1960s | “Tourist-oriented” gallery spaces developed
1970s-1980s | Rise of gallery industry and primary art market
1990s | Taiwan Art Gallery Association established, Taiwan’s art market prospered
2000s | Art fairs redefined in Taiwan
Taiwan occupies the region that has the longest history and the most comprehensive industry support in the world of Chinese art. Over the past forty years, its gallery industry has developed independently, beginning with the emergence of tourist-oriented shops in the 1960s, to the inception of hundreds of commercial galleries and their secondary market in the 1970s and 1980s, followed by the establishment of Taiwan Art Gallery Association (TAGA) and the commencement of international art fairs in the 1990s. This extensive experience has allowed the industry in Taiwan to thrive locally and internationally, giving rise to insightful and knowledgeable collectors and art dealers.
In 1989, Taiwan’s stock market hit 10,000 points and the real estate prices rocketed, facilitating the birth of a large number of galleries. From 1990 to 1992, more galleries were running than in the previous thirty years, totaling the number of galleries in Taipei to 150, and the number of galleries in Taiwan to over 200.
After Taiwan’s martial law was lifted in 1987, the local art scene began to flourish with interests in a variety of forms and styles, including modern art. In the 1990s, growing recognition for local identities motivated the publication of Taiwanese art masters and exhibitions featuring important local artists. Taiwanese art became mainstream in the market, dominated by local impressionist works. The lifting of martial law also opened up the Taiwan-China border to some degree, allowing the industry to access artworks by Chinese artists, creating a craze in Chinese art collectorship. In general, the early 1990’s art market in Taiwan exhibited a dynamic and diverse energy featuring primarily Taiwanese impressionist, modern, and Chinese art, along with some overseas Chinese pieces as well as paintings from the West.
Twenty years after its initial development, the art industry sensed an increase in demand for secondary market services. In 1992 Sotheby’s set up its Taiwan branch, and local auction houses followed suit. Galleries and auction houses complimented each other in their roles, creating a business environment that encouraged circulation.
Establishment of Art Taipei
Taiwan Art Gallery Association (TAGA) was founded in 1992, comprising of 62 member galleries, about one-third of the total Taiwanese galleries. Same year in November, the first Art Galleries Fair, R.O.C. was held at Taipei World Trade Center, featuring 56 Taiwanese galleries.
Also in November of 1992, the International Fine Art Expositions (IFAE) of the United States launched its first Art Asia: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition in Hong Kong in the hopes of expanding its Asian market after experiencing difficulties in the Euro-American market. Concurrently, Singapore held its first art fair in 1992.
Pressured from the new Euro-American presence in the region, TAGA was determined to internationalize art fairs in Taipei. Led by the association’s chairperson Lily Lee, an exhibition titled Overseas Chinese Artist opened in 1994, connecting ethnic Chinese artists with international resources. In 1995, TAGA began to recruit galleries abroad and renamed Art Galleries Fair, R.O.C to Taipei International Art Fair (Art Taipei). Pace Gallery, Richard Gray Gallery, Galerie Enrico Navarra, and Marlborough Gallery were among the internationally-renowned galleries that first joined the fair, showcasing works by masters of modern art such as Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall.
After gaining more international exposure, the Taiwanese art industry was struck by an economic recession in Asia in the late 1990s. It saw a decreased number of participating galleries, both international and domestic, in the 1998 Art Taipei, and experienced the beginning of a decline since its heyday in the early 1990s.
Art Taipei introduced a system of international exchange and positive gallery competition, providing the Taiwanese art market institutionalized transparency and order. It served as a regulatory force for a growing industry, and also helped enhance the public’s understanding on art and the industry. The early 1990s economic boom did not uphold the art market after 1995’s financial downturn. The establishment of TAGA and Art Taipei, however, helped unite the industry, functioning as a safety net and offering leadership in times of rapid economic change.
Positioning Asian Contemporary Art
Sotheby’s and Christie’s left Taipei in 2000 and 2001 amidst a financial crisis in Taiwan, and many local galleries ended business around the same time. China, however, rose to become a political and economic power at the beginning of the 21st century, attracting investment in the arts from all over the world. This sudden advancement made a positive impact on China’s neighboring art markets in Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, and Taiwan. There was temporary chaos in the industry brought by the secondary market’s triumph over its primary source.
After several years of trial and error, TAGA reframed Art Taipei as a “contemporary Asian art fair” in 2005. In the same year, the Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA) became an official sponsor and co-organizer of Art Taipei, and initiated the Young Artist Collection Program, encouraging galleries to support emerging artists. In 2006, Art Taipei focused on promoting young artists and emerging Asian art. It featured three sections – Classical Art, Contemporary Art, and Digital Art, forming the basis for Art Taipei in its future iterations. New galleries specializing in contemporary art began to surface, and older galleries started to shift directions towards contemporary art during this period. Moreover, reputable galleries with over 20 years of experience began transitioning their management positions to the next generation, incorporating contemporary art in their new business strategies. Smaller galleries also developed strategic alliances to strengthen their international ventures. In 2009, Taiwan Contemporary Art Link held the first hotel art fair, Young Art Taipei, that highlighted contemporary artists under the age of 45. The fair successfully garnered the support of many small, medium-sized Japanese and Asian galleries. Since then, hotel art fairs such as Photo Taipei, Art Taichung, Art Tainan, and Art Kaohsiung became popular in cities all over Taiwan, playing an indispensable role in cultivating new collectors and promoting art collectorship.
Art Taipei 2008 featured an increased number of international galleries, solidifying its reputation as an international art fair. The 2011 fair saw the participation of 66 international galleries, achieving a total sale only second to that of Art HK. Since 2012, Art Taipei has upsized its exhibition space, housing approximately 150 exhibitors per year, 50% of whom based in locations abroad. According to French researcher Quemin’s 2013 study, an international contemporary art fair is defined by the number of its participating foreign galleries as well as the diversity of their nationalities. The study has named 41 international contemporary art fairs, including Art Taipei, from over 250 art fairs around the world.
The meaning of artistic production has expanded since international trade and world politics began to transform regions and nations in 1989. German art historian Hans Belting believes that “global art” is no longer synonymous with modern art. Rather, global art is very much contemporary, defined by the ideology and symbolism of its time. Art market recreates the workings of global art, utilizing economic prowess to perform cultural change.
Established in the 1990s as a site to assert local identities, Art Taipei has developed into an institution for internationalization despite challenges in the late 1990s financial crisis. It began its reformation in 2005, connecting with markets in East Asia and the rest of the world. As a part of globalization, the art industry in Taiwan exhibits a quality of geo-aesthetics – it is neither Western nor Chinese in nature, but a unique manifestation of self-modernization.