Wed, Sep 12, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Taipei Fine Arts Museum is back where it started

The museum’s renovations, which closed it down for nine months, seem like a failed opportunity to address glaring issues and improve viewer experience

By Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff Reporter

Hsia Yan, Fashionable Woman (2010).

photo: Sherry Hsiao, Taipei Times

Construction in this city does not always meet our expectations; but we hope for the best. So when the Taipei Fine Arts Museum announced last September that it would be closing for renovations, I prepared to welcome changes.

Nine months and over NT$100 million later, the museum looks almost identical to its previous self.

The museum kept its cream-colored stairs, its characterless galleries, and, most unforgivable of all, its unbearable grayness.

According to a June press release, the renovation involved upgrades to the air conditioning system, refurbishments of the floors and walls, a redesigning of the signage system and repairs to the lobby’s marble floors.

In a way, the museum shot itself in the foot, because I wouldn’t have noticed the water damage to the uneven hardwood floors when I visited the museum on Tuesday last week if it weren’t for the closure. But there it was, in a corner of Gallery 2B, and now I can’t unsee it.

The paint job in the galleries does look new, though not show-house perfect. What’s curious is the that the museum painted the inner surfaces of its archways on the second floor a purplish blue — a color it has used three times in the past year for brochures of major exhibitions.

Nine months would seem like enough time to fix some of the other issues with the museum’s design. But the museum seems to have chosen to treat its exhibitions like tenants in a competitive rental market, doing the bare minimum before the next moving truck pulls in. From the outer galleries of the second floor, visitors have always been able to hear the echoes of the installations or weekend crowds in the lobby — and the noise will be particularly noticeable until Oct. 7 because of art collective Clockwork Noses’ dramatic installation piece, weee. Adding doors to the entrances of the galleries would have not only shut out the noise, but also helped to control the humidity and temperature. While I am no lighting expert, something is wrong when I see my reflection more clearly than the artwork underneath the glass, forcing me to take several steps back and look at it at an angle.

Despite these disappointments, there’s one bright spot: the new Wang Da Hong House Theatre. The so-called “theater” is a replica of the former residence of Harvard-educated architect Wang Da-hong (王大閎), who passed away in May. Wang is best known for designing the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.

Originally built in 1953, the Jianguo S Road residence is a cross between a siheyuan (四合院, a traditional enclosed courtyard) and a modern one-bedroom apartment. Its bamboo forest and gated courtyard are enough to make even the most comfortable city dweller jealous.

The Taipei Fine Arts Museum began its gradual return to the public sphere in July as quietly as it had left. To be fair, not every reopening mandates a grand ceremony complete with smoke bombs, a marching band, and a retiring monarch — like the one the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam held in 2013 following a 10-year transformation. Yet rust is to metal what administrative lethargy is to a public institution.

As a public art museum, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum is bound to feel like a community center. (At NT$30 for full admission, the museum might as well be free.) But how can the museum draw visitors in without letting them become so distracted? I thought about this as I watched pair after pair of models and photographers occupy the well-lit south entrance, gray-haired women exchange gossip on a bench in front of Hsia Yang’s (夏陽) Sword in Lion’s Mouth #11 (獅子啣劍之十一), and a curious young man ask his friend, “Why does the floor sink in?”

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