Beyond Taiwan’s horizons: Taiwanese contemporary art in the US

An exhibition, Taiwanese curator Wu Dar-Kuen says, is just one opportunity.

Work by Taiwanese contemporary artists is rarely seen in the thriving art hub that is New York City, let alone anywhere else in America. Curators Wu Dar-Kuen and Chang Chung-Fan hope to change that with “Horizon Realm: Contemporary Art from Taiwan”.

"Horizon Realm: Contemporary Art from Taiwan", exhibition view, Tenri Cultural Institute, New York City. Image courtesy KdMofa.

“Horizon Realm: Contemporary Art from Taiwan”, exhibition view, Tenri Cultural Institute, New York City. Image courtesy KdMofa.

The exhibition opened in at the Tenri Cultural Institute in New York City on 13 July 2013 to a receptive crowd, says Wu, and once it closes on 9 August, it will travel to Mississippi, opening again at the Dollye M.E. Robinson Liberal Arts Gallery at Jackson State University on 5 September. While Mississippi might seem off the beaten track to some, the opportunity to have the exhibition actually arose from this location.

“One of the graduates [from Taipei National University of the Arts] became a professor at [Jackson State University]. That’s the connection,” says Wu. “She came back [to Taiwan] last year and started to give us these ideas.” While the original plan saw “Horizon Realm: Contemporary Art from Taiwan” exhibiting only in Mississippi, once monetary and administrative support from the Taipei Cultural Center in New York had been secured, the organisers realised it would not cost much more to tour the exhibition to New York City. “We just add a little more and we can have more venues, why not? We think it’s a good opportunity,” Wu explains.

Chuen Chun-Hao, 'Imitating the Painting of Trampling while Singing by Ma-Yuan Sung Dynasty', 2013, mosquito nails, canvas, wood, 111x192.5 cm. Image courtesy KdMofa.

Chuen Chun-Hao, ‘Imitating the Painting of Trampling while Singing by Ma-Yuan Sung Dynasty’, 2013, mosquito nails, canvas, wood, 111 x 192.5 cm. Image courtesy KdMofa.

In an effort to “open the other window so the [audience] can see that there’s an island called Taiwan and they can find a lot of very interesting art there,” says Wu, the survey exhibition includes the work of 11 Taiwanese artists that work in a variety of mediums and themes.

The artists included in “Horizon Realm” are:

Artists were selected because they “represent the different directions of Taiwanese art,” explains Wu. In his curatorial essay for the exhibition, titled “From the Fusion of Horizon to the Fusion of Place”, Wu states,

‘Horizon Realm: Contemporary Art from Taiwan’ represents a cross section of contemporary art produced in Taiwan in the post Martial Law era of the late 1980s when enforcement was relaxed and freedom was established. … The work of this exhibition encompasses painting, sculpture, installation, video and photography, which as a whole investigates space, tactile material and mixed media and addresses such issues as politics and gender.

Jui-Chung Yao, 'Long Long Live', 2013, single-channel video, colour, sound, 7m30s. Image courtesy KdMofa.

Jui-Chung Yao, ‘Long Long Live’, 2013, single channel video, colour, sound, 7 min  30 sec. Image courtesy KdMofa.

The broad scope of the exhibition was intentional. For the curators, it was important to present the variety of local practice in order to “attract a wider audience,” Wu says. As stated by Wu in the curatorial essay, they hope that the issues presented in the works will “create conversations between the United States and Taiwan and between the artworks and viewers to promote mutual understanding.”

Unusually, artwork by co-curators Wu – who is also chief curator at the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts [KdMofa], one of the institutions responsible for organising the exhibition – and Chang is included in “Horizon Realm”. “I’m kind of struggling or divided by this still because normally if I curate a show I won’t put myself in it,” Wu admits. Due to a lack of interactive, new technology-based pieces in the exhibition, coupled with the fact that the included work was created during an artist residency in New York City, the Taipei Cultural Center and the director of KdMofa insisted, according to Wu, that the artwork be included.

Wang Jun-Jieh, "Erotic Objects" series. Image courtesy KdMofa.

Wang Jun-Jieh, “Erotic Objects” series. Image courtesy KdMofa.

Like Wu, many of the artists in “Horizon Realm” have a past or present relationship with America: Chang Chung-Fan graduated with an MFA from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Atlanta and today teaches at Jackson State University; Yao-Jui-Chung has exhibited work in group exhibitions in the US in recent years; Yang Mao-Lin is said to criticise “Taiwanese social phenomena under the long term influence of American and Japanese culture”; at least four of the included artists travelled to New York City with the help of generous Asian Cultural Council grants; and Ava Pao-Shia Hsueh, who is also the former director of the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, studied in the city.

With attention moving away from Chinese contemporary art, Wu believes that its the right time for a breakthrough exhibition like “Horizon Realm”. “If you were in New York five years or ten years ago, actually that’s when China hit. … Chinese artists had big shows in Chelsea or Soho galleries and even MoMA but now [that’s slowing down]. We’re thinking [that] now people in the West are paying attention to Taiwan.” He cites the example of White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney, Australia. Known for their significant collection of Chinese contemporary art, Wu says they are beginning to focus their attention on Taiwanese artists. “We have a good relationship,” he explains. “Every time they come to Taiwan, we guide them to visit Taiwanese artists’ studios, so they are also starting to collect a lot of Taiwanese artists work.”

Textile sculpture by Pan Ping-Yu. Image courtesy KdMofa.

Textile sculpture by Pan Ping-Yu. Image courtesy KdMofa.

The opening of “Horizon Realm” at the Tenri Institute attracted a number of the city’s leading curators and institutional directors, say Wu, which he believes will open the door to many more exhibition or collaboration opportunities. There are also plans to bring artists from Jackson State University to KdMofa in 2014, “because an exhibition is just one opportunity,” Wu explains. “Sometimes you need to sit down face-to-face, then we can know what we are thinking.”

Kate Nicholson


Related Topics: Taiwanese artists, curatorial practice, touring exhibitions, Asia expands

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