CONTEMPORARY ART EDUCATION RESOURCES ART BOOKS
Art Island: An Archive of Taiwan Contemporary Artists was released near the end of 2010. Produced with the aim of promoting a little-known art scene, the publication contains information on over 200 of Taiwan’s top contemporary artists. We spoke with Taipei gallerist and publication director Frank Liu to find out more.
Taiwan Contemporary Art Link
In 2007, three (at the time) mid-sized Taiwanese art galleries, Galerie Grand Siecle, Aki Gallery and Dynasty Art Gallery decided to join forces in order to lower the cost of international art fair attendance. Der Horng Art Gallery joined the group in 2008. They called their alliance Taiwan Contemporary Art Link (TCAL) in reference to the value the galleries placed on the promotion of young contemporary Taiwanese artists.
“There were a lot of really big … galleries in Taiwan,” says Frank Liu, owner of Taipei-based Dynasty Art Gallery. “But … these galleries didn’t really want to put a lot of energy into young or contemporary artists because they didn’t believe there was enough profit [to be made]. Instead, they usually represented senior artists whose work is much more expensive.”
According to Liu, this meant most young contemporary artist weren’t recognised by collectors in Taiwan. TCAL decided they would begin to promote these artists internationally and they split the booth costs at international art fairs in Japan, Korea, China and Europe between the four galleries.
At these fairs, the art spaces fielded a lot of questions from people curious about Taiwanese contemporary art and wondering at the lack of information available on the country’s output. Art Island: An Archive of Taiwan Contemporary Artists was born from these enquiries.
Fraught production schedule
The publication contains profiles on and artwork of just over 200 artists, each with their own two-page spread. TCAL employed three editors who created a names list from already available sources including a book of Taiwanese artists published by the Council for Cultural Affairs and finalist information gathered from a number of Taiwanese art prizes.
The main goal of Art Island was to promote a large group of great artists from Taiwan internationally. We didn’t want to include only the artists represented by the four galleries in TCAL.
Inclusion criteria were established. Firstly, only contemporary artists between the ages of 30 to 65 years old were to be selected.
We didn’t want to pick senior artists or very young artists. Senior artists may have a publication already or be represented by a … gallery and most very young artists are probably not mature enough yet.
Only artists that were born and completed their high school education in Taiwan could qualify. Artists that had then travelled overseas for tertiary education were still able to be included.
Since the book is focussed on promoting Taiwanese contemporary artists, we picked artists [that have] strong Taiwanese backgrounds. If an artist was born in America and studied there for their entire young life, they probably wouldn’t have a strong Taiwanese background. We would refer to them as an American not a Taiwanese artist.
This initial list was passed on to four academic consultants – Wu Chieh-Shiang, Hu Yung-Fen, Chen Tai-Sung and Ku Shih-Yung – who made the final cut. TCAL then began the year-long task of finding artists and convincing them to be involved.
We had a really long list with some great artists on it that we really admired. But how could we find them? We needed to get their permission, to get them to say, ‘Okay, I will put my stuff in your book.’ … In the beginning we thought [the book] was a great project because we were promoting Taiwanese artists and their art. But the process was a lot of work.
While most of the artists TCAL contacted were happy to be included in the publication, around twenty percent weren’t really interested or didn’t want to hand over copyright. A few galleries refused to allow their artists to be included. Because of this, a number of very good Taiwanese artists are not in the book.
We really want to make this a great book for everybody, not just for the galleries in TCAL, so we were really patient when deciding on the right time to print Art Island. And if an artist still didn’t want to be included we could always try to include them in future books.
Editing and translation came next:
We dedicated one page to each artist. We spent a lot of time going over all the information on each artist and deciding how to fit it into the book, trying to make it easier for the reader to understand. After we had finished each page we sent it back to the artist and asked them to check if it was correct. And then we had to translate each page into English.
The second edition of Art Island is planned for 2013, says Liu, in order to give the artists time to make new artworks and explore new styles. For this future edition, the process of finding artists will begin again so that new artists can be included and some of the more mature artists removed.
Audience and promotion
Each artist in the book received a free copy and complimentary editions were sent to leading art institutions in countries such as America, England, China and Australia in the hope that they will be made available for public use.
Art Island is not a profit-driven project. The four galleries that make up TCAL would just really like to see Taiwanese artists recognised internationally. If the promotion [of Taiwanese contemporary art] improves, it’s going to benefit Taiwanese gallery owners and artists, so a book like Art Island will help the whole market.
Collectors of Taiwanese art are mostly Taiwanese, Liu says.
Since Taiwan is a really small island, most of the buyers are usually from Taiwan. When we go out to the art fairs people will buy our work, but often they don’t really understand it. And the Taiwanese government is … passive in its promotion of the art market.
Liu stresses that international promotion will positively influence the saleability of Taiwanese contemporary art outside Taiwan, and he uses the current popularity of mainland Chinese art as an example:
Right now, China has a really big share of the international art market. They have been promoting their contemporary art for a long time so they have a very good market system [and access to the global art market]. But does that mean that work created in China is better than work produced by Taiwanese contemporary artists?
Because Art Island is aimed at an international audience its content is broad. The two introductory essays, written one each by Wu Chieh-Hsiang and Sophie McIntyre, offer an overview of the Taiwanese contemporary art scene, past to present, and the publication includes artists who work in every medium.
We don’t really have any limitations when it comes to our audience. As long as people are interested in Taiwan contemporary art, they are all welcome. We think it will be of benefit to scholars, students, those in the art businesses, collectors… everyone!
The publication is a really good first step if you want to begin to understand Taiwanese contemporary art. We hope people … will say, ‘Wow! Look at what artists can do in Taiwan. It’s a small island, it’s a small country, but they really have something impressive.’ Getting people’s attention is our first goal.
Hotel art fair success
Art Island piggybacks earlier efforts by TCAL to promote young contemporary Taiwanese artists and cater to a growing market of young collectors. In 2009 they started two art fairs, Photo Taipei, targeting digital art and photography, and Young Art Taipei (YAT), a hotel art fair that invites international galleries to present work by artists under 45 years old.
Because hotel fairs are cheaper for galleries to attend than the larger international art fairs, TCAL felt the format would both encourage galleries to promote their younger artists and attract young buyers because the work is sold at a low price.
Young artists struggle to get representation at the bigger international art fairs. They want to get their work into these fairs, but how can they if the senior galleries won’t sponsor them? So a lot of artists become frustrated and decide not to … promote their art that way. We don’t want to see this. We want to help these young artists grow.
So there are two benefits: you are trying to help young artists grow and help them to promote their work, and also, from the other side, you are trying to build up a new collector base.
According to Liu, YAT has been surprisingly successful. Modelled on similar fairs held in Japan, he believes this kind of event works well in Taiwan because of the country’s many young, open-minded and confident collectors.
There is a really diverse cultural background here and young people are starting to travel all over the world, to China and American to study.
“There are a lot of people [in Taiwan] who are very appreciative of the arts,” Liu continues. Even when it comes to art that may be considered average by some, Taiwanese buyers “are willing to pay the money and buy the things they like.”
What makes Taiwanese art collectible?
Liu provides his views on this big question,
In every country around the world there is good art and bad art. But when you ask a Taiwanese person why people should collect Taiwanese art the first thing they will say is, ‘Because we are Taiwanese.’ We have Taiwanese pride.
Secondly, from an investment point of view, Chinese contemporary art is extremely popular right now. In China, artwork, not even by senior artists, has been selling for huge amounts of money.
We are still Chinese in Taiwan and we do have good artwork, so there is a good possibility that, in time, the resell value of Taiwanese artworks will rise. … That’s why we’re trying to promote our artists now. We also have a big group of local collectors backing us up.
Western history of art and the Western art market took time to develop. It didn’t just happen. You have to take risks and cultivate the field in order to make it grow. We are creating history, art history.
Taiwan Contemporary Art Link will hold the third edition of Young Art Taipei from 12 to 13 May, 2011. Click here for more on YAT 2011.
To find out more about Art Island: An Archive of Taiwan Contemporary Artists or to get a copy of the publication visit the TCAL website.
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