Travel in Taiwan Museums

The Present and Future of Art in Taiwan: Taipei Fine Arts Museum

By J.F. Keating, Photos by Sung Chih-hsiung



"Look at the unusual colors." "Why does he make the heads so large?" "The people seem so bored." The comments float through the air as we stroll past the art work. We are viewing a show of the famous French painter Balthus (b. 1908). Balthus, a painter whom Picasso admired, works at expressing his own inner world while not following any school. But we are in Taipei, not Paris. The show has been running from August into October, 1995, and is one of the many yearly exhibitions of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

When it comes to art, most people in Taiwan think of the National Palace Museum in Taipei, with its world-famous collection of porcelain, jade, silk paintings, calligraphy and all the other art treasures of ancient China. The National Palace Museum has a steady flow of visitors, both tourists and local residents.

But what about contemporary art? What about the bold, the new, the avant-garde? Surprisingly, perhaps, that too is alive and well in this land of tradition. And it is found in the spacious Taipei Fine Arts Museum, located at 181 Chungshan N. Road, Section 3. As far as museums go, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum is quite young; it opened to the public on December 24, 1983, barely 12 years ago. Deciding on the direction and scope of the museum was and still is a difficult task. For any museum of art, there are so many possible avenues: Should it specialize in a particular period? Should it focus on a special medium? Should it be Chinese, Asian, or international? All these questions have been part of its challenge.


"War-Dance," by Chen chu-yin.

A Laudable Direction
In September 1995, Taipei Mayor Chen Shui-pien appointed Chang Chen-yu as the museum's second director. A professional artist and the first to be made director without going through civil service requirements, Chang Chen-yu has made one of his first priorities to get a NT$200 million budget for art acquisition.

What can visitors expect of Taipei's Fine Arts Museum? Among the key departments of the museum are the exhibition, collection, research and development, and the education departments.

The Exhibition Department is the department with which the public has its most immediate contact. In any given month you may see such exhibits as International Competitions in Print and Sculpture, National Contemporary Artists, Chinese Overseas Artists, Avant-garde and Experimental Art, and Works from the Permanent Collection. Currently, in addition to the Balthus exhibit, there are at least 10 other shows including well-known Taiwanese artists Chen Chih-chi and Chen Hui-kun.

A future hallmark exhibit is the 7th International Biennial Print and Drawing Exhibit 1995. This exhibit, which opens in December, has been a mainstay of the museum since its beginning; it aims to enhance the public's knowledge and appreciation of the media of print and drawing, and to promote cultural exchange and mutual understanding between Eastern and Western cultures.

The exhibit's international acclaim is indicated by the wide range of its participants. In 1993, artists from 46 countries were represented. This year, prizes totaling NT$1.1 million in purchase awards and citations promise to attract even more.

Museums are principly known for their collections. At present the Taipei Fine Arts Museum primarily specializes in works of art from Taiwan, followed by works of overseas Chinese and those that represent important trends in 20th century art. The easiest way to grasp the quality of the collection is to examine the catalogues published yearly that illustrate the art collected that year.

Beginning last year, the Collections Department accepted 223 of 752 considered works. One of the highlights was a donation of the art of Ho Telai, a native of Hsinchu who spent most of his productive years in Japan. "Each year the museum has a special focus in its collections," states Ying Ying Lai, a curator in the Collections Department. "In the past year our focus was to build up our collection of the art of Taiwan photographers." This year, he said, it has been a historical tracing of traditional "gouache" paintings--painting that mixes pigments of gum with water to create a watercolor-like opaque appearance.

What about publications? Research is a strong point of the museum, particularly research on modern art from 1911 (the final year of dynastic China) onwards. In addition to a bimonthly magazine on the arts, the museum pub lishes a book on every show that is held there. It has also published 16 research books in the past nine years, and these can be obtained from the bookstore on the first floor.



Raising Awareness
The education section reaches out to the public by offering a wide range of classes, lectures, and seminars that introduce the arts as well as by maintaining a strong library for research. Over 50 classes in such subjects as painting, calligraphy, sculpture, ceramics, and color theory are held for Taipei residents every three months. Lectures on art-related topics are presented monthly in the auditorium; currently, there are presentations on three prominent Taiwanese artists.

In addition, painting instruction programs are offered to children twice a month on Sunday afternoons, with parents encouraged to join. For a full schedule, inquire at the information desk or write to the museum and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

So, if you want to see the past art of China, go to the National Palace Museum; but for the present and future, the place to go is the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. It is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, including holidays, and is closed on Mondays. Tours are offered in English, Japanese, Spanish, French, and Chinese. Group visitors should apply in advance. After you have toured the museum, you can either stop for refreshments at the basement cafeteria or at the Artists Club, a Tudor-style building to the north of the museum.

How to Get There

The Taipei Fine Arts Museum is located on Chungshan North Road, just south of the Keelung River and the Grand Hotel. It can be reached by numerous city buses including No. 40, 203, 208, 216, 217, 218, 220, 224, 260, 277, 279, and 310. For those who prefer driving, the convenient museum parking lot is located off Hsinsheng North Road.


Travel in Taiwan Museums
Copyright 1995 Vision International Publishing Co.