The period between the Taiwanese general election and Lunar New Year was a busy one for Taipei's art scene. In the space of one week, four art fairs were staged in different districts of the city: the second edition of Taipei Dangdai (17 January–19 January 2020), the second editions of ONE ART Taipei (18 January–21 January 2020) and ART FUTURE (17 January–19 January 2020), and the inaugural WHAAAAAT'S STUDIO OPENING (17 January–19 January 2020).
The global capital behind Taipei Dangdai's patronage does not only gesture towards Taipei's rising status in the international art world, but also alludes to a token blessing from the West to Taiwanese society, which is known to have a strong collector base.
Until the arrival of Taipei Dangdai, it was Art Taipei that served as the main platform for selling modern and contemporary art in Taiwan: the longest-running art fair in Asia founded in 1992 by the Taiwan Art Gallery Association. The hotel-based art fair Young Art Taipei launched in 2009 in response to the former's lack of structure and antiquated, market-safe tastes. But despite the efforts made by both events to modernise their organisational structures, they seem to have failed to re-imagine internationalism through their platforms, providing fertile ground for Taipei Dangdai to launch in 2019 with a roster of international blue-chip galleries like Gagosian, David Zwirner, White Cube, and Perrotin.
Only in its second year, Taipei Dangdai appears to be leading the art fair game in Taiwan, with some Taiwanese spaces defecting from Art Taipei due to the organisation and capital behind it. The fair's director and co-founder, Magnus Renfrew, former director of ArtHK and the first director of Art Basel Hong Kong, orchestrated the fair's partnership with UBS, the Swiss bank that also sponsors Art Basel. As UBS Group Managing Director and Head Dennis Chen explained to Ocula, it was Renfrew's credentials, aside from Taiwan being among the top ten global markets where UBS has found moderate success, that encouraged the arrangement. 'More importantly, in terms of organisation and logistics, Taipei Dangdai meets the high standards of UBS.'
The global capital behind Taipei Dangdai's patronage does not only gesture towards Taipei's rising status in the international art world, but also signals a token blessing from the West to Taiwanese society, which is known to have a strong collector base. The organisational structure of Taipei Dangdai, from its advisory board, which includes Richard Chang, Leo Shih, and Maggie Tsai, to its selection committee composed of international gallerists such as Leng Lin of Pace Gallery and Patricia Crockett of Sprüth Magers, contributes to the fair's identity as a global platform.
But despite its professed globalism, Taipei Dangdai has also taken steps to balance local ambitions. To prepare for this January 2020 edition, Taipei Dangdai's recently appointed co-director Robin Peckham, with over 15 years of experience in mainland China's art scene, has resided in Taipei since July 2019, making room for Renfrew to prepare for the upcoming Singapore art fair, Art SG (30 October–1 November 2020), which he is jointly organising with Tim Etchells and Sandy Angus. Peckham's residency in Taiwan also fulfills Renfrew's promise: to ensure that Taipei Dangdai is based in Taiwan, and to develop an internationalism that is rooted here.
Admittedly, there were a few withdrawals among the international galleries for Taipei Dangdai's second edition, with Esther Schipper, Sadie Coles HQ, and Taka Ishii Gallery among those that did not return, as well as a few galleries from Singapore, Korea, and mainland China. Even still, the fair's total tally this year was up by seven galleries compared to the inaugural fair, with spaces like Galerie Eva Presenhuber, A2Z Art Gallery, SCAI THE BATHHOUSE, Lévy Gorvy, kamel mennour, Kaikai Kiki Gallery, and Artinformal Gallery bringing the total number of participating spaces to 99.
Strategically, international galleries presented mostly paintings. David Zwirner brought works by artists such as Luc Tuymans, Raymond Pettibon, Oscar Murillo, and Raoul De Keyser, reporting robust sales. Tuymans, who has an upcoming solo exhibition at David Zwirner's Hong Kong gallery, sold several paintings, including one of his latest pieces titled Corso II (2019) priced at a whopping USD1.5 million. At Perrotin's booth, Eddie Martinez's 'Flowers For Taiwan' (2019), a series of flower paintings created for the fair incorporating abstract expressionism and pop culture aesthetics in vibrant and highly saturated palettes, sold out on the opening day.
In contrast to the pragmatism adopted by the world's top galleries, a few local galleries presented ambitious artworks that highlighted the themes of technology and ecology.
Martinez, who counts famous pop singer Jay Chou as one of his collectors, recently staged a solo exhibition at Yuz Museum in Shanghai (Open Feast, 7 November 2019–12 January 2020), which attracted visitors from the country and beyond. Timothy Taylor also sold several of his canvases during West Bund Art & Design in 2019.
In contrast to the pragmatism adopted by the world's top galleries, a few local galleries presented ambitious artworks that highlighted the themes of technology and ecology. Among them, Eslite Gallery featured four installations by Taiwanese collective Luxury Logico. Founded by Ken Chen, Llunc Lin, Chang Keng-hau and Chang Geng-hwa, Luxury Logico is best known for its energy-efficient mechanical Olympic flame cauldron designed for the 2017 Summer Universiade, an international multi-sport event held in the city. Poetry of the Sun comprises over 13,000 components and motors made of aluminium alloy, stainless steel, and other light metals; a previous edition is listed in the permanent collection of Taiwan Power Company.
Scattered around the periphery of the fair venue among sponsor booths, the VIP lounge, and UBS's #TOGETHERBAND booth, were a series of UBS-commissioned artworks by Huang Hai-Hsin, as well as specially curated installations by Luxury Logico, Ju Ming, Su Mei-Tse, Ai Weiwei, and Wan-Jen Chen. Ai Weiwei's Law of the Journey (2017) was the least commercial and most solemn work of the fair. This monumental representation of a populated raft in black rubber references the ongoing Mediterranean migrant crisis, and is one of the art projects that the artist conceived while visiting refugee camps on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Human Flow, a 2017 documentary that Ai Weiwei co-produced and directed, charts the personal, historical, and global dynamics of the current migrant crisis. The film is on view in the group show Co/Inspiration in Catastrophes at the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei (23 November 2019–9 February 2020). Curated by Huang Chien-Hung and Yuki Pan, 17 artists including Pierre Huyghe, Takashi Suo, Chim↑Pom, and Zeng Xiang-Chi respond to the changes that have occurred with technological advancement in the 21st century, and the current crises that have arisen as a result.
Eight years have passed since Ai Weiwei's solo exhibition, Absent (29 October 2011—29 January 2012), at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, which showed 21 artworks including the Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads (2011). The presence of his work in Taiwan, at a time when it has become politically sensitive in mainland China, seems to reflect a sense of openness in the country. A further demonstration of the freedom enjoyed here was evidenced in the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei's announcement that it would be staging a show of historically censored works that was recently removed from the 2019 Aichi Triennale, titled After 'Freedom of Expression?'
The leveraging of Taiwan as an open space for expression was reflected in the Ideas program, a series of panel discussions at Taipei Dangdai curated by Robin Peckham and public intellectual Chang Tieh-Chi, which included a talk with recent Turner Prize co-winner Oscar Murillo. During the opening press conference, Chang defined art as a 'leverage to unfurl discussions about contemporary society in Taiwan'. This message resonated with the audience, including one collector who described an 'openness and pluralism in Taiwanese collectors' and called Taiwan 'an amazing platform where creativity flourishes and is appreciated'—a description that recalls the global identity, rooted in context, that Taipei Dangdai is cultivating.
Taipei Dangdai seems to embody an aspirational cosmopolitanism, with UBS Group Managing Director and Head Dennis Chen describing the fair's ability to establish a dialogue that might enhance mutual understanding across cultures. How that dialogue manifests remains to be seen. —[O]