Constructing historical pluralism from the KMFA collection South as a Place of Gathering

2021.01.23 - 2022.10.16 KMFA Galleries 301~304

Serving as a term of geographic location, “the South” projects an image of unique natural environment, nostalgia, exotic imagination, and marginalized or heterogenous cultures. Its meanings continue to evolve and change in Taiwan’s multiple and complicated historical contexts before, during, and after Japan’s colonial rule. Does the South project an image of a tropical island or a fertile plain? Furthermore, how can the unique spiritual landscape of “the South” be depicted? Amidst the optimistic Utopianism that comes from the alliance, transcendence, and deterritorialization caused by narratives of “Global South”, the revisiting of the concept of “the South” is an escape from the fixed framework of geopolitics on the one hand and also a process of self-rediscovery by exploring the diverse facets of “the South” on the other. Can “the South” really become a kind of thinking/attitude, or action method, or a kind of “State of Mind” as described by the 14th Kassel Documenta? 
As the first exhibition in the South+ Special Collection Gallery, the South as a Place of Gathering exhibition is an exploration of “the South” mainly intended to discuss the conceptual formation and possibilities of “the South” as a convergence of heterogeneous characteristics through its display of works created in the 1930s to the 1960s selected from KMFA’s collection together with relevant documents and historical records, attempting to promote a kind of historical consciousness and research framework characterized with more openness and dialogues. Drawing references from the fraternity-like context of the painting associations popular in southern Taiwan back in the 1950s, this exhibition provides a theatrical and saloon-like ambience, in which the paintings from life by Chang Chi-hua, Liu Chi-hsiang, Chuang Shih-ho, and other famous artists in southern Taiwan from KMFA’s collection are presented according to the chorological order and connections among the artists  in order to review the introduction, localization, and reinterpretation of modern art and avant-garde art introduced from Europe and Japan to southern Taiwan. Through this exhibition, we can have a comprehensive review of how modern art arrived at and started to develop in the South, how individual artists and art groups back then interacted with one another, and how a territory of aesthetics closely connected with modern life was formed in southern Taiwan. 
By launching this permanent special collection exhibition on the 25th anniversary of KMFA, we hope to not only promote gradual recognition among Kaohsiung citizens of KMFA through the works specially selected from our collection, demonstrate the unique development of artistic expressions and styles in southern Taiwan, but also build visual memories of this immigrant city through arts.

A Place of Gathering

Driven by different forces, the early development of modern art in Taiwan during the Japanese rule period and WWII period demonstrated diverse dynamics in a process of not only interactions back and forth between “the world” and “locality” but also emergence of local cultural awareness.
During these periods, Taiwanese painters who had studied in Japan and the West brought home with them international artistic concepts and painting styles of impressionism, post-impressionism, fauvism, avant-gardism and others when they returned to Taiwan. In addition, painters in Taiwan started to depict more diverse topics in their paintings such as still-life objects, landscape, and daily-life scenes. With these two trends, the perspectives of viewing were broadened and the fields of vision were merged in Taiwan’s modern art development.
The landscape in the paintings by Chiu Jun-yin, an artist who studied in Japan, is rich in characteristics of southern Taiwan. Liu Chi-hsiang’s Studio, one of the key paintings in KMFA’s collection, demonstrates a kind of avant-garde art at grassroots level representative of the Nika Association, reflecting a free atmosphere of surrealism and a spiritual escape from the reality. Chang Chi-hua was deeply influenced by the avant-garde style of the Independent Art Association in Japan. Chang’s painting, Fuchu Building at Chihou, which was selected for the exhibition of the Independent Art Association in 1931, bears witness to the history of the surrounding area of Fuchu Building that attracted merchants and people from other walks of life. In his Gynecologic Surgery, Liu Chin-ling, who was also a medical doctor, created Taiwan’s earliest records of modern medical viewing.
The evolution and changes of Taiwan’s modern art development also reflect the mutual dialogues and influences among the Taiwanese artists back then beyond their differences in whom they learned from and which school of style they belonged to. The Chi-hsing Painting Society, the earliest art society of Western painting in Taiwan, was established by Ichiro Ishikawa and his students. The juxtaposition of the paintings by Ishikawa and his students with the painting of Mt. Ali by Chen Cheng-po exposes the history of power transitions behind the viewing of landscape in Taiwan. The painting, Fuchu Building at Chihou, depicts the earlier teacher-student relationship and later friendship between Liao Chi-chun and Chang Chi-hua. The meeting of Liu Chi-hsiang and Yen Shui-lung during their early days of studying in France and the friendship between Liu and Kuo Po-chuan later connected different art groups in southern Taiwan and helped to promote the establishment of the Southern Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition.

Gathering of Artists at Grassroots Level

Amidst the emerging trend of artists establishing art groups in southern Taiwan in the 1950s, the Southern Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibitions (the Southern Exhibitions for short) played a leading role in not only the early development of modern art after WWII but also the formation of local aesthetics, converting southern Taiwan into a territory of vibrant cultural and artistic activities.
The Southern Exhibition was first held in 1953 by the Southern Taiwan Art Research Association (STARA). STARA was originally named the Kaohsiung Art Research Association (KARA), in which Liu Chih-hsiang played the key role as the founder in bringing together all the other artists from the Bai-rih Art Group and the Chih-hsiang Art Research Institute. In its early days, KARA connected with the Chung-meng Painting Society and the Ching-cheng Painting Society in Chiayi and the Southern Art Research Association in Tainan, not only receiving enthusiastic responses from established artists in central and northern Taiwan but also promoting exchanges and dialogues among different groups of artists. In the middle stage of its development, it held the Exhibition of Paintings by Young Artists and the Exhibition of Paintings by Ten Artists. In 1961, it was officially renamed the Southern Taiwan Art Research Association and has been active since then, laying a solid foundation for the development of art groups and artistic/cultural activities in southern Taiwan.
The “grassroots” characteristics of the Southern Exhibitions (and the connections formed by STARA) constituted an alternative route of local artistic and cultural development outside the system of art exhibitions held by official institutions. With scarce resources and supports from official institutions, the artists of these grassroots art groups took the initiative of gathering together, exchanging with one another, and developing a unique landscape of local aesthetics that resonated with the natural environment, climate, and social and cultural characteristics of southern Taiwan. In their artistic practice, these artists depicted extensively their localities and broadened the vision of “the South”, marking the infiltration of “the South” as a kind of life politics.

The Territory of Viewing: Gazing at Images of the South

As a modern medium and technology of viewing, photography is relevant to how the mechanism of viewing is activated. The South used to be the object gazed at by empires and colonizing powers for their governance and acquisition of resources. John Thomson visited Takow (now Kaohsiung) and created the first photographic records of Taiwan, in which “the South” was still an object being explored and gazed at as “the Other”. During the Japanese colonial rule and its exploitation of resources in Taiwan for WWII, propaganda images of military mobilization in southern Taiwan were created. By looking at these images nowadays, we are intervening from the perspective of modern time and observing how the South transited to its modernity and subjectivity.
The 1960s are a key turning point for the image history of the South. With the growing popularity of photography in people’s daily life, the photography groups and clubs in southern Taiwan (Chiayi, Tainan, Kaohsiung and Pingtung) were highly active with frequent activities. The Single-lens Photography Club (Pingtung); No Name Photography Club (Tainan); Zero Degree Photography Club (Kaohsiung); Kaohsiung Modern Photography Society; and other organizations established by professional and amateur photographers formed a network of active exchanges while the art of photography also started to have a dialogue with the development of modern art in parallel.
For this section, KMFA selects from its collection the photographic works by photographers such as Tsai Kao-ming, Liu An-min, Hsieh Te-cheng, and Hsu Yuan-fu, who were active in the activities held by the photography societies in southern Taiwan in different periods of time. On the one hand, their works demonstrated a kind of pursuit of a more forward-looking photography among the photographers in their transition from the traditional documentary-like style to the modern style. On the other, the activities of these photography clubs gave rise to a kind of viewing initiated at the grassroots level outside the mechanism of exhibitions and awards dominated by official institutions. This kind of viewing was mainly based on “snapshots” and “spontaneous” records of the real-life conditions and memories of common people back then.
In addition, from the photographic records provided by the Kaohsiung Museum of History and the series of photographs by Wang Shuang-fu and Tsai Kao-ming depicting the street scenery and recording the traces of social changes in southern Taiwan in early days, we can appreciate how the area of southern Taiwan (particularly Kaohsiung City) has transformed through modernization and urbanization. The viewing of these photos is also a kind of viewing of ourselves, viewing of our internal world through viewing of our external world. It is a kind of viewing from crisscrossed perspectives.

A Place of Imagination: Spiritual Territory of the Avant-garde South
Chuang Shih-ho, a senior Taiwanese artist, went to Japan when he was younger for his study of painting during WWII and basked in the inspiration of avant-garde. After he returned to Taiwan, he brought back the concepts of avant-garde art he learned in Japan and enthusiastically participated in the early modern art movements and initiatives in Taiwan, including engaging with the Art Nouveau magazine established by He Tie-hua and joining the “New Art Movement of Liberated China”. After he moved to Chaozhou of Pingtung, he facilitated the establishment of Green House Art Research Association (1957), the earliest painting group in Pingtung; established the New Design Art Association and held the Creative Art Exhibition (1961) in Kaohsiung together with Chang Wen-chin, Chen Chu-shi, Ho Wen-chi, and Lee Kong-yang; promoted abstract art together with Liu Sheng-jung, Tseng Pei-yao, Huang Chao-hu, and Ko Si-chi and held the Exhibition of Free Paintings; and established the Southern Modern Art Association (1968) in the mid-60’s with Lee Chau-chin, Huang Ming-shao, Tseng Pei-yao, and Liu Wen-san, opening up a new chapter of modern art development in Kaohsiung.
The painting style of Chuang after WWII incorporated many avant-garde styles during the war period such as those of cubism, surrealism, and organic abstractionism. He developed his own surrealistic painting style of a world view rich in optimistic fanaticism. The historical documents about the painting associations and exhibitions he participated in and his publications and critiques represent how modern art in southern Taiwan developed with Chuang at its center, providing highly valuable references for the exploration of modern art development in southern Taiwan.
By looking at Chuang’s life and the development of his unique art under the framework of historical avant-gardism, it is found that the beginning of abstract art in Taiwan actually took place before WWII. Such a review also reflects how a kind of subjectivity of avant-garde art was developed in southern Taiwan outside the Western paradigm through the local reading/misreading, absorption, learning, transformation, and misinterpretation of the avant-garde art from Europe. It demonstrates the unique modernity and desire for progress of southern Taiwan with all its heterogeneous and vibrant characteristics as well as its diverse spiritual landscape.


Memories of Mt. Tattaka
With the advent of plein-airism that emphasized painting from nature during the early period of the Japanese colonial rule and the emergence of modern art styles in later days, such as Fauvism, the “modern” methods of observing and depicting natural landscape and objects were introduced into Taiwan. The activity of painting from nature itself is a measurement of the distance between mountains and man. Moreover, it is given multiple meanings when put in the historical contexts of local development transiting from a primitive tree-covered mountain to a forbidden battlefield, a site of natural resources, a sightseeing destination for the gentry, and now a site of environmental education promotion as in the case of Mt. Tattaka (located in Nantou County now). The implicit transitions of power structure behind the history of this mountain have shaped people’s perceptions of the local landscape.

Su Yu-hsien, an artist, invited 12 of his peer members in the Southern Taiwan Art Association to have a dialogue with Kinichiro Ishikawa, a Japanese painter who visited Taiwan in 1909 and traveled with a squad of Japanese military guards to different mountains in Taiwan, by having a two-day and one-night trip of painting from nature at Mt. Tattaka, where Ishikawa visited and also painted from nature 110 years ago. By contrast to Ishikawa who went to the area also to explore the territory of the empire’s colony, Su and his peers visited the area, which is now part of the Highland Experiment Farm of National Taiwan University, to engage in activities such as mountain climbing, painting from nature, discussing about paintings, enjoying leisure time, and revisiting historical relics. In the embrace of mountain forest and tranquil nature, they created paintings during these precious moments of their lives.

The project, “Memories of Mt. Tattaka”, is a project of historical reading especially commissioned to Su Yu-hsien and his team by the South Plus: Constructing historical pluralism from the KMFA collection exhibition of KMFA to look for fragments of history and opportunities of historical reinterpretation in the activities of the Southern Taiwan Art Association from the 1950s to the present. This project is also a kind of endeavor to build connections between local history and contemporary life in an area.
* Special gratitude is owed to the Highland Experimental Farm, National Taiwan University, for its assistance to this project.


Supporters: Ministry of Culture, Bureau of Cultural Affairs, Kaohsiung City Government
Organizer: Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts
Appointed Deformaldehyde Coating Sponsor: HOPAX
Special Thanks to: Industrial Development Bureau, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Economic Development Bureau, Kaohsiung City Government
Coordinator: Yulin Lee, Ph.D.
Consultants: Po-shin Chiang Ph. D., Huang Tung-fu, Nita Lo, Tseng Mei-chen
Executive Supervisor: Tseng Fang-ling
Curatorial team: Fang Yen Hsiang, Wu Hui-fang, Hung Ching-chan