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With a multitude of heritage sites-turned-artist villages/creative parks and bookstores worthy of an interior designer’s wet-dream, Taipei makes for an undeniably bustling artistic playground. But what lurks beyond the designer recliners and the crochet coasters of Sunday arts and craft markets, or that which is co-opted by commercial heavyweights (ahem, Eslite)?
While Taipei cannot boast of the same avant-garde notoriety of sites such as Beijing’s 798 Art District, or Japan’s art installation islands, it’s different strokes for different (art) folks. Brooding back-alley autonomy and interdisciplinary innovations render the country’s contemporary art scene as equally vibrant and wholly unique.
Yes it’s that same old imposing, monumental Japanese postwar architectural beauty overseeing Yuanshan MRT station, but as it is the first ever museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art in Taiwan, omitting TFAM from this list would almost be sacrilege. The biggest and oldest contemporary art institution of ’em all, it’s as coolly imperial as the nearby Grand Hotel, and totally exemplary of every’s city gallery overlord. Expect: major exhibitions and top-class curation.
image via Hsuanya Tsai
It’s not that contemporary art is easy to ‘get’. Sometimes it’s so hardcore hard-to-get, you feel as though you’re looking to an abyss with only a troll-face looking back at you. But it’s exactly this type of tongue-in-cheek art-play that keeps gallery-goers coming back for more – giving contemporary art museums around the world their popularity amongst locals and visitors alike. Taipei’s MoCA is no different. That it makes its mission to incorporate the old –its architecture, a Japanese colonial building– into the new only adds more charm to your journey into the nonsensical and the imaginative. Bring: a child-like sense of wonder, because the elementary school student standing next to you will have.
image via Tourism Bureau
With booming digital technological advances in the country, it seems only logical that we’d find it seeping into Taiwan’s art scene. Established in 2009 in a former Shilin District meat market, DAC makes for a progressive art site – not only for its daring odyssey into today’s inseparable intersectional realm of the corporeal and the digital, but also for its promotion of the digital arts landscape as a whole. The future of art may look something like this, and it’s artfully futuristic for the Taiwanese government to be so committed to the sector. Expect: cross-platform installation experimentations, and your inner geek unleashed.
image via Yung-Ta Chang
Stationed all the way up north in Guandu and inside the Taiwan National University of the Arts, KdMoFA marks the idea of ‘communication’ as its museum centerpiece. With an emphasis on constructive dialogue between art, artist and viewer, KdMoFA’s overall direction is reflective of the educational institute in which it’s housed. A four-story museum with exterior and interior exhibition spaces totalling 2,376 square meters, KdMoFA also makes for a abundant resource center and academic hub. Bring: your art theory knowledge, to impress the art school scholars with.
image via Soichiro Mihara
With the year of photography’s invention (yes, the year 1839) as its namesake, a love for photography can’t get any more obvious than this. Fast-forward a couple of centuries to the #selfie era, and well, fine art photography is by no means dead. The government-backed 1839 is Taiwan’s proof of that fact – celebrating the captured image from an array of local favorites and even photography masters like Ansel Adams and Hiroshi Sugimoto. For photography fetishists and those looking for a bit of nostalgic magic, 1839 Contemporary Gallery is the best place in Taipei to start. Don’t bring: a selfie stick.
image via Antma L
IT Park was about as anti-establishment as art got in the early days of both the gallery itself as well as Taiwan’s contemporary art history. Refusing to pander to commercial interests and populist taste via a staunch stance on the artist’s autonomy, this rebel with a cause echoed other alternative art collectives that burgeoned in the ’90s (think early YBAs). More than two decades later, this artist-run space has developed into one of Taiwan’s most culturally significant sites of independent art. IT Park’s focus on autonomy remains strong to this date, and it is both an important forum and platform for those operating outside the norm. Expect: art’s equivalent of a middle finger, i.e. a whole lot of attitude.
image via Mia Wen Hsuan Liu
A success story for Taiwan’s independent art scene, VT has, in its near-decade run, shed many of the negative stereotypes attached to artist-run spaces and transformed into an established and prominent site of dynamic art. Here, you’ll find a gallery model not dissimilar to that of more renowned art-centric cities with a penchant for the underground – fostering independent energy whilst disseminating institutional professionalism. VT frequently encourages cultural exchanges and collaborations with international counterparts, further strengthening Taipei’s position on the international contemporary art map. Expect: to party with creatives at exhibition openings with a bottle of Peroni in hand.
image via VT Artsalon
Founded by a diverse army of artists, curators, scholars, critics and general intellectual movers-and-shakers, the fairly recent establishment of TCAC has further accentuated the Taiwanese artistic terrain as fertile ground for political discourse and social change. Currently, in its new location at the historical ‘plaza’ precinct Dadaocheng, the center has remodelled its space and concept with nods to the ancient Greek Agora – the city’s public assembly mecca for all matters artistic, spiritual and political. TCAC’s multi-functional site is a significant hub for not only exhibitions, but resource, curation and critique. As an association, TCAC is also host to an array of open forums, talks, workshops and research programs. Bring: a voice.
image via Christopher Adams
Founded in 2001 in Banqiao, OCAC is Taipei’s answer to grass-roots activism and community-based efforts. Echoing its name is its vehement philosophy on being an open, discursive site for all. In fact, OCAC is so open that it refuses to be pinned down and categorized with labels. Gallery, studio, artist-run space – who even cares? OCAC recognizes art’s value outside the confinement of white walls; rather than following the traditional production-then-exhibition mode, OCAC prefers to delve more into dialectic exchange and guerilla activities. Bring: practical clothing. Expect: to get involved.
image via Open-Contemporary Art Center
Nestled in Neihu, Archetype Factory is another new, innovative entry in Taipei’s cross-platform, cross-industry art wonderland. The brainchild of Archetype Studios, Archetype Factory owes its name to both the hijacking of a former electronics factory as its current placeholder, as well as the nostalgic symbolism of Taiwan’s thriving manufacturing industry of yesteryear. Archetype is worth a mention here solely due to its deviation from the anti-corporation trend; instead, it positions new enterprises as the new (or is it renewed?) allies of art, creating quite the post-postmodern conversation about art and commerce. Think of it as co-operation, rather than co-option. Don’t expect: suit devils scheming in a boardroom.
image via Archetype Factory