Sat, May 15, 2010 - Page 13 News List

The time is right for a Hung Tung exhibition


An exhibition of the paintings of self-taught Taiwanese artist Hung Tung entitled The Imaginary Dreamland of Hung Tung, went on display in Taoyuan on April 30. The exhibition has been organized by Taoyuan County Government Cultural Affairs Bureau. With 116 paintings, it’s the biggest ever exhibition of Hung’s works, making the event a big deal with Hung’s fans and the wider Taiwan fine art community.

Hung Tung was born in Kunshen, in Tainan County’s Beimen Township in 1920. In 1972 he began receiving extensive coverage in art magazines, and became the subject of heated discussions.

Most significantly, in 1976 The Artist magazine organized an exhibition of his works at the American Cultural Center in Taipei. The exhibition propelled him into the spotlight and overnight he became a household name and folk hero in Taiwan.

Taiwan was still very conservative in the 1970s so the notion that an illiterate person could start painting without any formal training was considered quite shocking. Hung’s art seemed to polarize people. Those who appreciated his art considered him a genius while those who didn’t thought he was a fool.

After becoming famous, Hung received constant requests from strangers and friends alike for paintings. Such requests became a burden and late in life he began to isolate himself. He descended into loneliness, and for while he even stopped painting. In 1987 he passed away, alone in his workshop.

Hung Tung has been dead for thirty years, but looking back on his life we can see that he left behind so much more than the over-300 wonderful paintings he created. During his lifetime he went from being seen as an incomprehensible fool in the eyes of his fellow villagers, to being acknowledged as an accomplished painter by the art world. During the 1990s his paintings represented Taiwan on the world stage, featuring in exhibitions in the US, Germany, France and Belgium. Taken at face value these exhibitions may appear trivial, but if we step out of the confines of the art world and take a closer inspection, we can see that the trajectory of Hung’s art is a mirror of the changes to Taiwan society.

Taiwan today is capable of accepting this kind of artist, but the younger generation doesn’t seem to know Hung Tung and his paintings. The power of his works travels through time, space and generations, and the paintings connect with every soul that sees them. An elderly person might find representations of traditional culture in Hung Tung’s paintings, whereas a young person might discover elements that are already familiar to them from comics.

The goal for the future must be to help youngsters step into the world of Hung Tung’s art, to be immersed in its essence and to glorify it. Moreover, many of the paintings in the current exhibition remind us that time passes by in an instant and cannot be preserved.

Whenever he was invited to display his works, Hung would always say “the time is not yet right” but now it seems to be a case of “the time has come.”

Hung Mi-jen has curated Hung Tung’s exhibitions in Taiwan and abroad many. She is also the author of the book Enchantment, Fantasy, Hung Tung, published in 2003 by Lion Art.




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