The Taipei Biennial is the most important exhibition for promoting contemporary art held by the Taipei Fine Arts Museum.
In order to promote modern and contemporary art, starting in 1984 and until 1991 the Taipei Fine Arts Museum hosted the exhibition projects Contemporary Art trends in the R.O.C and An Exhibition of Contemporary Chinese Sculpture in the Republic of China on alternate years.
In 1992, these two exhibitions were consolidated to form the The Taipei Biennial of Contemporary Art, which was the precursor to the Taipei Biennial that everyone is familiar with today. In its early years the artists participating in the exhibition were selected through an open judging process.
The theme for the 1996 Taipei Biennial was The Quest for Identity, and six Taiwan artists and scholars were invited to curate the biennial exhibition, including Hsiao Chiung-jui、Lo Chih-cheng、Tsai Hung-ming、Li Chun-hsian、Shieh Tung-shan、and Lu Kuang. They worked together to present contemporary art in a more unified and integrated fashion.
After more than a decade of changes, in 1998 the Taipei Biennial instituted a revolutionary change: in order to adapt to the international 'biennial' trend, and in order to raise Taiwan's contemporary art to international acclaim, the TFAM began to invite internationally-renowned curators to cooperate with local Taiwan curators, marking the first time that Taiwan had held an international art biennial.
'Biennials/Triennials' are an important element of the contemporary art system and one of the most important opportunities for artists to exhibit their work. Some of the most famous are the Venice Biennial, which has more than 100 years of history, the Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil, and Germany's Documenta. Apart from the physical exhibition itself, 'Biennials/Triennials' often involve local related businesses, including the transportation, tourism, and food and beverage industries, as well as other cultural activities.
In recent years the countries of Asia have recognised the importance of contemporary art in the development of culture in general and many countries are now busy planning their own biennial exhibition, with the hope of facilitating international cultural exchange, as well as to promote cultural creative industries and realise related economic benefits. The New York Times has even created a new word to describe the global biennial phenomenon, 'Biennialistic'.
Beginning in the 1990s, countries across Asia began organising contemporary art biennials, named after the cities in which they were held, such as Japan's Yokohama Triennial, and Fukuoka Triennial, China's Shanghai Biennial, and Guangzhou Triennial, Australia's Sidney Biennial, Korea's Kwangju Biennial and Busan Biennial, and the Singapore Biennial. International Biennials and Triennials have become one of the most important cultural references in the cities in which they are held, and a crucial strategy for entering the international contemporary art stage.
Briefly looking back at the Taipei Biennials held since 1998: the theme of the 1998 exhibition was Site of Desire, curated by the Japanese international curator Fumio Najio who invited 36 artists of varying backgrounds, experience and age from Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea to participate. Exhibited works included paintings, sculpture, video installations and site-specific works.
In 2000, the Taipei Biennial took a more vital, open, and forward-looking step by inviting the French international curator Jerome Sans to plan the exhibition in cooperation with Taiwan curator Manray Hsu. Through mutual dialogue, the biennial was approached in a more diverse, multi-disciplinary and experimental direction, with emphasis placed on interaction and experience. The biennial was named The Sky is the Limit. Artists from 19 countries were invited to participate, and the works emphasised the dialogue taking place between Asia and the rest of the world, in particular noting Asia's special characteristics, and future possibilities. Contemporary art was used to reflect many aspects of life in the world.
In 2002, the Taipei Biennial continued with a collaborative curatorial approach and invited the Spanish international curator Bartomeu Mari and Taiwan curator Chia Chi Jason Wang to work together on the exhibition. Via the theme Great Theatre of the World, the curators attempted to inspect and examine the illusory effects brought on by today's 'media society', and how it can cause human nature to sink and become lost in a 'visual spectacle'. The exhibition provided an introspective viewing model, as it was hoped that viewers would actively enter the space and inner world of the artists' works.
The 2004 Taipei Biennial, Do You Believe in Reality? was curated by Belgium curator Barbara Vanderlinden and Taiwan curator Amy Huei-hua Cheng. The exhibition hoped to use the notion of 'reality' to better grasp the here and now and to present the back and forth that is constantly taking place between the world's cultured citizens. The exhibition also responded to a recent wave of globalisation and the resulting problems unleashed by countries around the world: the conflict between traditional and modern values, the labour problems created by the transformation of the world's economic and industrial models, immigration problems, the disparity in wealth between the city and rural areas created by urbanisation, cultural status identification, diversity and homogenisation.
The fifth Taipei Biennial, held in 2006, was titled Dirty Yoga and was curated by internationally acclaimed American curator Dan Cameron and the Taiwan curator Jun-jieh Wang. The exhibition took the popular activity of yoga as its starting point, looking at how yoga has lost its original spirit as it has become more popular, and how it projects extreme value systems regarding desire and fear, sickness and health, beauty and ugliness, both in Taiwan and globally.
The exhibition considered the ideology of binary opposition popular around the world, and attempted to open up the possibility of a middle ground, by deeply exploring the dual nature, ambiguity and neutrality between the two end points of people's living surroundings, movements, and work.
Since 1998, the Taipei Biennial and the works exhibited have introduced new artistic ideas from around the world that act as a driver of dialogue between Taiwan and other international cultures. The five exhibitions held over the past decade have not only increased the visibility of Taiwan contemporary art on the world stage, but have also successfully involved Taiwan in the Asian and global international art network. On the other hand, the biennial has also broadened Taiwan's artistic vision, its professional, exhibition-organisation ability, and its exposure in the international media. The biennial has become a primary symbol of Taiwan's contemporary art development and international artistic exchange.