In the 1960s, Taiwan had begun to see a thrive in the development of art, and the progressiveness of the many flourishing art associations had in turn projected a great influence on its successors. With the introduction of modern art concept, coupled with an approach that integrated East and West, a powerful stance was thereby proposed. The exhibition aims to present the distinct spirit of the era through the works of these 11 artists- Wang Panyuan (1909-), Chen Tingshih (1913-2002), Yang Yuyu (1926-1997), Walasse Ting (1929-2010), Chu Weibor (1929-), Ho Kan (1932-), Fong Chungray (1934-), Chuang Che (1934-), Lee Shichi (1938-), Han Hsiangning (1939-), and Yang Chihung (1947-). The core of the exhibition is established upon these artists who gained prominence in the 1960s, going back 20 years as well as forward, a phenomenon that is the growth and surge of modern art in post-war Taiwan is revisited.
There is a group of artists in the 1960s who share a particularly strange political social environment on the island of Taiwan; following a close exchange, collectively they prompted new creative approach and perspective. The goal of this exhibition is precisely to paint a picture of the atmosphere of art modernization movement of that time. Despite abstraction being the primary creative approach of the artists in the time art associations flourished, the exhibition wishes to examine works which embody the spirt of modern art on a more expansive scale. The eldest of the exhibiting artists is Wang Panyuan at the age of 108 years old, the youngest being 69-year-old Yang Chihung; right in the midst to bridge this almost 40-year gap is “The Era of Art Associations”, an era propelled under the influence of Li Chunsheng. Wang Panyuan, who was enrolled in Shanghai Fine Arts School beginning in 1933, was influenced by the new ink movement of the early republic era of China. Chen Tingshih, Yang Yuyu, Chu Weibor, Ho Kan, Fong Chungray, Chuang Che, Lee Shichi, and Han Hsiangning were members of the Modern Printmaking Association, the Fifth Moon Group and Eastern Art Association; educated in Taiwan, they strove to break away from all restraints that tradition had imposed on them. Of the same time period, there is Walasse Ting, who did not follow KMT’s retreat to Taiwan, instead, moved to and settled in various cities in both Europe and America. Ting’s unrestrained outlook and art both reveal a spirit that is progressive and rebellious in nature; he also befriended the members of Eastern Art Association during his visit to Taiwan in 1970. Yang Chihung, recipient of the Taiwan Provincial Art Exhibition award, inherited the abstract expressionistic artistic approach.
While these artists had each organized independent art associations, they never sheltered themselves; they would participate in others’ gatherings, exhibitions, and exchange critiques and information, as well as jointly “rebel” with a progressive and liberal stance. They questioned the traditional use of brushes in Chinese paintings, and challenged the pedagogical structure and the ideology of institutions. However, as more members decided to move abroad, associations’ activities began to dissipate. Even abroad, Chinese artists remained in close contact. From Taiwan to Europe and America, these artists are the pioneers and message bearers of modern art.
Today, the term “Western culture integrating into East” is no longer viewed as innovation but rather banality. We may no longer perceive certain artistic expressions as progressive, and start to perceive them as platitudes, yet their emergence continues to serve as a reminder of that era. The “revisiting” of this exhibition is to draw out a spectrum of modernism in Taiwan, tracing back to the conception of the notion of modern art before war, the abundant modern art knowledge brought to Taiwan by Mainland Chinese, the conscious consideration of these artists during the White Terror times, the valuable information received from the U.S. in the Cold War era for Taiwan’s significant strategic location, and the confrontation against the institution’s conservative power, which was a repercussion from the Japanese Colonial Period. The interweaving of these events provoke a peculiar spirit of the era, where a wave of artistic revolution was realized through a persistent exchange within the structure between Taiwanese artists who were non-academic and non-traditional.
The enchantment of modern art, highlighted in the exhibition, lies within its implied rebelliousness and concept that is both individual and dynamic. Back then, these pioneers’ confidence and vision had encouraged them to explore outside of existing structures. However, it seems that today people are willing to let technology, media, and consumerism decide for us our source of knowledge, our cultivation of aesthetics and our focus of concern. Can artists recognize the limitations of barriers? Can their imaginations roam free? Can they face their own fragile souls? Can they position themselves in the context of history and culture?
Revisiting the 1960s in this gloomy age marks an overview of the era as well as a commentary of the advancement of modern art. And perhaps, it will bring us new courage.