Vibrant, Effervescent, Dynamic: The Allure of Taiwan’s Thriving Art Scene
Taiwan is known for its celebration of diversity and equality, becoming the first state in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage.
Its capital city, Taipei, is home to nearly two-and-a-half million people, but while it gives the impression of being open and affluent, a darker side lurks in the background.
The island’s colonial history, followed by martial law that lasted for 38 consecutive years, once weighed heavy on the people’s definition of history and pursuit of self-identity, resulting in a constant struggle to tell their stories.
Author Huang Li-chun described Taipei as a gathering of Taiwan’s “temporary consciousness”.
She said: “The city’s sloppiness and disorder originates from a sense of being ready to be uprooted at any moment.”
Perhaps it is this “sloppiness and disorder” that impacted the development of Taipei’s arts and culture community in the earlier days.
Despite the emergence of various trends brought forth by avant-garde artists and seasoned collectors, only a small fraction of the city’s residents express a deep interest in art. And yet, they remained relatively conservative, casting a shadow across the art scene.
Over time, the younger generation who grew up in a democratic environment began to rise. Not only did discussions about politics, ethnicity, and gender become more open-minded, they also started to actively reflect upon their previously restrained identity and differences.
Gradually, this exploration led them to embrace a multicultural art community, which continues to grow year after year.
Through the thoughtful efforts of art galleries, people can rediscover pre-war artists from the likes of Huang Tu-shui and Ruilin Hong, appreciate the works of experimental artists such as Kao Chung-Li (who has been active since the 1980s), and even admire young artists like Zhang Xu Zhan, who recently won a Golden Horse Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2022.
Today, Taipei is a vibrant hub for contemporary art in Asia, boasting numerous world-class museums, galleries and art spaces.
In line with the city’s commitment to supporting art and artists, major events are held here throughout the year, making it an important destination for art lovers and collectors from around the world.
While mainstays like the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei Artist Village or the National Palace Museum are certainly worth visiting, Sound of Life takes you further to some lesser-known art venues which come highly recommended by art enthusiasts:
WHAT TO SEE AND WHERE TO GO
MUSEUM OF NATIONAL TAIPEI UNIVERSITY OF EDUCATION
Credit: Huang Hong-Chi/MoNTUE
As the Taipei Metro moves along Heping Road, passengers can’t help but be drawn to a glass structure, so transparent that there seems to be no barrier between the building and the pedestrians that pass by.
This is where the Museum of National Taipei University of Education (better known as MoNTUE) sits.
Founded in 2002 and affiliated with the National Taipei University of Education, it is one of the few on-campus museums in Taiwan solely dedicated to contemporary art.
Renowned artists such as Huang Tu-shui, Tan Teng-pho and Chen Zhiqi received their education here, making it the unofficial birthplace of modern art history in Taiwan.
As a cultural institution that plays a significant role in promoting contemporary art and culture, MoNTUE pays a great deal of attention to the exploration of art history, having held significant exhibitions such as The Everlasting Bloom and Lumiere: The Enlightenment And Self Awakening Of Taiwanese Culture to arouse young audiences’ curiosity.
Driving urban aesthetics is what MoNTUE does best; acting as a gathering place for cross-disciplinary art, having previously collaborated with the Louvre for a special comic-centric exhibition called L’ouvre 9.
Notable filmmaker Ming-liang Tsai turned two of his iconic films, No No Sleep and Stray Dogs into immersive exhibitions here. The museum has also been known to change its opening hours to accommodate overnight visitors for certain events.
Every two years, MoNTUE holds an open call for Dreamin’, which encourages artists to expand their imagination in interdisciplinary and experimental approaches to art. Through this project, emerging artists are invited to submit their proposals for projects that align with the museum's values.
Dancer Yeh Ming-hua once reset the way visitors explored the gallery, transforming it into a personal space, while artist Fangas Nayaw converted it into a gathering place for indigenous tribes.
Apart from MoNTUE, there are two other on-campus art galleries in Taipei: the National Taiwan Normal University Art Gallery, and the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts at the National Taipei University of the Arts.
TAIWAN CONTEMPORARY CULTURE LAB
Credit: HsuanLang Lin/C-LAB
In the heart of Taipei’s prime district, amidst a bustling urban landscape, is a remarkable space dedicated to the arts.
Taiwan Contemporary Culture Lab (C-Lab) used to be a research facility back in the Japanese colonial period, where researchers studied aviation fuel and household vinegar. When the military took over, it became known as “Air Force Headquarters”, and was strictly off-limits to the public.
In 2018, C-Lab took over, transforming the sprawling area into a giant art playground, removing its towering walls and renovating the historical building.
C-Lab focuses on making art accessible to all ages and walks of life, as evident from its family-friendly events and installations such as Play Arts and Spiritual Runway.
On top of this, C-Lab also prides itself as a modern cultural incubator – based on its core values of experimentation and innovation, exhibits often revolve around cutting-edge digital technology and artistic imagination, such as the fully-immersive audiovisual dome space, Future Vision Lab.
Within the dome, AI (artificial intelligence) generates high-resolution 8K images that are then displayed in a 360-degree panorama, surrounding the visitor with stunning visual effects.
Another unique event is Algorave, where artists write code live to generate music and visuals at a rave party.
Credit: Hong-gah Museum
Despite its slight distance from central Taipei, Hong-gah Museum in Beitou district has managed to carve out its own charm since its establishment in 1999.
The founder, Andrew Chew, is a big name in Taiwan’s tech industry, especially in new media and art.
As such, Hong-gah Museum’s early days paid homage to Chew’s interests, often brought to life through collaborations with other artists and curators to shine a spotlight on contemporary art.
The biennial Taiwan International Video Art Exhibition is Hong-gah Museum’s signature event, where video art from around the world is showcased to foster cross-cultural exchange and dialogue among artists and audiences.
In addition to the exhibition, the museum also hosts a series of related events, including lectures, workshops, and artist talks.
Hong-gah Museum also houses the most comprehensive private embroidery collection in Asia, as well as a large number of ink and sculpture collections.
What sets it apart from other museums is the seamless melding of analogue and digital, where founder Chew weaves together art from various genres to tell a story that satisfies a diverse crowd.
Community spirit is also something that remains close to Hong-gah Museum’s ethos.
Beitou Local Series Collecting Project documents various aspects of the mountainous district, which is then used in educational materials and art installations to create awareness and promote appreciation for the local culture.
In 2020, the underlying theme was “postures”, which featured Beitou locals’ everyday movements like walking, carrying heavy loads, and working in the fields.
JUT ART MUSEUM
Credit: Jut Art Museum
Looking for Jut Art Museum is no issue at all; it’s hard to miss the striking green entrance along the sidewalk.
You can also catch a glimpse of Julian Opie’s dynamic video installation, Walking In Taipei, a reflection of the daily hustle and bustle that is synonymous with Taipei.
Inside the museum, the minimalist space, designed by Atsushi Aoki, lends a refined welcome, shielding you from the outside world.
One can tell from Jut Art Museum’s attention to detail in their spatial design that their focus lies in the urban future, with a deep emphasis on architecture-related exhibitions.
Some of their past events include Save The Concrete Monsters! (which revolved around Brutalist architecture) and Drawing Ambience (showcasing drawings from the personal collection of architectural educator Alvin Boyarsky).
The museum is als no stranger to the concept of guerilla art, having organised Tadao Ando: Endeavors and Sense On Site at Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, breaking the traditional route of visual exhibitions.
In addition to architecture, Jut Art Museum also actively harnesses the power of contemporary art to explore the city of Taipei and the future of humanity – dedicating its work to stir the imagination of the people who live and breathe art.
WINSING ART PLACE
Credit: Elanor Wang/Winsing Art Place
Located in Neihu, a relatively new art district, non-profit organisation Winsing Art Foundation has been collecting and sponsoring Taiwanese art for a long time.
When it came time to bring Winsing Art Place to life, spatial designer Hsieh Wen-chih created a warm, inviting space that combines an exhibition space with a cafe and a bookstore.
Despite the challenge in reaching the art space via public transport, it is not uncommon for people to make their way to Winsing Art Place for the pure love of art.
Here, visitors can explore art and culture in a comfortable environment, and the museum also offers education programmes and workshops for children and adults.
In addition, Winsing Art Place acts as a bridge that connects international artists with local art lovers: Roni Horn, Anri Sala, Mona Hatoum and Haegue Yang have had solo exhibitions here.
OTHER MUST-VISIT ART SPACES
Shungye Museum of Formosan Fine Arts features a collection of artwork by senior artists, which provides an eye-opening experience for individuals looking to understand Taiwan’s art history.
If you’re into all types of alternative art, don’t forget to check out TheCube Project Space, Lightbox, Open Contemporary Art Center, and Waley Art.
Fancy smaller, intimate spaces that combine art with books? There’s definitely no shortage in Taipei; take your pick from Pon Ding, Wildflower Book Store, Mangasick, or Moom Bookshop.
To experience art from the youth’s perspective, Fruit Hotel Taipei is not a fruit shop nor a hotel, but rather, a space to showcase talented artists.
Although these places might not have the same resources or energy as large-scale art museums, they emit a quiet sense of charm, tucked away in small neighbourhoods within the city, slowly but organically changing Taipei’s art scene.
Cover Credit: Jut Art Museum
Writer | Michelle Tan
Having spent the past decade turning her passion into profession, Michelle is a freelance writer/translator based in Malaysia. Her lifelong dream is to become an urban hermit.