Last week, a new art gallery located at the National Taipei University of Education (NTUE, 國立台北教育大學) opened a show titled A Contemporary Dialogue With Michelangelo (米開朗基羅的當代對話). Although MoNTUE is a university gallery with a mission to show works by its students, it also aims to be a new presence on the Taiwan art scene, bringing in big-ticket items that will draw in the public as well.
The driving force behind the gallery is Lin Mun-lee (林曼麗), formerly the director of the National Palace Museum (故宮), who has now returned to an academic position at NTUE, but is already using her considerable connections inside the international art world to build up MoNTUE into something more than a display space for students.
A Contemporary Dialogue With Michelangelo is in fact the gallery’s second exhibition. Lin refuses the title of gallery director, insisting that she is no more than a member of the faculty staff, but the fact that this relatively small establishment has managed to bring in works from the Metropolitan Museum in New York (albeit a 19th Century plaster cast of Michelangelo’s Day), and from the Louvre(six sketches dated 15th or 16th century from anonymous artists labeled as from the Michelangelo school), as well as works by Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst, is an indication that it intends to make its presence felt.
“This is a university gallery, and it is different from other public or national art galleries. As a university gallery, it has some advantages over other institutions, because its association with a university ensures that it has very solid academic support and research capability. It will be an excellent tool for the training of students and staff, but it is also open to everyone, and can be an active player in interacting with the public,” Lin said.
Lin believes strongly in the effectiveness of the university art gallery as a teaching tool. “An art gallery like this greatly widens the horizons of the students and staff at the school and provides them with many valuable opportunities… This is particularly the case in areas such as museum administration, and many students enrolling in graduate programs in these areas have applied as a result of this museum being launched.”
In its relation to the public, the art gallery benefits from its location at the front of the campus, where it is easily accessible to the public. “This was a major factor in my decision to make this space into an art gallery,” Lin said. “If it were located deeper within the university (campus grounds), I don’t think the gallery would be able to achieve much, but its (accessible) location, and drawing on my own experience, I think it can be used to generate energy and much can be achieved. I hope to make this museum a platform where the city and the academic art world can meet.”
Lin has high ambitions for MoNTUE as a place where all kinds of creative artists can meet; especially young artists. “Even though this is an art gallery, my greatest hope is to give Taiwan’s creative artists — not just visual artists, but also designers, performance artists, musicians, dancers as well — a platform where they can express themselves.”
A Contemporary Dialogue With Michelangelo includes works from five countries and spans many forms of art ranging from classical through pop to post-modernism. Hirst’s For the Love of God, Pray is on display in Taiwan for the first time ever. Major artists from the Taiwan scene include Chang Chien-chi (張乾琦), whose contribution is a video from his most recent collection Escape from North Korea (逃離北韓).
The seemingly incongruous works that make up A Contemporary Dialogue With Michelangelo underline the flow of artistic inspiration across the centuries. This flow is probably nowhere more clear than in the presence of Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Pieta, a video work that features Robert Downey Jr, currently the superhero of the moment with the hugely successful the Iron Man franchise, who was then undergoing rehab, in the role of Jesus. Four hundred years on, we get a glimpse of how the superhero ethos of savior and sacrificial victim continues to resonate even to the furthest corners of pop culture.
By putting works such as these together with Michelangelo’s Day and the sketches of the Michelangelo school (sketches from the Sistine chapel), curator Lin Chih-ming (林志明) wanted to take these works out of the context of an art history lesson, and make it something more innovative and appealing. “A university art gallery should be more creative, not just a place where information is put on display. There should be space for experimentation.”
“The energy created by art is an important part of a country’s assets,” Lin said, speaking about her hopes for the gallery. “Although this is a small university gallery, I feel that if it can fully exploit its many advantages, it will be able to make an important contribution.”
More information (Chinese) about MoNTUE can be found at montue.ntue.edu.tw. The museum is located at 134 Heping E Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市和平東路二段134號) and is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm.