Chen Hilo Self Portrait and Mirrors, 1969 Oil on canvas, 111.8 x 111.8 cm Courtesy Each Modern.
‘Self-Portrait and Mirrors’ by Chen Hilo (1969) © Each Modern

Taipei is back. That, at any rate, was the message of the Taipei Dangdai art fair when it launched its inaugural edition 12 months ago. After years in which it felt outflanked by the glitz of Hong Kong and sidelined by the explosion of interest in mainland contemporary Chinese art, the Taiwanese capital is reasserting its presence. Boosted by new outposts of international galleries, a buoyant local gallery scene and a government keen to flaunt its cultural credentials, Taiwan has made a name for itself by being everything mainland China is not — politically plural, open to outsiders and fast-moving. It also boasts a deep network of serious (and seriously wealthy) collectors, many of them young. The fact that old rival Hong Kong has been beset by agonising political unrest for the past six months has only boosted the outlook for the Taiwanese.

This year’s Taipei Dangdai is planning to seize the moment, featuring an expanded roster of 99 galleries from Asia as well as further afield. For the first time, it will also leap beyond the cavernous vault of the National Exhibition Centre into Taipei City itself. Under the stewardship of curator Robin Peckham, who has joined founder Magnus Renfrew as co-director, an off-site public programme organised with the leading Taiwanese intellectual Chang Tieh-Chi will feature installations spread across city landmarks, exploring themes such as ecology, pop culture and the role of the Asian market. The theme, appropriately for an island keen to show off its connectedness, is islands and “the straits between them”.

Despite its internationalist credentials, the fair’s USP might be its focus on homegrown talent: visiting collectors will be encouraged to join studio visits and explore galleries that are just starting out. As well as bringing the art world to Taiwan, Taipei Dangdai is determined to show Taiwan off to the world.

Sadamasa Motonaga Work, 1965 Oil in canvas, 91 x 72 cm Courtesy Axel Vervoordt Gallery
‘Work’ by Sadamasa Motonaga (1965) © Axel Vervoordt Gallery
Sadamasa Motonaga Untitled, 1971 Acrylic color on canvas, 20.5x26.5 cm. Courtesy NUKAGA GALLERY
‘Untitled’ by Sadamasa Motonaga (1971) © Nukaga Gallery
Tetsuya Ishida Cargo, 1996 Acrylic on board, 145.6x103cm Courtesy Wada Fine Arts | Y++.
‘Cargo’ by Tetsuya Ishida (1996) © Wada Fine Arts

January 17-19,

Beyond the fair: six key locations

Asia Art Centre

AAC was one of the earliest commercial players on the Taipei contemporary scene during the 1980s, and made a name for itself by spotlighting artists who fled mainland China during the second world war. In 2007, it expanded to a satellite site in Beijing’s 798 Art District. These connections between Taiwan and the mainland are visible in its contribution to this year’s art fair — a solo show devoted to the veteran painter Chuang Che, now in his 80s. Based in New York City since the 1960s, Chuang infuses traditional Chinese ink-wash, calligraphic and landscape forms with blocky shapes influenced by Abstract Expressionism.

January 15-March 1,

Tainan Art Museum, Tainan

Taiwan’s southern cities are doing their utmost to turn the spotlight away from the capital city. In 2018, the port city of Kaohsiung opened Weiwuyng, a vast complex devoted to the performing arts (reputedly the world’s largest such institution), to complement the Pier-2 Art Centre, a former dockyard. For its part, Tainan, a little further north, has recently thrown open the doors on an ambitious new museum, divided between a former police headquarters and a flashy new edifice designed by Shigeru Ban and Shi Zhao Yong. Its current exhibition, Super-Trajectory, brings together artists from across the globe to explore what it means to live and make art in the contemporary world.

To March 3,

National Palace Museum

A trip to Taiwan would hardly be complete without visiting one of the world’s great museums of Chinese culture. Containing 650,000 artefacts — ceramics, bronzes, paintings and plenty more, much of it removed from the Forbidden City in Beijing when Chiang Kai-shek’s republican forces retreated to Taiwan — it spans some 8,000 years of history and occupies a forbidding complex in the foothills outside Taipei. Though there’s little contemporary art on display, the NPM is putting on an impressive show around Taipei Dangdai: no fewer than three new exhibitions, focusing on signature donations to the collection, large-scale paintings and seal-script calligraphy.

All to March 25,

Taipei Fine Arts Museum

Founded in 1983 and located in a starkly modernist white building surrounded by greenery, TFAM, Taipei’s first modern art museum, led the way in connecting Taiwan to the international scene by hosting the Taipei Biennial as well as curating Taiwan’s contributions to the Venice Biennale. In addition to the impressive permanent 20th-century collection, current exhibitions are typically outward-looking. 

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Memoria, Boy at Sea, 2017. Single-channel video installation, circular projection. Courtesy of the artist and Taipei Fine Arts Museum.
‘Boy at Sea’ (2017), a video installation by Apichatpong Weerasethakul © Taipei Fine Arts Museum

An Apichatpong Weerasethakul retrospective showcases the magical-realist works of the maverick Thai independent film-maker, while elsewhere there’s Island Tales: Taiwan and Australia, a group show featuring 13 artists from Taiwan and Western Australia joining hands to make creative, cross-Pacific links.

‘Apichatpong Weerasethakul: The Serenity of Madness’, to February 15, ‘Island Tales: Taiwan and Australia’, to March 1,

Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA)

Taipei’s other big institution for new art is more forward-facing than TFAM, focused exclusively on the work of living artists, many of them from Taiwan, and introducing the public to cutting-edge work from overseas. The latest exhibition to occupy MoCA’s grand 19th-century headquarters is entitled Co/Inspiration in Catastrophes and focuses on how art can respond to a world in apparently permanent crisis. It features such international big hitters as Ai Weiwei, Sachiko Kazama, Zhou Tao and Pierre Huyghe alongside Taiwanese stars including Chen Yin-Ju and Eleng Luluan. There are even references to ongoing events in Hong Kong — a major concern in Taiwan right now, for obvious reasons. 

To February 9,

Taiwan Contemporary Culture Lab (C-LAB)

Housed in Taiwan’s sprawling former air force headquarters, C-LAB was set up in 2018 to be a proving ground for experimentation in everything from architecture, dance, design and digital media to film and visual arts. Its biggest project to date is the Taiwan Sound Lab — a “laboratory” created in collaboration with France’s renowned experimental music hub Ircam and launched in a specially configured surround-sound, acoustically isolated theatre late last year. Future plans include more themed laboratories, artist residencies and education, aiming to link Taiwan practitioners to collaborative art work in Asia and worldwide.

Pair at the fair: Two artists to watch

John Yuyi
Taiwan, born 1991 

John Yuyi She 女字旁 2018 Archival pigment print 120 x 90 cm Ed of 3+1 AP
John Yuyi, ‘She 女字旁’ (2018) © AP

Don’t be fooled by the first name: this young Taiwanese conceptual artist is a woman, and the female form — often nude — figures frequently in her work. Influenced by the ways in which the digital world has changed how we display and represent our bodies, Yuyi is known for making temporary tattoos based on social media icons or avatars, which she pastes on to live models or objects. 

Observing that “a lot of people use themselves to build a persona on social media”, Yuyi has also employed her own body as a canvas, and uses — inevitably — her own Instagram account to promote her work to some 200,000 followers. Picked out by Forbes magazine as one of their “30 under 30” Asian talents in 2018, she exhibited at New York’s Site 57 Gallery in the same year. Gallery Vacancy, booth C26

Tomona Matsukawa
Japan, born 1987

Tomona Matsukawa, By the time she grows up, 2019, 33.3 x 45.5cm, oil on panel credit: ©️ the Artist and Yuka Tsuruno Gallery
Tomona Matsukawa, ‘By the Time She Grows Up’ (2019) © Yuka Tsuruno Gallery

If the paintings by this artist seem to talk, it’s probably because each work is based on real interviews with her subjects. Matsukawa is best-known for documenting the diverse experiences of contemporary Japanese women — housewives, sex workers, hostesses — and exploring the challenges they face through her art, a process she describes as “converting their voices into paintings”. Capturing vulnerable as well as intimate and banal moments, her works offer intense distillations of reality, dominated by dark, mysterious shadows and vivid, almost acid-coloured paint. In 2017 she was a finalist for the well-regarded Asian Art Award.

Most of all, Matsukawa’s haunting brand of realism seeks to offer a deeper look into the way we live today: “I am trying to depict the grander picture of society through the conditions of individuals,” she says. Yuka Tsuruno Gallery, booth SO9

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