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Words from the Director
Karma, Inheritance, and Prospects: the Sideline and Formal Writings on the New Director-General of the National Museum of History

LIAO Hsin-Tien, the 14th Director-General of the National Museum of History

1. Karma and Inheritance: An Incredible Encounter
I was born in Kaohsiung of southern Taiwan. 30 years ago, because of fancying metropolitan life, I decided to work in Taipei after graduating from Pingtung Teacher’s College and finishing compulsory military service. My journey actually is just like the pop singer LIN Chiang’s song, Marching Forward. The lyrics put, “I want to go to Taipei to work hard because people say all good stuff are there.” With the arrangement of Karma, I taught at the Taipei Mandarin Experimental Elementary School (established in 1967) for a short period. The primary school located at the opposite side to NMH. That was the first time I got so close to it, but I didn’t have a strong impression of it. What I sensed was that its evergreens graced its deep courtyard, classical and elegant, with rich Chinese atmosphere. Separated by the narrow Nan-hai Road, there is no connection whatsoever in terms of teaching. At most, I took my students to have fun at the lotus pond of the Botanical Garden behind the museum. I rented a house in nearby the traditional Long-kou Market for the convenience of my work. My two kids therefore grew up in this kind of environment. This area was the starting point for my family and my career. Nevertheless, NMH was still an unclear mark segregated by Ting-zhou Road and He-ping East Road, except the Botanical Garden.

An incredible encounter indeed exists and continues. After obtaining a PhD degree in England in 2002 (with the support of Governmental Fellowship), my first job was in the exhibition section of NMH. The leader at that time was Mr. XIE Wen-qi. Later, he worked at National Taiwan University of Arts (NTUA) and became one of my colleagues (Mr. MEI Shi-jie, and Mrs. PAN Tai-fang also joined the NTAU team from NMH.) The museum Director-General, HUANG Guang-nan had been my tutor in 1981 when I studied at Teacher’s College. He taught us ink-wash painting. I clearly remembered his words written on our graduation album: “Read books when we still breathe.” Perhaps because of the sentence, so far, I still tirelessly enjoy reading and writing. In the graduation exhibition catalogue, his extremely smooth and elegant calligraphy showed: “Sincerity is the nature of arts; diligence leads to the path of success.” Isn’t this the best portrayal of those who pursue arts? From student-teacher relation to subordinate-boss relation, I cannot say that our connection is weak and distant. Moreover, HUANG later became the President of NTUA where I taught there. (His term was from 2004 to 2011.) Indeed, both in study and work, I have been fortunate enough to be with Director-Gernal and Principal HUANG. I remembered I curated two exhibitions at that time: “A Window of Mind: An Exhibition of Three Czech Graphic Artists” (2003), “The Beautiful Island: Old Taiwanese Maps and Life Style” (2004). I was especially proud of the latter. I also witnessed the quality and the power of the NMH. Upon curating The Beautiful Island, I recognized many collectors of Taiwanese archives. Till now, I still have connection with Dr. LIN Yu-fan, and others. And the catalogue of “The Beautiful Island” is the gem of collective wisdom. In my teaching; so far, I still used this catalogue cover and maps for teaching and lecturing. In 2004, I was honored to receive the ink-painting master LIN Yu-shan’s Essay Award. The topic of my research was “From Natural Taiwan to Cultural Taiwan: the Cultural Symbolization of Taiwan Landscape Painting under the Japanese Rule” and it was published in Bulletin of National Museum of History No.126. Sadly, Master LIN passed away at the end of that year. This might the last award he gave out in his life. Recalling this, I can’t help sighing constantly; however, his artistic spirits will remain in our heart. This is the inheritance of art spirit.

I had worked in the NMH for only six months. During the period, I also wrote several articles and papers of which I was very proud of. Extending my Ph.D. dissertation, those topics touched on some trendy methodologies and theories, including, for example, post-colonialism, semiotics, sociology of art, etc. I combined these “unorthodox” points of view of art history into investigation and criticism of Taiwanese art history. This was a new undertaking. Peers in the academic community thus positioned my research. In fact, I didn’t change a lot in my academic studies since then. Those articles are:

“Love of Arts? Operation Strategies about Culture and Knowledge of Arts Appreciation in Museum”, Journal of National Museum of History, No. 24 (April, 2003): 113-131.
“Matisse: Eastern Style and Critics”, Bulletin of National Museum of History, No. 118 (May, 2003): 39- 49.
“Maps and Landscapes: Taiwan Revealing”, Bulletin of National Museum of History, No. 122 (September, 2003): 38- 45. “Blurring: The ‘Local Color’ Discourse in Taiwanese Landscape Painting, 1930s- 1940s, Forum for Historical Artifacts 1 (August, 2005): 129-151.

The National Museum of History is like a fortunate place for my scholarly career. After working in the museum, I “toured” three art universities. In 2004, I engaged in the exhibition of “From the Forgotten Deserts: Centuries of Dazzling Dunhuang Art” held by National Tainan University of Arts. The project was under the helm of the director of the Office of International Affairs of TNNUA, ZHANG Yu-Teng. The exhibition was held at NMH. Professor Zhang later became the Director-General of NMH. I also visited him to visit the Australian National University where I have been a senior lecturer of Taiwan Studies. (Former Director-General HUANG was also invited by me to Sydney, for a Taiwan-Australia Watercolor Exhibition and did demonstration.) In 2013, my new publication Extending Knowledge through Investigating Art was supported by Director-General Zhang and published by NMH. In 2016, with the support from Director-General ZHANG, Professor BAI Shi-ming and I established the Taiwan Art History Association at NMH. At the end of 2017, I was invited to write an art criticism for my classmate of Graduate School of National Taiwan Normal University, DONG Xiao-hui who held a huge retrospective exhibition at NMH. Her husband Mr. BA Dong was my partner of the exhibition “From the Forgotten Deserts”. BA Dong was also a senior researcher of NMH, an expert on ink-wash painting master ZHANG Da-Qian. Classmates, colleagues, friends, and teachers around me, they always associated NMH. All in all, it has been so valuable in my life.

Now, I take on responsibility from the two excellent predecessors, who have served honorably as my teacher and my superior. Fate and legend have had double effects on us during these 16 years. How many periods of sixteen years do we have in our lives?

2. Prospects: Inaugural of the Director-General of NMH

Established in 1955, NMH has been 63 years till now. An art gallery was established in October, 1958. It was the second official exhibitional space after the Zhongshan Hall. The National Palace Museum was opened 10 years later. The very first two exhibitions were masters ZHANG Da-Qian and PU Xin-yu. The following year, the National Taiwan Arts Education Center, neighbor of NMH, was completed. Nanhai Area then became a highlight cultural landmark in Taipei. In February 1963, the National Gallery Room was opened. It was dubbed as “The first national gallery which reaches the international standard in Free China”. The first occasion was a national join-exhibition of watercolor. From then on, every excellent artist has been proud to hold an exhibition in the National Gallery Room. With the hard work of NMH staff, the achievement is of course outstanding. We have held exhibitions which have become well-known and well received, such as the Grand Terracotta Soldiers, the Golden Impressionism, and the grand Dunhuang Arts Exhibition, etc. They all set models for exhibition in Taiwan. What listed above explains that NMH is a museum which has accompanied Taiwanese historical change and cultural development, and shows its status as a leader. Many important Taiwan art historical events occurred in the space of NMH. The sculpture artist JU Ming, for example, held a special exhibition of wood carvings on March 14 1976. He was another excellent sculpturer after HUANG Tu-shui and PU Tian-sheng. Another case is the Printmaking Art Forum in 1972. LIAO Xiu-ping, FANG Xiang, YANG Ying-feng, and LI Xi-qi became excellent printmaking artist. The proposal of establishing a research center of printmaking was nearly organized though not successful. In short, the NMH is a strong foundation for national culture and arts, and also is a significant place for locals and foreign tourists to appreciate fabulous art exhibitions.

It is entitled to say that the history of NMH and Taiwanese art history are inseparable. NMH keeps creating history in Taiwan, and itself is also a part of this multilayered history.

In light of the impact of globalization, culture competition, and identification, NMH will face a great challenge. I, as the new Director-General, must take this responsibility with the utmost seriousness and hereby present the following prospects for future development. I am looking forward to your feedback and inspection.

1. NMH is the museum of history for all of our people. It has its own mission for national culture and art construction. This museum is not an ordinary museum or exhibition space, but THE history museum of a country, a space for culture and arts for our nation. The sacred space has strong meaning of symbolism and sanctity. We should think about how to build the artistic and cultural vision of history which are abundant, diversified and potential through displaying art works and precious historical relics, and construct the culture a complete identity of the lifeline for this land. Through exhibitions, education, researches, collection, etc. that interprets, searches, reproduces, and renews the cultural and artistic foundation of Taiwan. We dedicate ourselves to connect the past, present, and the future of this land and integrate with Asia and participate in the world arena.

2. It is the various cultures of Taiwan that NMH dedicates to serve. We will reorganize the exhibition structure of general history, and conclude the content of Taiwanese culture and arts which is more diverse and open. Each ethnic group of Taiwan should have opportunities to speak out and display in our space. We should build an positive environment to enable us to appreciate and tolerate each other, and also be willing to be self-evaluate and self-criticize. At the same time, we will build an ambience which is also more congenial and approachable. Exhibitions for international culture communication will be systemically planned and designed. We will also provide people with the communicative space to expand and deepen their international vision and horizon. Every kind of relative and quality activities will reach the goal of interdisciplinary integration. Strengthening local connections and enhancing cultural and artistic literacy are our core concepts. We will show the whole world our soft power of culture.

3. NMH collects abundant ancient utensils, Chinese relics, traditional painting and calligraphy, modern painting and prints, etc. They are all precious assets of Taiwan. In the future, we will make a more efficient inventory to reposition the museum’s characteristics. We will positively develop the value of culture and creativity, and allow the NMH play its comprehensive role for Taiwan and for the world.

4. Corresponding to the national cultural development, thoughts and trends of globalization, NMH will dedicate itself to enhancing the quality of software and hardware and strengthening professionalism. With innovative thoughts and artistic actions, we hope it will become a pillar of cultural construction projects in our country.

Looking back, NMH has been the largest cultural window and art foundation in Taiwan. The cultural value of Taiwan will definitely develop, emerge, and brighten here, reflecting the value of Taiwan with great effort. We will close for refurbishment in July. This is the moment for us to accumulate our power and start again. Our museum will continue to be a key platform for building the subjectivity of art, cultural identity, and for showing the cultural history of Taiwan. This is its unavoidable responsibility of NMH. (2018.02.12)