Facing their past whilst examining their present, the new exhibition of Taiwanese art collective Hantoo Art Group looks at their creative journey.
Focusing on the past two decades of the collective’s work, the exhibition runs until 12 November 2017 at Tina Keng Gallery in Taipei.
The Hantoo Art Group is nearing twenty years old. Functioning as a loose collective of artists, perhaps almost described as a brotherhood, the Hantoo Art Group has successfully launched exhibitions in China and Taiwan, at the Chongqing Art Museum and the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, amongst others. Comprising 14 artists, the fellowship has seen artists join their ranks over the years, as well as an eventual maturation of styles and sensibilities. Now exhibiting at Tina Keng Gallery in Taipei, the group takes a look back at the past two decades of their work, and the development of their society in “Imagery of Yore in Rear View — Hantoo Art Group 2017/1998”.
Originally created by nine former members of the Taipei School of Painting, the group included artists such as Lu Tianyan, Yang Maolin, Chen Ruiwen, Wu Tianzhang, Lu Xianming, Guo Weiguo, Li Minzhong, Lian Jianxing and Yang Renming as the pioneer members. Selecting “Hantoo Art Group” as its name, literally translated as “brave” or “fierce” drawing or painting, the group has continuously made headway in modern and contemporary painting. In the early years of their inception, the Hantoo Art Group also became a mouthpiece for the championing of painting as art, fearing that the medium had become a sidelined, marginalised practice in the art landscape.
Today, the Hantoo Art Group counts 14 members amongst its ranks: Wu Tienchang, Tang Tangfa, Chang Ling, Chu Shuhsien, Yang Jenming, Yang Maolin, Tu Weicheng, Lai Hsinlung, Kuo Weikuo, Deng Wenjen, Chen Chingyao and Lu Hsienming. Each artist has their own distinctive practice – yet, each of the members also addresses particular important issues at the intersection of art, visual imagery and society. Wu Tienchang, for example, is best known for commenting on the current social and political issues of Taiwan through his use of digital photography and oil painting.
Engaging with issues of Taiwanese nationality, identity and socio-political happenings, the artist group collectively makes a statement on their lived experiences and their perspectives on the world. Most of their members have, on an individual basis, been acknowledged as some of Taiwan’s most significant contemporary artists. The current president of the group, Yang Maolin, has participated in various programmes held at the Venice Biennale to this date, amongst other museum and institutional shows. He is also best known for his politically charged paintings, made during the turbulent era of the 1980s.
The exhibition held at Tina Keng Gallery aims to bridge the gulf between the old and the new, bringing old works from the 1990s of each member under the same roof as their new body of works. The show is divided into two sections, “2017” and “1998”, each denoting the relative divide between the group’s past and present. Highlighting their present creative efforts, “2017” puts together the artists’ latest works. “1998”, on the other hand, includes sketches, manuscripts and found objects, attempting to contextualise the past works that the artists made. Attempting to chart a path between past and present, the exhibition forces the two phases in time to face the other, confronting the contrast between past and present. With works-in-progress placed next to formal pieces, the exhibition aims to create an entry point into the modernism and postmodernism in Taiwan, through the perspectives of these pioneering contemporary artists.
Some of the exhibition’s outstanding works include Yang Maolin’s Tayouan Memorandum — Ready to Fight. A Nightfall Date (1999), which comprises a shiny, larger-than-life copper gun pointing outwards, framed against an almost movie-poster-like image of a couple holding hands in the sunset. A harsh juxtaposition between tender romance and the outlandish brutalism of the gun, the installation is a take on Taiwan’s oppression of foreign culture and the resulting psychological confusion that impacted many of Taiwan’s young generation. Humorous, yet somewhat baleful and menacing, the work is in itself a bundle of contradictions.
Yang’s new work still retains some of its trademark style: an angler fish bursts happily out of the depths, seemingly chasing after its own esca. Yang has, however, chosen to highlight the dangerously sharp teeth of the fish: filling up much of the foreground of the canvas, the fish’s cavernous mouth greets the viewer with a terrifying smile.
Another outstanding artist is Wu Tienchang, whose solo exhibition “Never Say Goodbye” ran as a collateral programme representing Taiwan at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. Whilst the Venice exhibition featured much of his photographic work, this show reveals the precedent to his stylised, surreal portrait photography. Wu’s work Hakka Families under Qing Rule reveals the same proclivity for using stiff figures resembling puppets arranged neatly in rows against a burnt orange background. Wu’s attentiveness to his subjects still shines through: the faces of the figures are downcast, sombre, almost mask-like.
In contrast to the more traditional medium of oil on canvas, Wu’s new body of work Farewell West Bank Wharf is an installation comprising a framed painting with a display cabinet. Depicting a digital rendering of departing soldiers about to board a vessel, the work refers to Taiwan’s military history and the military interests that it had. Along with the image, Wu’s installation comprises a display of archival photographs, maps and materials that contextualise the act of military send-offs and farewells.
Tang Tangfa’s work A Basket of Vegetables (2017) adds a dash of whimsical humour to the show. Literally depicting a basket of carrots and other vegetables, the work is a prime example of Tang’s unorthodox artistic practice. Tang Tangfa dwells on the idea of the ubiquitous, everyday market stall, seen on roadsides, within markets and dotted throughout Taiwan. Tang has previously exhibited a model of the market stall, complete with flat, two-dimensional vegetables parading as the real ones. He has also previously made two-dimensional wall sculptures imitating the market stalls themselves. By creating false produce, Tang plays with the notion of illusion in the everyday vernacular, bringing a touch of humour to the exhibition.
His previous work, Penghu Islands (1990) reinforces his preoccupation with the agricultural industry of Taiwan: a misty scene rises before the viewer, a green, pastoral field stretching far into the skyline.
Highlighting the trajectory of the Hantoo members’ creative practice, the exhibition does provide some interesting insights about each individual artist. Helping to bring together older work with new, the exhibition is an entry point to Taiwanese contemporary art, serving as a good introduction to some of the biggest names in Taiwan’s art scene today.
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