Citing a lack of financial and legal support as well as ineffective policies, a group of artists, curators, educators and gallery owners yesterday said the government has done little to support Taiwan’s artists and the country’s visual arts industry and that they are being increasingly marginalized.
Only four out of the about 200 galleries in Taiwan were admitted to this year’s Hong Kong International Art Fair and while there are sections focusing on China, Japan, South Korea and southeastern Asia at international auctions held in Hong Kong, Taiwan has been left out.
“The problem of marginalization is serious,” Taiwan Art Gallery Association chairman Richard Chang (張學孔) said at a public hearing organized by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators Apollo Chen (陳學聖) and Chen Pi-han (陳碧涵), along with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍), on the development of visual arts at the legislature.
Chang said tax breaks could help the competitiveness of Taiwan’s artists.
Independent curator Hu Yung-fen (胡永芬) agreed, saying that the policy of imposing income tax on the sale of artworks had driven the auctionhouses Sotheby’s and Christie’s, both of which had branches in Taiwan in the 1990s, to Hong Kong.
On the legal front, Chang and Capital Art Center chairman York Hsiao (蕭耀) said there are no criminal sanctions for the forgery of art, resulting in auction houses selling fake artworks made by art forgery networks.
“Anyone who dares to stand up and speak out will be threatened by gangsters,” Hsiao said. “It is a big blow to the industry, causing collectors to lose confidence.”
It is essential to establish art authentication and appraisal services, introduce modern dating and analysis techniques and create an official database for copyrighted artworks, Hsiao said.
Hu Yung-fen also questioned the vast difference between government budgets for visual arts, amounting to NT$200 million (US$6.7 million) annually, and other categories, such as the cultural and creative industries, which receive NT$10 billion in funding from the National Development Fund alone.
“We won’t say anything if the money is well spent, but take Huashan 1914 Creative Park for example. It is now seen as a successful culture park model that can be duplicated across the nation,” the curator said. “When artists were there, they didn’t damage a brick in the historical buildings. When businesspeople arrive, they knock holes in walls. Can someone give us a legitimate reason for having seven restaurants in the cultural park?”
Luo Li-chen (駱麗真), a council member of the Association of the Visual Arts in Taiwan (AVAT), said policymakers and government officials need to know what is really needed.
“To have international exchange does not mean to simply send people to another country. We don’t have multilingual Web sites and databases for the introduction of local artists. Neither do we have specialized museums that serve to support individual disciplines. So even if a museum of photography in the US wants to collaborate with us, we don’t have a similar institute to work with them,” Luo said.
Speaking on the issue of artists’ livelihoods, Tsao Yu-wei (曹育維), chairman of the artists trade union in Taipei, said that most artists need to work odd jobs for “eight hours a day” in order to support themselves.
“Artists can’t even win government bids for public art projects. It is usually construction companies that take the job,” Tsao said.
AVAT chairman Sean Hu (胡朝聖) said the Ministry of Culture should put more effort into its art bank, a government-funded program that buys artworks by young artists and makes its collection available for rent.
“According to our study on Canada, Australia and South Korea, most of the artworks are rented out to be on display at government institutes and private companies,” Hu said. “So we should let the work of more new talent be seen in different places rather than limit them to museums for educational use.”