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An Unfinished Symphony of Creation: Afterword to the 2023 Paul Chiang Solo Exhibition

"As Chiang becomes more refined through life, the glistens of time, like fine nectar after a long period of brewing, also flow between life and art in a freer way--whether the light within his heart or natural daylight, he can always unfetteredly convert it into fleeting inspiration at this stage of his life." - Lise Tsui Tsai-Shan, Curator 

The "2023 Paul Chiang Solo Exhibition" at the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts opened on December 2nd 2023 and concluded successfully on March 10th 2024, attracting over 70,000 visitors during its three-month run. The exhibition featured a selection of representative series and new works from Chiang's artistic career. It not only presented curator Lise Tsui Tsai-Shan's sensitivity and insights into the artist but also reflected the artist's pursuit of innovation and change in his creations. In order to allow the audience to understand Chiang and his works from different perspectives, ACF collaborated with the education and promotion department of the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts to launch 7 different themed extension lectures and guided tour activities.

Curatorial Path: Viewing the Sea Up Close and Gazing at the Distant Sea

In the face of the remarkable achievements of senior curators who have written about Chiang's solo exhibitions at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and the Taitung Art Museum, Tsui found a curatorial path that interprets the word "Zhàn" in multiple dimensions, capturing its description of "profound" and "transparent," describing Chiang's creative characteristics. She interprets the "Zhàn," meaning "even" or "extreme," on the right side of the character "Zhàn," which represents Chiang's pursuit of perfection in art, while also reflecting his profound concern for humanity and society. The water radical on the left side of the character "Zhàn" represents the extension of Chiang's creative work to draw on oceanic elements. At the entrance of the exhibition, the projection of sea wave patterns on the main wall guides the audience to gradually understand Chiang's works from the imagery of the sea.

The series "Imagination of Ocean and Island" uses various shades of blue and gray-brown, blending the deep blue of the sea with the bays on paper, reflecting Chiang's deep admiration for Taiwan, an island surrounded by the sea. Chin-Hsun Wu, the author of Chiang's biography, shared during an expert tour on December 24th that every time he visited Chiang's studio in Jinzun, Taitung, he was moved by the beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean. As viewers transition from the "Imagination of Ocean and Island" series to the next exhibition hall, their eyes are greeted by "Sound of Ocean" placed at the center of the hall. It seems as if the vastness of the Pacific Ocean has been infused into the indoor space, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in this deep blue beauty.

A Dialogue of Life Across Time and Space

The Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts exhibits four pieces from the "Hundred Year Temple" series, which span over 25 years of creation. ACF Chair Stanley Yen, who has known Chiang for over 20 years, said in a lecture on December 9th 2023 titled "My Understanding of Paul Chiang," "When Paul Chiang returned from New York to Taiwan in the 1990s and saw the dragon pillars, candlelight, and streetscape of Longshan Temple, despite living in a small studio, his creative energy came forth all at once. When the art world saw the 'Hundred Year Temple' series, everyone was deeply moved."

The "Hundred Year Temple" from 25 years ago was in an ancient bronze-gold color, expressing the emotion of faith through abstraction. The new work, "Hundred Year Temple 23-00," is created by Chiang using paper balls accumulated over the years for wiping oil paint, as well as copper pieces left over from sculpting in Taitung over a decade ago. Wu mentioned in the article he wrote for the exhibition, "Today's 'Hundred Year Temple' has evolved, its hues slowly settling over time from ashy white of charred remnants into a hue that is both warm and soft, almost philosophical in its grayness." The contrast of the old and new works reflects the artist's transformation over time, while the unchanging is still the dim yet firm hope, and the eternal light.

Music Flows in the Exhibition Hall

The internationally renowned curator, Fumio Nanjo, once said, "There are some artists who are inspired by music, but Paul is living with it. I visited his studio, and he is always listening (to) music. So, he is with it, and naturally he associated to his music when he paints." In the area to the right of the exhibition hall, viewers can see a series of works by Chiang related to classical music. This includes his "Debussy" series, where each painting represents interpretations of calmness, excitement, and smooth lines. Inspired by Arnold Schönberg’s "Transfigured Night," Chiang created the work "Transfigured Night," and Mendelssohn's "On Wings of Song," reflecting the influence of music on his art. The entire exhibition space is surrounded by the rhythm of music, with each piece seemingly dancing to the music's beat.

The work "On Wings of Song 13-10" displayed in this exhibition features countless circles imprinted in oil paint on the canvas. Although the repeated circles seem highly rational, the blending of various shades creates a sense of dispersion, especially when viewed from the second floor of the exhibition hall, echoing the surrounding works of the "Pisilian" series.

During the lecture "Amid Reality and Abstract: Classical Music and the Art of Paul Chiang" on January 13th 2024, classical music critic Chao Yuan-pu delved into how artists extract the essence of thought and creation from music. He pointed out that many musicians in history have interacted closely with painters' works through poetry, myths, and various forms of art, providing mutual inspiration. Using Richard Dehmel's poem integrated into "Transfigured Night," Chao exemplified how music expresses the emotional fluctuations between men and women and romantic stories. Comparing this to Chiang's "Transfigured Night," Chao observed that through Chiang's works at different stages, one can discern the subtle changes in his innermost sentiments and creative atmosphere over time.

Reflecting on the exhibition setup, when the works "Transfigured Night 23-30" and "Transfigured Night 23-31" arrived at the museum, Tsui's eyes lit up. The works were slightly different from what she had seen in the catalog. The sharp lines that were originally present had dissolved, and the final works presented to the audience appeared like light in the mist. It turned out that before sending out the works, Chiang adjusted the original paintings to ensure a smooth transition in brightness within the exhibition space.

Chasing Butterflies - "Afternoon of the Faun 23-00"

At the invitation of Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts’ former director Yulin Lee, Chiang began to conceive his solo exhibition for the museum. He visited Kaohsiung several times to scout the venue and, in response to the characteristics of the exhibition space, created the monumental works "Ronchamp - Homage to Le Corbusier," the "Afternoon of the Faun" series, and "Hundred Year Temple 23-00," balancing the volume of the works with the lofty space. The "Afternoon of the Faun 23-00," composed of 46 surfboards, was designated by Chiang as one of the main visual pieces for the exhibition.

When viewers approach this nearly 5-meter high and 18-meter wide piece, they are naturally moved by the intricate lines on the surfboards and the colors that resemble twinkling stars. Chiang also mentioned that every time he stands before this piece, he feels the fresh air, much like the mist of a Taitung morning.

Fashion designer Justin Chou was reminded of chasing butterflies with his brother at a banana plantation when he saw "Afternoon of the Faun 23-00." He shared his experience of collaborating with Chiang four times and the unforeseen joys of creation at the lecture "From the Canvas to the Body - The 'Dance' After the Faun" on January 14th 2024, attracting nearly 300 attendees. On that day, Chou's collaboration with Chiang for this event was showcased for the first time, leading the audience to experience a crossover performance by modern dance models in front of "Afternoon of the Faun 23-00." The garments, reflecting the beauty of every movement of the dancers, blended seamlessly with the fresh tones of Chiang's work, creating a vibrant spring-like vitality.

A New Chapter in the Story

During the exhibition, the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts hosted 49 sessions, with over 1,800 students from different age groups visiting for extracurricular education. A learning manual was specially designed for middle and high school students. After the exhibition, students could draw or write down their impressions and insights, "Chiang's works are usually in dark colors, and sometimes he paints white, like light, in dark places, making me feel that Paul Chiang has emerged from the darkness." Another student wrote, "We often associate 'black' with darkness, evil, and death, but through the beauty of art, personifying 'black,' the world welcomes it." These students' keen observations and simple writing styles are valuable feedback for the exhibition.

Continuing the tradition of the "Photograph Yourself into the Painting" activity from past exhibitions, viewers could take photos in front of Chiang's works and share their thoughts with the public. One viewer walked into the exhibition with their 90-year-old parents, whose outfits cleverly echoed Chiang's "Pisilian." The viewer wrote, "Holding hands with you, growing old together, capturing a moment of love and happiness for my parents!" Another viewer shared, "In 2020, I took my 2-year-old child to the “Paul Chiang: A Retrospective” exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum for the first time. Now, my child is 5 years old, can walk, can run, can wait, and can share with me that her favorite work is 'Pisilian.' Finally, a viewer shared that his least favorite subjects were music and art, but since learning to paint and seeing Chiang's works, he realized, "How healing it is to see pigments splashing, flowing, dripping, and spreading, like the natural sway of reeds in the wind, a moment of freedom." 

Chiang believes that all humans in the world have the same heart, and what can move us should be universal. These records became touching memories in the exhibition, witnessing how art can touch hearts and connect the inner worlds of every viewer.

Want to learn more about the stories behind the "2023 Paul Chiang Solo Exhibition"? Check out another cover story.

A heartfelt thank you to the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, former director Yulin Lee, acting director Emily Yih-Wen Lin, and all the teams, lending collectors, friends in the arts and media fields, museum volunteers, and every visitor, big and small, who contributed to the exhibition.

Organized by: Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts

Co-organized by: Paul Chiang Arts and Cultural Foundation, The Alliance Cultural Foundation (ACF)

Sponsored by: GlobalWafers Co., Ltd., Lafon Group

Lighting Collaboration: Johein Technology Inc.

Space Design: doolee

Transportation and Exhibition: Crown Van Lines Co., Ltd.

Designated Accommodation: TAI Urban Resort


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