MoNTUE – An Artistic Vision

MoNTUE Building Exterior

The exterior of MoNTUE invites visual interaction with passers-by.

A Symbol of Resistance

In a city like Taipei it is immensely difficult to resist the commercial pressures surrounding us. We are bombarded by relentless advertising, dependent on shops for survival, and locked into a system in which money dictates more of our decisions than perhaps it should. Many of Taiwan’s educational institutions, while sheltered to some extent from the turbulence of an economic system beyond their control by government support, are increasingly subject to the same stark forces governing the logic of The Market. In this context, the opening of the Museum of National Taipei University of Education (MoNTUE) represents an heroic act of resistance against Mammon‘s magnetic power and a loud display of support for a conception of wealth that attaches as much significance to spiritual enrichment as material gain and thrives on art, culture, and learning. To put it another way: the site on which MoNTUE recently opened very nearly became just another 7-Eleven.

MoNTUE - Relief of Saint Joachim from Reims Cathedral

One of the ‘Metro 11′ donated to MoNTUE by the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Relief of Saint Joachim from Reims Cathedral, France, dating from 1250 – 1270 A.D.

MoNTUE’s story begins in 2004, when New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art decided to dispose of some of its substantial collection of plaster cast sculptures, many of which it had been unable to put on public display due to a lack of space.  Professor Lin Mun-lee, who was at the time director of the National Palace Museum, heard about this through her ex-colleague at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Yulin Lee, whereupon she began looking for funding to help transfer these works from New York to Taipei. The success of Yulin Lee’s coordination and Professor Lin’s fundraising efforts resulted in the first occasion the Met had ever made a donation to an institution in Taiwan. The artworks – numbering some hundred pieces in all and including the cast of a work by Michelangelo – needed a home, and Professor Lin looked to the National Taipei University of Education, where she had been the founding director of the Fine Arts Department, for a potential solution. Six years on, following a struggle within the university between those who wanted to use the space now occupied by MoNTUE as a commercial, cash generating enterprise, and those like Professor Lin, who firmly believed that the long-term value of an art gallery and museum would far outweigh short-term financial gains, the Met’s donation now has a worthy new home in the heart of Taipei. The opening of MoNTUE may well represent the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Taiwan’s art world, as historic European artworks, the likes of which were previously only accessible through books and air travel, are put on display in the heart of the island’s largest city.  These include the ‘Metro 11′, eleven works which are now on permanent display in the building, among which are sculptures from the facades of Reims and Chartres Cathedrals in France, Antoine Louis Barye’s powerful ‘Lion Crushing a Serpent’ whose bronze original stands in the Louvre, and two incredible 15th century wood carvings take from the pew ends of St. Olav’s Church in the Faeroe Islands.

MoNTUE's Main Exhibition Space

MoNTUE’s main exhibition space offers unique opportunities for creative curating.

Deconstructing A Divide

With generous help from the university itself, commercial foundations, and the government, MoNTUE opened on September 25th this year. For almost a year prior to that, Japanese architect Keisuke Toyoda was hard at work transforming the newly built structure into a state-of-the-art gallery space. The site where MoNTUE is located was previously occupied by the university’s campus wall and as such was a barrier to interaction between the institution an the city. Breaking this boundary down and replacing it with an open, inviting structure which bridges the arbitrary divide between the university and the urban fabric surrounding it was part of the philosophy guiding the gallery’s design. The result of this is that while MoNTUE has successfully transformed the physical nature of this part of central Taipei, whether the gallery is able to fulfill its goal of becoming a ‘public living room’ and commencing a genuine interaction with non-student residents of the city remains to be seen.

MoNTUE Lee Mei-shu 'Woman Resting on the Chair' Taipei

Lee Mei-shu ‘Woman Resting on the Chair’. Part of MoNTUE’s current exhibition.

True to MoNTUE’s goals Toyoda, a founding partner of Noiz Architects, has succeeded in creating a gallery which encourages interaction between outside and inside, the building and the viewer, the artworks and the city, and as such has dissolved many of the traditional boundaries constituted by less thoughtful architecture. While sections of the gallery contain traditional display space, many of the paintings and sculptures currently on show are framed, not by white walls, but by MoNTUE’s large windows and the trees or traffic behind them. Most of the building’s street-facing facade is glass, with the gallery’s contents open and visible to passers-by. When juxtaposed with, for example, even a relatively modern gallery building such as the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), whose imposing concrete walls conceal and take a protective approach to its contents, the outcome of MoNTUE’s accessible architectural vision becomes immediately apparent. Visitors here never really leave the city behind, its light and sounds continually accompanying their tour. Ensuring that gallery entrance remains free is another important part of this guiding philosophy and by doing so Professor Lin and Lan Kung-hsu – MoNTUE’s executive director – aim to make this a cultural and educational resource which benefits Taipei’s residents.

MoNTUE Taipei sketch.

MoNTUE encourages visitors to sketch ideas and impressions.

Cutting-Edge Curating

In conversation with Joyce Lai and Nova Huang, two of the gallery’s three full-time management staff, TFAM, as Taipei’s biggest art institution, is understandably a name that keeps coming up, mainly in relation to how MoNTUE might be able to complement or indeed offer a different approach to exhibiting. An example they use to outline MoNTUE’s creative approach to curating is the current exhibition, Still the Vanguard of Education, the Forefront of Art.  TFAM has held a number of exhibitions about Taiwan’s first generation of modern painters – the subject of this show – but MoNTUE hope to present this narrative in a new format, thus revealing aspects of the works that previously remained hidden or under-exposed. The gallery’s next exhibition – its ‘Grand Opening’ – which is planned to open in April 2013 and will be curated by a National Taipei University of Education academic, Lin Chi-Ming, will use a plaster cast of one of Michelangelo’s sculptures as a departure point from which to explore the artist’s impact on contemporary art.  The aim in doing so is to reveal parallels between works that would otherwise be separated by time and art-historical categories.  Exhibiting in this fashion will inevitably require some high profile loans from other international art institutions, which TFAM has already done with some degree of success, and thanks to the experience and reputation of Professor Lin, as well as the gallery’s world-class facilities, MoNTUE is confident about being able to secure important loans from other galleries around the world.  Moreover, MoNTUE and the Met plan to continue their collaboration, with curator visits from New York and lecture series.  This all means that Taiwan’s art-lovers are in for a treat.

Lion Crushing a Serpent MoNTUE

Lion Crushing a Serpent, Antoine Louis Barye (1832-1835). MoNTUE’s plaster cast of the original.

With plans to show three to four exhibitions each year, MoNTUE’s focus is evidently on quality and providing the environment for sustained engagement with the works on display. Free access naturally allows for a slower, more relaxed way for Taipei residents to interact with an exhibition’s works and the vision in mind is one of visitors dropping in to the gallery during their lunch break or on their way home from work, taking a second, third, or fourth glance at the artwork which sparked their imagination last time, and discovering a sculpture that somehow escaped their attention on a previous visit. Guests are invited to take notes, draw sketches, or leave drawings for future visitors. This provides a counterpoint to commercially-oriented galleries, of which Taipei has no shortage, whose business models are built around the quick turnover of artist exhibitions and can be stressful, intimidating spaces for the uninitiated.

MoNTUE Chen Cheng-Po, 'My Family'

‘My Family’, Chen Cheng-Po. From MoNTUE’s current exhibition.

To return to the theme with which this article began, when we mentioned the commercial pressures that surround us in the present, we might now also bring the past, and future, into the equation.  MoNTUE’s unique claim to attention is firstly its directors’ awareness of the university’s historical role as Taiwan’s first institute of higher education, and thus a place in which the island’s first generation of modern painters was nurtured.  This is undoubtedly a heritage worth celebrating, exploring, and revealing.  Perhaps more importantly, Professor Lin and those who supported her quest to establish MoNTUE advocate a brave, optimistic view of the future.  This is a vision of the future that deserves to be supported; a Taipei where art is accessible, open, and a vital part of the urban fabric.  MoNTUE is itself an artistic statement, a manifesto for a certain kind of city, and we like it.

MoNTUE’s current exhibition, Still the Vanguard of Education, the Forefront of Art, pays homage to the university’s place in Taiwanese history as the island’s first modern institution of higher education and its important role in nurturing the island’s first generation of modern painters. On show are an eclectic range of works by graduates of the university together with works by their teachers at Tokyo University of the Arts, 18 of which are on exhibition loan from that institution. The exhibition runs until January 13th, 2013 and entry is free.


No.134, Section 2, Heping East Road, Da’an District, Taipei


MRT Stations:Zhongxiao DunhuaSun Yat Sen Memorial HallTaipei City Hall

Open: Monday – Friday 11.00 am – 10.00 pm; Saturday – Sunday 11.00 am – 11.00 pm.

show map
  • MoNTUE Building Exterior
  • Relief of Saint Joachim from Reims Cathedral
  • MoNTUE's Main Exhibition Space
  • Lee Mei-shu 'Woman Resting on the Chair'
  • Left Sketches - MoNTUE
  • Lion Crushing a Serpent
  • Chen Cheng-Po, 'My Family'
  • MoNTUE Main Exhibition Hall

Taipei Biennial 2012 – Death and Life of Fiction

Hannah Hurtzig - The Waiting Hall, Scenes of Modernity. Taipei Biennial 2012

Visitors make their highly visible entry to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum through Hannah Hurtzig’s artwork – The Waiting Hall, Scenes of Modernity.

As you walk through the doors of the museum, your entire field of vision is confronted, challenged even, by a brightly-lit white screen standing five metres inside. A ramp leads up towards the screen and onto a narrow walkway which runs alongside it. Which way do you go? Left or right? After making your decision you begin walking and suddenly become aware that you are being pinned against the screen by immensely strong footlights, relentlessly drenching you with their glare. Any chance of making a quiet entrance has been utterly obliterated. The spotlight is, literally, on YOU, and the conditions of your attendance at the exhibition have been radically reversed. You, the subject, came to see the exhibition, an object. But the stage and its blazing lights have deconstructed this lazy assumption and blurred this traditional divide between the observer and the observed. You are now an object too, your role transformed by the very first work with which you come into contact. You are barely through the doors of the Taipei Fine Art Museum (TFAM) and yet your engagement and interaction with Death and Life of Fiction – Taipei Biennial 2012 has begun in earnest.Death and Life of Fiction - Taipei Biennial 2012

From the off, then, this is an intensely thought-provoking exhibition, and Anselm Franke, the Berlin-based artist and Taipei Biennial 2012 curator, has certainly not shied away from tackling big, heavy questions. History, identity, war; highly appropriate subject matter for a moment in history when, in the words of TFAM director, Hai-Ming Huang, “the earth and the people that inhabit her today, to borrow a Chinese phrase, are besieged under deep water and scorching fire.” Franke and the artworks contained in the exhibition prove that good art is ideally suited to illuminating these issues and providing challenging, provocative, and critical perspectives. The three floors of maze-like halls and display spaces may even contain the seeds of a solution, of an answer to the question of humanity’s violent, divided, forgetful predicament, though visitors will have to scratch more than just the surface of these works to find it. The result of Franke’s bold selection of works and the thematic framework into which they (almost) all seamlessly fit, makes this exhibition a powerful artistic success, the effects of which will resound and reverberate in Taiwan’s, and indeed Asia’s, art community for years. Death and Life of Fiction is, in short, a must-see event for Taipei’s art-lovers and curious, questioning minds.

Wei-Li Yeh - Antiquity-Like Rubbish Taipei Biennial 2012

Wei-Li Yeh – Antiquity-Like Rubbish Research & Development Syndicate in 206, 2012 (installation view); Installation

With full-price tickets selling for only NT$30 (including a brilliantly-written 160 page guidebook) many visitors may be tempted by multiple visits to see the Taipei Biennial 2012. Indeed, with over 50 artists and collectives taking part, it is essential if one wants to see everything. The scale might have been overwhelming, but Franke’s curating expertise and his creative use of space is abundantly evident, making the exhibition feel very accessible, intimate, and unhurried. There is none of the overwhelming sense of pretense or elitism that often accompanies modern art shows in Europe, and each work of art is given space to breathe and captivate. It is inevitable in a show of this size that works spill over into one another – the soundtrack of a video installation informing the context of an unrelated painting or photograph in the room next door, for example – but with Death and Life of Fiction Franke and his team seem to have controlled this phenomenon and curated with it in mind, creating moving continuities between the exhibits.

The works come from artists representing every corner of the globe and a huge array of artistic formats: posters, videos, dolls, film sets, sculpture, discarded rubbish, antiquities, maps, you name it. We are forced to think about what counts as art, and what context does to alter the the way an object is perceived. We are confronted by the crimes and atrocities that have repeatedly been committed in the name of reason and progress. We are moved to ponder the components of our identity and those of others. We are exposed, above all, to art that challenges us, that makes us think, ask, and respond. That, after all, is the power of art, and Death and Life of Fiction – Taipei Biennial 2012 is an incredibly potent exposition of this power.

Biennial Highlights

John Akomfrah The Unfinished Conversation, 2012 (Still).  Taipei Biennial 2012

John Akomfrah – The Unfinished Conversation, 2012; 3-channel HD video installation, colour, sound.

John Akomfrah – The Unfinished Conversation, 2012

John Akomfrah’s moving video installation, The Unfinished Conversation, has already received critical acclaim at this year’s Liverpool Biennial, and is without a doubt one of this exhibition’s most interesting works. The film is a beautifully-rendered, three-screen narrative exploring the life, ideas, and ‘multiple realities’ of Stuart Hall, the Jamaican-born academic and cultural theorist whose work on identity and difference has been very influential. Hall’s theories had a major impact on Akomfrah’s own development as a film-maker, and as The Unfinished Conversation twists and weaves through the events that shaped and contextualised Hall’s life we become acutely aware of Akomfrah’s touching, almost filial, respect for the man and his achievements. The film never stands still, and in its diverse range of source material – both audio and visual – it constantly reflects the dynamic relationship between historical events, private life, and identity. Akomfrah has succeeded in creating a haunting work of art whose ghosts will remain with its audience long after they have left the installation.

The Museum of the Monster That Is History Taipei Biennial 2012

Installation view of The Museum of the Monster That is History; Bavamd Behpoor, Reza Abedini – Martyrs Museum; Installation (detail) – Installation view at TFAM

The Museum of the Monster that is History – Curated by James T. Hong and Anselm Franke

Of the Biennial’s numerous, and highly original, mini-museums, The Museum of the Monster that is History is the one visitors will probably encounter first. This highly prescient, political, and thought-provoking exhibit is “devoted to the violence on which modern states and social orders are based”. Modern history, according to the curators James T. Hong and Anselm Franke, reveals that states are strikingly consistent in deploying officially sanctioned, systematic terror in the name of ‘reason’ and there’s no lack of material here to support that assertion. We are first confronted with a video of numerous national leaders making official apologies for atrocities and crimes committed by their respective states, while Taiwan WMD displays materials relating to Taiwan’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programmes into the present. Hong has also created what at first glance resembles a currency exchange board familiar to millions from airports and hotels. Yet upon closer inspection this is not a normal exchange of one currency for another: the moving ticker at the top of the board reads ‘Compensation amounts for Afghan civilian deaths’. We are directly confronted with the monstrous ‘economy of death’ and the commercial intrusion into life itself by putting a price tag on what we are so often told is price-less. This all makes for uncomfortable, but necessary, viewing.

The Museum of Crossings - Museum of Psalmanazar, Taipei Biennial 2012

Installation view of The Museum of Crossings; Hongjohn Lin – Museum of Psalmanazar.

Museum of Psalmanazar – Curated by Hongjohn Lin

A mini-museum inside a mini-museum, Museum of Psalmanazar is set within the broader framework of The Museum of Crossings (curated by Anselm Franke and Hongjohn Lin), which looks at the phenomenon of crossing borders – “mimetic zones in which identity and alterity are in permanent exchange, and in which the imaginary and the fictional assume a powerful role.” George Psalmanazar was an 18th century, blonde-haired, blue-eyed fraudster who claimed to be the first ‘Formosan’ to visit Europe (despite being French) and who even wrote a highly acclaimed, best-selling guide to ‘his country’ – An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa – (despite never having set foot in Asia). Items described in his fictional account of Taiwan are presented as real museum artifacts and in this exhibit Psalmanazar is resurrected as an example of someone who was a border-crosser par excellence, constantly negotiating the boundaries between fact and fiction, reality and imagination. The exhibit is perhaps less interesting for its artistic value than its casting a light on the life of a fascinating historical character but nevertheless its depiction of an imaginary, historical Taiwan leads the viewer to ask searching questions about the modern, ‘real’ version of Formosa we live in today.

Roee Rosen - Vladimir's Night Taipei Biennial 2012

Roee Rosen: Maxim Komar Myshkin – Vladimir’s Night, 2011-2012 (Installation view); 40 gouaches on paper, framed each 55 × 33.5 cm; framed 70 × 50 cm.

Roee Rosen – Maxim Komar-Myshkin, Vladimir’s Night, 2011-2012

Obscene, grotesque, and highly subversive, Roee Rosen’s Maxim Komar-Myshkin, Vladimir’s Night is a collection of 36 gouaches on paper that is – perhaps due to its perverse subject matter – tucked away in a hard to find spot on the exhibition’s second floor. Maxim Komar-Myshkin, Rosen’s fictional creator of these works, allegedly committed suicide last year, having suffered immensely from extreme paranoia. Vladimir Putin, so Komar-Myshkin believed in his paranoid state, wanted him dead. In a desperate final act he takes revenge on Russia’s president by creating this set of paintings which depict the horrific results of Putin’s stay at one of his summer holiday homes. Faces the president sees in the surface of his furniture come to life as nightmarish objects which proceed to torture, rape, and murder him. Vladimir’s Nightis a disturbing journey through a tormented, wild imagination, whether Rosen’s or Komar-Myshkin’s. The artist’s use of children’s-book -style illustrations is a disarmingly powerful technique, and the ‘poems’ Rosen has written to supplement each painting are an incredibly witty accompaniment to the work. This exhibit won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you don’t mind seeing brightly-painted depictions of one of the world’s most powerful leaders being impaled with a cucumber, then it’s a provocative journey that is well worth exploring.

Sun Xun - Some actions which haven't been defined yet in the revolution Taipei Biennial 2012

Sun Xun – Some Actions which Haven’t Been Defined Yet in the Revolution, 2011 (still); animation, b&w, sound, 12 min 22sec.

Sun Xun – Some Actions which Haven’t Been Defined Yet in the Revolution, 2011

Mainland China is well-represented at the Biennial, but it is perhaps Sun Xun, a young Beijing-based artist, whose work is most interesting. By using woodcuts to create a film animation, Sun has successfully combined the traditional with the modern and in the process given a tangible context to the work, highlighting China’s struggle to define itself and locate the source of its own identity. With these two centrifugal forces – tradition and modernity – pulling in contradictory, opposite directions, the result is a schizophrenic and deeply unsettling sense of paranoia which haunts society. In Some Actions which Haven’t Been Defined Yet in the Revolution Sun has provided us with an acute observation of this societal schizophrenia told through the nightmarish journey of the animation’s main character. We have fleeting glimpses of nurses directing cranes which move monstrous syringes towards the character’s body, faces being pulled off and transformed into feature-less flesh, and the sleeping protagonist being watched (or is he about to be pecked?) by a deeply sinister crow. Sun’s hellish visions are reminiscent of Hieronymous Bosch and their effect on the audience excites similar feelings of distress and perverse curiosity. Just as Bosch’s artistic imagination undoubtedly fed on the energy released by the traumatic changes taking place in European society during the early Renaissance, perhaps Sun’s work is nourished in a similar way by the energy of the revolutionary changes China has recently undergone and, indeed, is still undergoing.

By Matt Bowden for Love Taipei

Death and Life of Fiction – Taipei Biennial 2012 runs until January 13th, 2013 at the two locations below. Full-price tickets cost NT$30 and include a guidebook. The Biennial also has a free mobile application for download, which can be found by searching for ‘Taipei Biennial 2012‘.

Taipei Fine Arts Museum - exterior.

The Taipei Fine Arts Museum’s modern exterior.

Taipei Fine Arts Museum (49 exhibits)

No. 181, Section 3, Zhongshan North Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei

Open: Tuesday to Sunday 9:30 am-17:30 pm; Saturday open until 20:30 pm; Closed on Monday

Tel: +886-2-2595-7656

Biennial Website:

Museum Website:

The Paper Mill (4 exhibits)

No.31, Fude Road, Shilin District, Taipei

Open: Tuesday to Sunday 9:30 am-17:30 pm; Saturday open until 20:30 pm; Closed on Monday

Tel: +886-2-2881-1111

Paper Mill Website:

  • Sun Xun
  • The Museum of the Monster That Is History
  • The Museum of Crossings - Museum of Psalmanazar
  • Roee Rosen - Vladimir's Night
  • Taipei Fine Arts Museum
  • Hannah Hurtzig - The Waiting Hall, Scenes of Modernity
  • Anton Vidokle / Hu Fang - Two Suns, 2012 Installation View
  • John Akomfrah The Unfinished Conversation, 2012 (Still)
  • Wei-Li Yeh - Antiquity-Like Rubbish
  • Big Gourd - Shiro Takahashi - The Museum of Gourd
  • Death and Life of Fiction - Taipei Biennial 2012
  • Taipei Biennial 2012 Waiting Hall Feature Image