Work As A Product: The Artwork(s) exhibited In A Gallery

HSU Fong-Ray, December 5, 2020

This exhibition by “the artist” Jun Yang is held in three different spaces simultaneously. The theme of “Jun Yang” in each of the three spaces serves to expose the differences among the three “institutions”, and in so doing opens up a new dialogue. “Jun Yang” is exhibited respectively in a commercial gallery, a university gallery and a public art museum; thus is transformed into a symbol, encouraging the audience to question the nature of the art institution itself. Under this shift of concepts, the shape of the constructed social network of artists, artworks, and institutions becomes delineated, and what emerges is precisely the face of contemporary art. 


Identity, as a Political Space


The multiplicity of "identities" in human society are embedded in various layers and structures of responsibilities and obligations. These identities do not necessarily overlap, but when their pluralities are condensed into a single individual, they exhibit constructive power. Such constructive power is manifested in our flexibility and creativity in search for identity. An individual may proactively perform regulation, wandering, appropriation and hybridisation on one’s identities. It might empower an individual to transcend certain existing frameworks, but it could also render our recognition of ‘identity’ invalid. New paradigms often bear the semblance of constraint. Just as the Slash Career, hailed since 2017 stands out not only as an economic module spawned from the exploitation of labour on younger generations, but also as the phantom of the informal economy after globalisation; this multiplicity resembles the appearance of the readymade in the art world in 1917. The readymade is on one hand a creative act by artists to call upon art institutions’ to be liberated from modernism; yet, in the eyes of Arthur C. Danto, is the end of art, where the unchaining becomes a free fall from the cliff. These illustrations took different strategies. Some looked for exterior alignment by proliferating the boundaries of their identities, while the others dismantled their identity from within. These are the all methods of survival, fuelled by the desire to react and to take a stand against the existing authority.  


The Artist’s Identifying Name


The name 楊俊 in Chinese can be translated in English as Yang Jun, or as Jun Yang in accordance with grammatical conventions, or even inaccurately transliterated as June Young. Regardless of how the name changes, these symbols are nothing more than an appellation of the artist in the art industry. Sharing the same name within the industry is therefore a matter of course. When “Jun Yang” becomes a symbol in the art industry, it is not the common understanding of identity that we consider; the question to be considered becomes what is within or inside this Jun Yang?


Paper Shredder


We can easily recognise universal existences. Take for example the nuclear technology that has developed in different disciplines since its birth in the early 20th century. It may become a destructive weapon in military research laboratories, a source of electricity in power plants, a medium of radioactive therapy in hospitals, and in the chest of a Hollywood star, it will become Iron Man. The practicality of applied science is based on the exploration of pure science. Its advancement relies on the causal relationship between the two, or perhaps we should say that historically, the two have always existed as a whole. In a modern capitalist society, division of labour in professions and the pursuit of economic performance have seen science being cut into fragments and examined for their efficiency or benefits. Yet, who determines the measure of their value and puts the sheets of paper into the shredder? In the context of art, this can be likened to artists shredding their work and yet, the strips still manage to go under the hammer at auction. The artist Banksy is well aware of this. In the context of neoliberalism, the state and capitalist enterprises possess the power of determining value. They redistribute the power at different levels in society such as museums, art schools, galleries, alternative spaces, public spaces, art festivals, biennials, fairs, auction houses, etc. The institutions, therefore, are an extension of such an ideology, building the architecture of contemporary civilisation in a fractured manner. However, we need to embrace differences, not be limited by them. If the so-called contemporary is yet another reproduction of taste, we might better consider ourselves having never been modern.


Work as Product


Museums, galleries, academies, and alternative spaces are divided and relative in the art environment of Taiwan. When artworks enter the arena of different institutions, the essence of them remains to stand on its own, however the act of having them exhibited in different spaces alters the meaning they encompass. To acknowledge the differences depends a great deal on our scrutiny. The form, content, and ideology of art practices alone should not guide deliberation; moreover values added by the institutions, as well as the social, economic and political responsibility of the institutions should be included. It should also be manifested in the understanding of the multiple identities of the artworks. The publicity of art museums allows the display of art to possess the characteristics of promotion, education and entertainment. The commercial nature of galleries enables the artist to have the ability to create economic mobility for the creation of art outside of the subsidy mechanism. The educational nature of academies coincides with the aforementioned example of pure science and applied science, seeking future possibilities in the speculation of pure art. The vision of alternative spaces in the 1970s was an attempt to create platforms for the kind of experimental potential and critical power that art museums and galleries did not yet accommodate. Through their creative practices within this kind of system of affiliation they constructed a new blueprint for the contemporary art industry.


Is the artwork in a gallery a product? No doubt it is, for it is one of the identities of artwork. Artworks are sometimes created in different editions; one for the museum archive, one for collectors and one for exhibition purposes. Artists might even grant the copyright of the image to be transformed into merchandise in art souvenir shops. What might be the implications when we see many homogenous or even identical works in different places and forms?


Hero, Star, Influencer


At the end of the 19th century, when art history was in its last throes, “he” was still the hero who defied fate. During the cultural industrial boom of the 20th century, “he” rose as a star under the spotlight. In the 21st century, when images dominate our daily lives, “he” is gradually cloned in the virtual society. "He" is an artist under social evolution. These identities that “he” had in history do not vanish, but rather, overlap in the contemporary body. Is the sanctity of artworks in museums now being repudiated? What is the relationship between art stars, museums and academic institutions in the art market? When an artist brands himself, how do we form the image that is composed of labels like the origin of the work and the name of the artist? “Jun Yang” is the first solo exhibition in Taiwan in 2020 at TKG+ Projects. It features replicas of his works, paintings by “another Jun Yang”, as well as works by artist friends. This is a joint event organised by the museum and the gallery, during which the artist completely dismantles the “brand" of "Jun Yang". The exhibition space, which is presented like a store indicates one notion: art is valuable. The figures and the definitions of art constructed by the economic system echo the proclamation made by Joseph Beuys at the beginning of the 20th century: "Everyone is an artist.” The question therefore, lies not in "Where are the real artists?" but in “What does a contemporary artist look like?”




Trading in the art economy enjoys several aliases. When the two parties involved are the artist and the museum, transactions in the museum become an act of collection. In an alternative space, when the trader representing the artist is settling a deal with a collector, the exchange becomes a sponsorship. Furthermore, it is perceived as commerce when the gallery is dealing with collectors or art museums on behalf of the artist. Owing to the various sources of capital and their purposes, the term “trade” breathes the air of disgrace to the sanctuary of art. There is no choice then, but to demand a revision to the terminology. The term therefore, is like a beautiful tablecloth that overlays the various rules of economic flow. The tablecloth in the museum thus strikes as dazzling, sacred and pure white. The cloth in alternative spaces appears to be a bland, inconspicuous white window curtain. The tablecloth in the gallery, on the other hand, is a black muslin cloth that hides all the smudges and stains. 


La Grande Maison Tokyo


“Our work is simple. We serve dishes to please our customers. But we can be like politicians, having the power to change the world. We can also move people like artists; we can even help people, like doctors and lawyers. I think this is a great job. I love it and I am proud of it. Now that I stand here, it makes me even more convinced that cooking is a message which can be spread around the world. Cooking has the power to motivate people.” 


- Rinko Hayami


It is not uncommon to find a curator in a gallery, yet it would be strange for a gallery to have its personnel focused solely on commercial sales instead of investing in art expertise. It reminds me of the restaurant portrayed in the 2019 Japanese drama ‘ La Grande Maison Tokyo’ (グランメゾン東京). The person in charge not only recruits, operates and manages, but he is also the palate and the brain of the restaurant. The servers are the eyes that observe and understand the needs of the customers and pass their feedback along to the PIC and kitchen staff for improvements. The kitchen staff are the skilful hands that articulate the uniqueness of the cuisine. The chefs compose the repertoire based on their expertise and creativity, but more important is how they appreciate and understand the ingredients. From season to season, the chefs take care of the ingredients, the cuisine and the customers.


The gallery can be likened to a restaurant. Artists are the food producers, or more precisely the sea or the land that provides ingredients and the curator is the chef; they share a dynamic relationship. They cooperate and work together in tension, confrontation and trust. Most Michelin-starred restaurants obtain success through teamwork. Rarely do we find a lone wolf who could run the whole show by himself, undertaking the role of the PIC, the chef, the manager and the staff all at the same time. Could you imagine a city with only fast-food restaurants? What a barren scene that would be. Running a restaurant requires wisdom. Dietary habits shape the culture of a place, a city and a county. They define the attitude people have towards their food and nature. A gallery, like a restaurant, should be conscious of the cultural responsibilities it shoulders to create its own culture.


A Contemporary Art Centre


Alternative space, a catchy term in the art world, emerged in the late 1960s in New York when the art market was strained, and flourished in the 1970s. The phenomenon arose for two reasons: firstly, in the 1970s, art museums and galleries failed to satisfy the needs of the growing population of artists. Secondly, these institutions were reluctant to accept new styles and media, revealing issues such as “market saturation” and “establishment conservatism” in the art society at that time. Alternative space, which derived from the consciousness of this problem, is partly a reaction to the existing system of art, and partly an emphasis on space with the freedom of artistic creation that museums and galleries did not possess. It therefore provided a "survival" space for artists. Despite the time gap between the development of alternative contemporary spaces in Taiwan in the late 1980’s and the development of that in New York, the issue of space as a mediating transfer of cultural governance and a site of resistance is apparently unavoidable.


Relationships change over time. If the problems and objectives of alternative spaces in Taiwan are still changing, should the vision of the alternative space also be adjusted over time? When museum and gallery exhibitions are no less experimental and avant-garde than that of the alternative space, can alternative spaces be legitimised based on their "freedom" relative to the institutions? When an alternative space is selling exhibited works in the same way that galleries do, could being "Non-Profit" remain a legitimate way to gain financial support? The alternative space is in fact one of many institutions. Even if its composition is to authenticate the artists' pedigree, it is not only an artistic creation, it is still an institution, unless it is disconnected from the society and economy.


Project Space as a Regenerative Mechanism


What can we do to further the meaning of alternative space today? How can we extend its ideology and spirit in different cases? Acknowledging that the ideal and reality are not mutually exclusive, can we subvert the existing mechanisms within the system? Can we construct a reflective and differentiated approach to space? An approach that yields results for a model which will transcend the existing mechanisms and become a driving force that can be shared and replicated among art institutions? I think this is precisely the reason "Jun Yang" is being exhibited here in this particular way. Only when “Jun Yang” has become the symbol of artistic questioning, the artist’s creative intention in exhibiting in these three institutional spaces extends the artist’s creative concept to encompass and highlight the relationship between TKG+ projects and the gallery owner.


This exhibition space, co-funded by Tina Keng Gallery and TKG+, is an exhibition mechanism derived from the gallery mechanism. It is to create production cycles and to derive alternatives based on reflection and self-criticism, operating in the context of space as a site of cultural governance and resistance. With an autonomy relative to the gallery industry, it is free from economic responsibility and the fate of a gallery. Instead, it undertakes the mission of cultural, creative and experimental production within a gallery organisation. It causes a rupture in the existing mechanism, furthermore the experience of art production is fed back to the industry. It facilitates the cycle of production and flow between different institutions. This is a paradigm of deconstruction and restructuring within an art institution and is the basis for defining TKG+ Projects as a Regenerative Space. It is a creation that regulates, wanders, appropriates and melds the gallery's identity. It grants the gallery the ability to go beyond the existing framework and is also the curatorial practice of the institution’s curator.