The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2012

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MAY 2012 Issue

Borderless Map: Taiwanese Painting Now

On View
Rooster Gallery
March 9 – April 15, 2012
New York

Taiwanese contemporary art has always suffered in comparison with the work of China—not only because the two cultures are different, but also because the West has been entranced by the imperial impulse of the mainland. This is more than unfortunate; it is a stark, sometimes deliberate misreading of Taiwan’s burgeoning impulse (and indeed prowess) as a creator of compelling art in its own right. As a result, Taiwanese art has been pushed to the margins, especially in America, but things in Taiwan have begun to change, and Borderless Map, put together by curator NuNu Hung, seeks to remedy the lack of knowledge Western culture suffers from in its perception of art from her country. Faced with the gallery’s relatively small space on Orchard Street (a single room connected to a basement gallery by a spiral staircase), Hung has chosen eight artists, each of whom do not offer a grand overview so much as they present the idiosyncrasies of their generation.

Along Ching-Yuan Chen, “Let’s Talk about Something 3,” 2009. Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 20”. Courtesy Rooster Gallery

In “The Heart of the World”(2011), Goody Yi-Ju Hsieh presents us with a bear in a striped dress, although the animal’s arms are human. She holds a length of cloth that is black with red spots and green lines embroidered onto its surface. On the table where she works, more cloth and toy animals reside, as well as a strange, slightly alien green mask with large eyes. Behind the bear’s head is a garden of sorts, mostly painted green but with some reds on the left and the top of the painting. In the West we would read the painting’s suggestive narrative as gentle surrealism, which may—or may not—be the artist’s motive for her tableau. It is an eccentric but affectingly mysterious picture. In the painting “Decision”(2011) by Liang-Yin Wang, we experience a sophisticated abstract work consisting of curvilinear forms of red, blue, and white against a light pink background. Hung sees this painting as a bridge between the artist’s generation of teachers and her own group of painters. The connection between the two cohorts is effected through similar brushwork, but the actual design by Wang is fresh, indicative of her time.

Goody Yi-Ju Hsieh, “The Heart of the World,” 2011. Acrylic on canvas. 21 x 18”. Courtesy Rooster Gallery.

Along Ching-Yuan Chen’s“Let’s Talk about Something 3” (2009), is a horrific image of a horse or monster with its head curled beneath its neck against a black background. A long, slender pole with a plug-like ending has been jammed into the pink tongue and palate of the creature’s mouth, looking very much like a torture device. The rest of the body fills the painting’s upper right-hand corner, with an opening revealing what seems to be the animal’s intestines. The artist accentuates the terror of the image, which might be read politically, as a statement of Taiwan’s dysfunctional political scene, or personally, as an emblem of psychological agony. Here, terror is mixed with a vivid imagination whose stark horror reminds one of Francis Bacon. Finally, “Bad Bedtime Story–Hunter” (2012) by Juju Yin-Ling Hsu is a two-by-five-foot narrative of homelessness. The central figure is a bearded man in a red shirt and blue shorts holding a striped bag. On the right is a cratered planet, beneath which rats swarm on a covered table. Behind the man we see a teepee decorated with a repeated flower design, while on the left, plant forms are encountered alongside a black path covered at intervals with colored spots.

Jean Hua-Chen Huang, “1981,” 2010. Oil on canvas. 12 x 24”. Courtesy Rooster Gallery.
Juju Yin-Ling Hsu, “Bad Bedtime Story-Hunter,” 2012. Oil on canvas. 24 x 60”. Courtesy Rooster Gallery

All four artists mentioned portray altered visions of reality that range from the allegorical to the abstract to the horrific. But the level on which the paintings’ nuances, both thematic and painterly, are experienced is personal rather than public. If the artists’ intentions are grounded in political allegory, then the point becomes a conundrum of such difficulty, registering them hard to understand. They become more accessible if one sees these paintings, as well as the works of the other four artists (Chien-Jen Chiu, Ya-Ting Kao, Tabo Tai-Chun Chou, and Jean Hua-Chan Huang), as examples of private experience and popular culture. When most of the artists were born, in the late ’70s and ’80s, Taiwan was still under martial law, a difficult legacy to be sure. The cultural freedom of the following decades has enabled these painters to portray allegories that are intensely personal in nature. Thus, the idea of a “borderless map”—a place where one is always Taiwanese, wherever he or she goes—stands as a metaphor for a generation bent on exploring individual experience. The exhibition makes this very clear.


Jonathan Goodman

Jonathan Goodman is a teacher and author specializing in Asian art, about which he has been writing for more than twenty years.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2012

All Issues