Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Taipei Biennial History

I will begin by presenting my Yishu readings since it involves the history of Taipei Biennial and then share with you my visit.
After major diplomatic crisis in Taiwan in the 1970s, the Taiwan government began using cultural edification to "legitimize" their sovereignty over China. As part of the Kuomintang government's "cultural edification" plan, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum was born. It took a big step forward by creating an image of contemporary China. The architecture of the museum deviates from the usual government-building styles that imitate Beijing's Forbidden City. Instead the architect adopted Japanese minimalist style.
The museum itself had a scandalous and rough beginning. Taiwan was still under martial law and censorship was strong. The Fine Arts Museum had a director with little artistic background and aimed at creating shows "suitable" for the audience and acceptable for the government. However, it also had to strive to be modern and contemporary. The first director had little understanding of contemporary art and before one show, even destroyed and ruined one artists' work because she considered it "crap". The struggle between censorship and artistic freedom continues, and as Taiwan's martial law was lifted, the Taipei Biennial slowly took its form.
There was constant conflict between foreign critics/curators and local politics. The Biennial show was a governmental instrument to create the image that Taiwan has cultural contribution to this world and is essential to the global cultural/artistic community. The second director understood the system and pushed for "art untouched by politics".Under him were years where the upper level was exhibiting government "acceptable" shows to the public and the underground level became the experimental platform for artists to express their political dissent, personal opinions...etc. Slowly as media censorship eased and Taiwan strayed away from martial law, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum started reflecting the change of time by competing for media coverage and attention. It then invited a foreign curator, which received criticism for lack of local artists. Finally, Biennial began having local and foreign curators work together to balance the show.

The Yishu I read is a 2004 edition, a bit outdated so my personal visit differed a bit from the expectations I built up from my readings.

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