“Arena”

Taipei Fine Arts Museum
181, Zhongshan North Road, Section 3
July 8, 2017–September 17, 2017

Against-Again Troupe and Snow Huang, Concert of Performance Review, 2017. Performance view, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, 2017.

With its focus on live art—including works representing virtually every analog and digital medium as well as a fair share of crowd-drawing interactive pieces—this exhibition brings together an assortment of Korean and Taiwanese artists who have little in common other than a will to defy the merely visual and engage the widest audience possible.

While its curatorial theme and commissioned works may invite any number of heated disquisitions on the museum in the age of the selfie stick—here Michael Fried’s old gripe with “theatricality” in Minimalist art seems absurdly quaint—the show’s revolving program of performances is the real reason to endure what often feels like a playground filled with children and Instagram-addicted cosplay couples. Against-Again Troupe’s collaboration with Snow Huang, Concert of Performance Review, 2017, parodies the soul-deadening atmosphere of twenty-first-century corporatism—a malaise that has even infected the contemporary art institution. We don’t know what kind of business the besuited performers are conducting around the conference table that is the work’s centerpiece, but that’s not the point; it’s the instrumentality of the operative mechanism that counts, and here, that instrument is equipped with gadgets that are amplified and played with an erhu bow, hammer and nails, and even poured coffee.

A new take on Waiting for Godot by Taiwan’s most talked-about young avant-garde theater group, Cocoism, serves as the best not-so-subtle commentary on the kind of spectacle that the curators of “Arena” were so keen to promote. The work, for the lucky few selected to view it via a lottery system, leaves you completely alone with yourself and forbidden to record anything; I will respect Cocoism’s directive here and just say that it permits your attention to be focused on nothing more than the passage of time. It might not be the sort of experience that the majority want, but it’s the exact thing that many of us need.

— Travis Jeppesen