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51st AICA International Congress in Taiwan: “Art Criticism in the Age of Virtuality and Democracy”


51st AICA International Congress in Taiwan

Art Criticism in the Age of Virtuality and Democracy

by Rui Goncalves Cepeda

First of all, the 51st AICA International Congress, held this year in Taiwan between 16th and 18th November, was dominated by politics. More specifically, by the local elections, which took place on 24th November 2018 – as in all political elections the party precedes the voting moment, and the questions that were pose on referendum on the same day; and, second, by the central theme of the Congress “Art Criticism in the Age of Virtuality and Democracy”. It should be noted that the section of AICA Taiwan has in its account the organization of two AICA international congresses in the space of less than 15 years (XXXVIII AICA Congress – 57th General Assembly – Taipei, Taiwan “The Regionalisation of Art Criticism: Its Possibility and Global Positioning”, and LI AICA Congress – 71st General Assembly – Taipei, Taiwan” Art Criticism in the Age of Virtuality and Democracy,” while other more culturally affluent nations don’t have even one.


But what do I mean by that? In a country (Taiwan) where the ideas of democracy and civic participation are completely embedded in the social ‘being’, and in which the cultural concept is one of the most important areas on the political agenda there is nothing more significant than holding an international congress dedicated to art criticism. Particularly on the dates preceding the general election and referendums: popular consultations on LGBT rights and same-sex marriage, on the environment, and on the official name for Taiwan (meaning, China Taiwan, or simply, Taiwan – question that had been raised by more nationalistic, pro-China, and/or conservative views in the Taiwanese society). In this context, the Taiwan Biennale, Taipei Biennial, Great Taipei Biennial of Contemporary Art, Kuandu Biennal, Taipei Digital Arts Festival, the 51st AICA International Congress, among other events of different dimensions, had to compete to receive the due attention of the most various public and private powers of the Taiwanese community at different times and modalities. Representatives of public authorities or private companies, who warmly and enthusiastically demonstrated their interest and/or willingness to sponsor and support the many events that were aimed to transform Taiwan’s urban life through art. Either during the period preceding the elections; either while the act was taking place and either after the completion of the process in which the multiplicity of individuals and communities constituting the Taiwanese society exercised the sovereign power of choosing of their representatives and future.


The second aspect related to politics existed in the two subtopics under discussion at the Congress: “Art Criticism in the Age of Virtuality” and “Art discourse facing challenged democracy.” Given the emergency of political movements that defend nationalistic and populist ideals, and the consequent increase in influence in the public space of the social platforms existing in a virtual space, give definition to those topics. Relevant issues as well, because there is a pressing need to find critical positions that defend and ensure the existence of the principles of democratic freedom and expression of different ideas in society.


A remarkable Key Note was presented by Audrey Tang, the Digital Minister, entitled “Forking Democracy.” She invited the audience to participate in her presentation by allowing each of us to pose questions through Slido in real time. Focusing on active participation and education in democracy her presentation served as a guiding structure for the symposium. Overall, the diversity and quality of the presentations: ministers, critics, philosophers, and the contribution of young artists helped to build new viewpoints, projects and critical proposals for the future. The outstanding organisation of the congress led me to understand and to see the transformation of art woven within the urban fabric of Taiwan.


The symposium ended with the reading of the text “A Theater – in Absence”, by Felix Ho Yuen Chan, who had won the Young Arts Critics prize. He presented a critical review on politically incorrect discourses and censured artworks excluded by the arts institutions and by those who should raise questions about what art is. After three days of talks and presentations I went to treat myself with the delicious and seductive flavours of local food and the passionate night life that Taiwan has to offer.


The remaining days of the congress were devoted to the Post-Congress trip visiting galleries, historical sites, and museums in other cities down Formosa’s west coast (Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung). We where warmly welcomed by local art galleries, performing centre and museums (public and private). Became astonished by the unique collection of musical instruments, especially the collection dedicated to violins, at Chimei Museum (Tainan), the magnificent spaces dedicated to performing arts (Welwuying National Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts) and to contemporary art (Kaohsiung Musem of Fine Arts, in Kaohsiung, and the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, in Taichung). Three days that allowed us to juxtapose our knowledge to what is happening with art outside the capital, Taipei; and to initiate an intense exchange of critical ideas between different parts of the world.


The symposium was preceded by two days of administrative work devoted to the various committees, AICA Board Meeting and General Assembly, and the election of the new Secretary-General (Marc Partouche AICA France, who is succeeding Marjorie Allthorpe Guyton AICA UK). At the AICA General Assembly it was also confirmed that the LII AICA international congress would be organized by AICA Germany, between 1st and 7th October 2019, in Cologne and Berlin.



Ms. Tsai (Chief Curator, NTMoFA), Alfredo Cramerotti (AICA UK, and Director of Mostyn contemporary art gallery), Chi-Ming Lin (President of AICA Taiwan, and Director of the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts), and Rui Cepeda (AICA UK)

© 2018 Rui Goncalves Cepeda