Tens of thousands of people pass by them every day, but few take a second look or stop to appreciate the public artworks installed around many of Taipei’s Mass Rapid Transit System (MRT) stations.
Some have said these artworks are getting dull and do not arouse attention because they never change and are often in need of maintenance.
Officials at the Taipei Rapid Transit Corp (TRTC), the authority responsible for their maintenance, said they are contemplating introducing a review mechanism to evaluate the MRT public artworks.
Taipei City Government’s Department of Rapid Transit Systems started promoting public artworks when construction of MRT lines began in 1990.
A number of the artworks were contributed by major artists, some were commissioned projects, while others were by open tender competitions.
The goal was to bring art to the public, the department said.
Since the opening of Taipei’s MRT Muzha Line (木柵線) in 1996, the number of public art installations along different lines has increased to 38 pieces.
However, officials said they have received complaints from the public that some of the pieces looked like “they had sustained serious damage” and had become an eyesore.
“It is always the same old works. None of the MRT public artworks are new. We come and go through the stations every day, but as time goes by, we don’t have any feeling for them anymore,” a Taipei City resident said.
The piece installed at the MRT Xiaobitan Station is titled The Way to the Very Joyance (幸福知道).
The work is composed of four major elements — a bronze piece, a bench, metal railings for windows and a wooden platform.
This work won two honors at the inaugural public art awards organized by the former-Council of Cultural Affairs, including the “Best Project Planning Award.”
However, the outdoor wooden platform and metal pieces are damaged and now under repair.
A resident who lives nearby said people used to meet on the platform to chat and watch the scenery, but now it looked damaged, so people seldom go.
Other MRT artworks are a nuisance for maintenance workers.
The public art at the MRT Guting Station is titled Chance Meeting (邂逅), and features 12 face masks representing contrasts such as day and night, noise and quiet, time and space.
The masks are made of polyvinyl chloride, coated with fire-resistant paint, and suspended from the ceiling.
As the masks are suspended from the ceiling, workers have to wait until after the last train and use extra-high step ladders to reach them for cleaning.
According to staff at the station, this is the most difficult cleaning job among all MRT public artworks.
The public artwork at Gongguan Station, called Peep (偷窺), which has closed-circuit cameras in the underground station connected to LCD screens outside is one of the few “interactive” artworks in the nation.
Due to the cameras and LCD screens involved, this artwork is quite troublesome for maintenance workers.
The most expensive of the MRT public artworks is Tree River (樹河), which cost NT$43 million (US$1.44 million), installed on the boulevard outside the Zhongxiao Dunhua Station.
It takes a lot of time and considerable effort to clean because of its large size.
The oldest work can be found in Shuanglian Station. It is a mural of porcelain enamel entitled Dawning Sail, which was installed in 1996.
“We are already tired of looking at it,” some commuters who go through the station every day said.
Possibly the strangest work can be found at Taipei City Hall Station: a series of five sculptures entitled Growth (成長).
It is perplexing to many, and people have often wondered what the pieces are meant to express.
In response to public calls to replace the artworks, officials said they are working on a mechanism to replace or repair them.