Up and Coming
BY OSCAR CHUNG
Art Taipei is one of the oldest and most successful art shows in Asia, with its most recent edition occurring in October 2019 in Taiwan’s capital. (Photo courtesy of Taiwan Art Gallery Association)
Taiwan’s burgeoning artists are gaining greater exposure in art markets at home and abroad.
Members of the Taiwan art scene are increasingly branching out and exploring opportunities to promote their work internationally and domestically. Helping artists along the way are numerous galleries, auction houses, associations and initiatives both public and private. According to 58-year-old painter Lien Chien-hsing (連建興), many businesses and organizations are eager to connect artists to prospective investors around the world. He works with Taipei City-based Yuan Ru Gallery, which recently helped him showcase his work at the 2020 Hybrid Contemporary Art Fair in Madrid.
Lien is one of three Taiwan artists who participated in this year’s festival, all of whom are connected to Yuan Ru. “Galleries like this one are ambitious, going above and beyond to get an artist’s name out there,” said the painter best known for magical realism. “Showing one’s work in an international fair can undoubtedly enhance name recognition and value both at home and abroad.”
Da Xiang Art Space, based in central Taiwan’s Taichung City, displays paintings and sculptures by its many creative talents at 2018 Art Taipei. (Photo courtesy of TAGA)
Sung Hsi-te (宋璽德), a 56-year-old steel sculptor whose creations are inspired by traditional landscape paintings, wholeheartedly agrees with Lien about the role galleries can play in raising an artist’s profile. “It’s quite difficult for us to publicize ourselves if not through an art gallery,” he said. The onetime freelance artist decided to sign a contract seven years ago with Da Xiang Art Space in the central city of Taichung. Though working with a gallery can sometimes mean losing creative control, Sung does not have such fears. Da Xiang takes care of the logistical details of promoting and selling his work while giving him free rein over the artistic process, he said.
Responsible for the bulk of sales on the primary art market, galleries are critical to getting the word out about Taiwan’s artists. Meanwhile, auction houses, as the main reseller of artwork, are driving development of the country’s secondary art market. According to the Ministry of Finance, the 265 art galleries and 46 auction houses in Taiwan generated sales totaling NT$3 billion (US$100 million) and NT$2.1 billion (US$70 million) in 2018, respectively.
Taiwan’s domestic art market first took off during the economic boom of the 1970s and 80s. Galleries, originally the sole channel through which pieces were traded, began springing up in urban areas and accelerated the public’s interest in collecting artwork. One of the oldest and most influential private exhibition spaces established during this period is downtown Taipei’s Apollo Art Gallery, which has gained a reputation over the years for working with some of the most iconic figures in the country’s art circles.
Artwork by Lien Chien-hsin and Sung Hsi-te respectively promoted at 2020 Hybrid Contemporary Art Fair in Madrid and 2019 Ink Asia in Hong Kong (Photos courtesy of Lien Chien-hsin and Sung Hsi-te)
As the market expanded, Apollo founder Chang King-shing (張金星) recognized a need for greater coordination among industry leaders. To address this, he led efforts to establish Taiwan Art Gallery Association (TAGA) in June 1992. According to current TAGA head Chung Ching-hsin (鍾經新), the new organization’s mission was to capitalize on the favorable economic conditions of the 90s to further enlarge Taiwan’s art trade.
Shortly thereafter, TAGA held the first edition of what is now known as Art Taipei in the country’s capital. Attracting 141 art galleries from Taiwan and 11 other countries last year, the annual event is now one of the oldest and most successful art fairs in Asia. With the addition of Art Tainan and Art Taichung, respectively launched in 2012 and 2013 in the southern and central Taiwan cities, TAGA continues to advance connections and exchanges among artists, collectors, curators, galleries, scholars and others in the art community.
As associations like TAGA were forming, auction houses also began cropping up, said Jade Chen (陳碧真), chairman of Taichung-based JSL Auction Co. Founded in 1994, JSL is the oldest existing establishment of its kind in Taiwan. It focuses on unearthing rare and obscure pieces of fine art by Asian artists, especially ink scrolls, oil paintings and sculptures.
“We seek out artwork that has been stashed away or hidden from public view for a long time,” Chen said. Once a piece is acquired, the auction house researches its history and collects promotional materials from past exhibitions showcasing the work. JSL, also owner of 333 Gallery in Taichung, previews such items in showrooms to generate publicity prior to auctioning them off, improving the artist’s visibility and boosting the value of their work. “In contrast to direct transactions between individual collectors, auction houses play a special role in pushing up an artwork’s price through competition among bidders,” she added.
Item listings published by JSL Auction Co. in Taichung City. (Photo by Chin Hung-hao)
Though the domestic art market is thriving, many Taiwan artists are still working to gain greater exposure, especially those new on the scene. Fortunately for them, public and private initiatives are lending a helping hand. The Ministry of Culture’s National Hsinchu Living Arts Center in the northern city does its part by selecting a handful of young artists each year and organizing a touring exhibition of their work. Since the program’s inception in 2010, it has given a leg up to 1,089 emerging creative talents. The 12 gifted youths who took part in 2019 can attest to the rewards of being chosen. They not only increased sales of their artwork, but also got the chance to meet with numerous galleries to discuss future partnerships.
TAGA and the Tainan City Government have likewise pitched in to enhance opportunities for promising new talent. The two joined forces in 2013 to launch the Next Art Tainan Award, aimed at rewarding the innovations of young artists and stimulating the development of contemporary art. Winners can capitalize on TAGA’s expansive network of connections to promote their work. “I believe in enhancing an artist’s prestige before marketing their creations,” Chung said. “Momentary hype can rapidly propel an artist to fame, but their popularity might be short-lived if the public doesn’t know the story behind the artwork.”
According to sculptor Sung, young artists entering the market today have an unprecedented number of opportunities to show off their pieces, especially given the surge in the number of art fairs held over the last decade. Events like Taipei Dangdai, established in 2019 by four international companies specializing in art events; One Art Taipei, organized by Taipei-based Asia Pacific Artlinks Co.; and Young Art Kaohsiung, coordinated by the local government since 2015, attract greater attention for participants than solo exhibitions. “It’s much more convenient for art enthusiasts to hit up art expos since they function as a one-stop service enabling visitors to admire pieces from dozens of galleries,” Sung said.
Taichung-based 333 Gallery promotes dramatic landscape paintings by Taiwan artist Lu Rong-chen. (Photo by Chin Hung-hao)
Katy Hsiu Chih Chien (簡秀枝), publisher of Taipei-based magazine ARTouch, is optimistic about the future of the art industry. “Taiwan is currently undergoing a round of public museum construction echoing that of the 1980s. These new institutions need to purchase pieces by local artists to fill out their collections,” she said, referring to recent municipal museum projects in New Taipei and Taoyuan in northern Taiwan, Taichung and Tainan. Once the museums open their doors, they are expected to spark greater public interest in art and drive further development.
But it is the rising status of Taiwan in the international community that could give the biggest boost to its artists. “Taiwan’s visibility on the world stage has grown dramatically,” Chien said. “The current climate opens doors for local artists in global art markets, where the country’s unique artwork can truly shine.”
Retrieve from Taiwan Review