Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Taipei Biennial 1998 -2008

Having the dubious distinction of seeing all the Taipei Biennials since its inception in 1998, I am posting an excerpt from my article in Yishu, March 2007 issue, where I discuss that the lobby of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum acts as a barometer.

Lobby as Social Barometer

The way artworks are installed in the cavernous lobby of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum for its biennials acts as a barometer for the social and cultural climate in Taiwan. One only needs to examine the lobby installations of subsequent installments of each biennial to get a true picture of Taipei’s social, economic, and artistic climate.

In 1998, for the first biennial, titled Site of Desire and curated by Fumio Nanjo, Dean E-Mei’s beaded Taiwan dollar curtain was suspended from the bank of escalators. Korean artist Choi Jeonghwa’s obese inflatable golden goddess statue, whose wings flapped, added to an atmosphere of excess that was akin to walking into a capitalistic arcade where the unabashed pursuit of money, market, and riches was waved in everyone’s faces. This paralleled the hope and excitement that Taipei residents felt at the time. There was a new mayor, and promises of riches seemed to be within grasp. The sense of opulence and optimism, with a bit of chaos thrown in, created a lively biennial. Cai Guo-Qiang’s bamboo structure of advertisements enveloping the outside and moving inside of the museum, combined with Hou Chun-ming’s erotic woodblock prints, created a mini scandal in the press, while Cai’s missile-shooting performance hinted at a promising future.

The 2000 biennial, The Sky is the Limit, curated by Jérôme Sans and Manray Hsu, created a more welcoming lobby. The entire floor was covered with Michael Lin’s pink-hued floral painting, while huge balloons of Jun’ya Yamada’s participatory calligraphic strips floated overhead. The dynamic conversation between these works created what seemed like a cozy space rather than a stuffy institution, encouraging visitors to forget politics and the economy and to just enjoy life.

In 2002, with the Great Theatre of the World, curators Bartomeu Marí and Jason Chia-chi Wang exhibited Rita McBride’s Arena, a large grandstand that transformed the lobby into a theatre space so that audience members became both performer and spectator, thus making the lobby an open forum for discussion.

Barbara Vanderlinden and Amy Huei-hwa Cheng’s 2004 Do You Believe in Reality?
combined Chang Yong-ho’s voyeuristic viewing platforms, providing a kind of privacy that was similar to placing a peep show in a big public area. With Kuo I-chen’s shadow of a real plane flying overhead, they created a lobby filled with marvel that made one want to look up in the air. The juxtapositions of works and viewing areas created a sense of shifting perspectives between reality and illusion.

For 2006, Dirty Yoga curated by Dan Cameron and Wang Jun-jieh, the placement in the lobby of solitary dark objects that did not interact with each other, that seemed solipsistic and bleak with little communication taking place among them, coincided with the Biennial’s own snubbing of the September convergence of other Asian biennials.
The combination of Regina Silvera’s black footprints pasted all over the museum’s façade, Daniel Ortega’s portable black obelisk on wheels, Nari Ward’s tarry snowman, Eko Nugroho’s black wall drawing, and Katharina Grosse’s pile of spray-painted dirt, unwittingly created an uncomfortable and uninviting atmosphere that left only one place to sit, a lonely bench sticking out of the dirt of Grosse’s soiled painting.
This dreary atmosphere seemed to symbolize the public’s feelings about the current status of Taiwan: black and cancerous.
Stay tuned for Taipei Biennial 2008!

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