibition for art. Until 1996, it existed as a sort of competition for local artists, growing out of a periodic exhibition series ‘Contemporary Art trends in the R.O.C.’ begun in 1984. It is now one of the longest-running international biennials in Asia, and has hosted star curators from Europe, the US and Japan, including Nanjo Fumio, Jerome Sans and Nicolas Bourriaud.
Hitting the 20 year mark is the Taipei Biennial’s milestone, but its watershed is adapting to a new and smaller role in the globalized art world.
When the Taipei Biennial transformed into an international biennial in 1998, it was near the front of a massive wave. It became one of several dozen international biennials, joining the ranks of Venice, Sao Paolo and the old guard of the century-old biennial movement. But in the two decades since, biennials have mushroomed. They were seen by governments as vehicles for “city marketing” and “soft power,” and there are now more than 150 of them worldwide.
Though Taipei remains an important exhibition in Asia, it has been superseded by the big-budget South Korean biennials in Gwangju and Busan as well as gala arts events in regional financial centers, such as the Shanghai and Singapore Biennials and the Art Basel Hong Kong art fair.
So this tenth edition of the Taipei Biennial, currently on view at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, involves a reassessment of what the museum’s director Lin Ping (林平) called, “the unique and changing role of the Taipei Biennial in the global profusion of biennial exhibitions.”
What: Taipei Biennial
When: Until Feb. 5, 2017
Where: Taipei Fine Arts Museum (台北市立美術館, TFAM), 181, Zhongshan N Rd Sec 3, Taipei (台北市中山北路三段181號), tel: (02) 2595-7656. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 9:30am to 5:30pm and until 8:30pm on Saturdays
On the Net: www.tfam.museum
The exhibition is curated by French academic Corinne Diserens, who is currently director of the art academy Ecole de Recherche Graphique in Brussels, Belgium.
Diserens has invited the largest number of Taiwanese artists — more than 34 out of around 76 total artists — of any Taipei Biennial since the exhibition became international. In addition to Taiwanese visual artists displaying in the galleries, many more local academics, filmmakers and stage performers will be involved in a five-month program of talks, performances and screenings that will continue until January.
At the exhibition opening, Diserens admitted she originally knew little about Taiwanese artists, most of whom were chosen through an open call for projects earlier this year, and only visited Taipei three times to prepare the show.
By fulfilling the role of a local showcase, the Taipei Biennial is in some ways returning to its roots. Both organizers at the museum and Diserens have recognized that in this globalized art economy, not every biennial can compete as a top tier showcase. So then for a second tier biennial like Taipei, the choice is to become a touring exhibition of the latest star artists (if you have the budget, as they do in South Korea), a launching pad for local artists, or some combination of the two.
For the exhibition theme, Diserens, who is a product of France’s socially radical “May 1968” generation, has chosen “Gestures and archives of the present, genealogies of the future.” If this sounds extremely dry and academic, be forewarned — it is.