GATEWAY PROJECT: A FULBRIGHT BLOG





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This blog is an archive for my research, interviews with designers and museum staff, and travel experiences as I explore multilingual design practices in Taiwan and the US.
Fulbright research abroad in Taipei, Taiwan began in March 2021.   

这个博客是关于我个人在旅行交流经验中用中英文做研究访问博物馆陈列设计师和员工的记录。

2021年三月到輔仁大學开始我富布赖特的国外研究。




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VISIT: CHI MEI MUSEUM

“我的博物館是有一個精神:為了大眾而存在”





Language: English
Date: Aug 11, 2021
Listening to: Crush On by 李浩瑋



When I stepped off the local train into the sleepy Bao-an Station in Tainan, I automatically reached for my phone to check Google maps. Traveling alone is mostly walking around with one eye on your map app and one eye on your battery level, anyway. But as I was about to step out of the station and into the ever-present August rainfall of southern Taiwan, I was stopped by a large stand up poster to the right side of the station door. “奇美博物館怎麼去?” “Ways to get to Chi Mei Museum” and then a following explanation in both Chinese and English on how to get there by walking, biking, or driving. No need for the map app after all, just take a right at the light and walk for 10 minutes. Hoping I didn’t seem like too much of a tourist, I took a picture of the sign and grinned behind my mask. Museums are back, baby.


For my first museum visit after three months of Covid lockdown in Taiwan, I am glad I was able to reserve a ticket for Chi Mei Museum. Everything about the museum and its grounds says “cultured day trip.” It is the image of a high-art affluent western museum, and I was impressed with the depth of objects and art that I found there. That being said, the cultural shock of walking from the Taiwanese railway system, then ten minutes along a highway, only to find myself in a facsimile of the United States Congress building surrounded by European-style gardens was jarring. The steady downpour of rain along with the classical music being pumped out through speakers to empty grounds only emphasized the sudden change of scenery (although it did make me feel a bit like a brooding, romantic Elizabeth Bennet).


There is a lot to see at the Chi Mei Museum. Inside the building, a Covid-safe number of visitors wandered from antique weaponry to fossil records to the prized collection of priceless violins. I found myself walking slowly through the fine art section on the second floor ambitiously named “the Western Arts from 13th-20th Century.” The exhibition was meticulously organized and sectioned off by centuries and art styles, walls unfashionably cramped with massive works and different colored gallery walls. Bilingual exhibit wall labels explained themes such as the dominance of Christian Church over Western art, while individual labels in Chinese interpreted the mythology in the works that can go over 21st century visitor’s head. The collection is simply astounding, and I spent a lot of my time in front of the massive paintings that depicted larger-than-life mythic women: Eve, Mary, Aphrodite, Joan of Arc, the Fates, and the unnamed woman preoccupied with her unknown thoughts in Louis Emile Adan’s An Autumn Evening.


Also on display currently is Tim Walker’s blockbuster photography exhibit, partly retrospective on his meteoric career coupled with the new project, “Tim Walker: Wonderful Things.” I was so glad I paid the 500$ ($18 USD) extra ticket price to see this temporary exhibit before it travels to it’s next international destination. “Wonderful Things” is a collaboration with the K&A museum in England; the result of combing through the museum archives for contemporary photography inspiration. For a museum aficionado like myself, it was fascinating to see museum archives energized with new life. Even though the photography was stunning, I still couldn’t keep my eyes off the typography on the exhibit signage. The careful treatment of the bilingual typography as equal and complimentary resources created a weight to the words on the signage: this should be read by everyone.


If you look up the Chi Mei Museum website, the official landing page says “我的博物館是有一個精神:為了大眾而存在 My museum serves only one purpose: to exist for the public” a quote attributed to Wen-Long Shi, the Chi Mei Group founder. Clicking through to the main page, I scrolled through the Chinese language layout before clicking on the globe icon to switch languages to English. To my delight, there are ten available languages: Chinese, English, French, Japanese, Korean, Bahasa Indonesian, Hindi, German, Spanish, and Vietnamese. Existing for the public, indeed.


The museum’s founder, Wen-Long Shi, is a wealthy Taiwanese businessman who made his way onto the Forbes World’s Most Richest People list during the Taiwan Miracle post Chinese Civil War after the dust and the KMT party had settled in Taiwan. He is also known as an amateur violin player, which explains why his museum boasts of the world’s larges collection of violins. The museum was originally housed in the head office of Chi Mei Industrial Corporation in Tainan. After running out of room for the growing collection, Chi Mei reopened its doors to the public with a massive museum with 12,000 m² of exhibition rooms.(source)


His instinct to create the Chi Mei Museum is laid out in the preface to the book Highlights of the Chimei Collection: “For a child, free admission to a museum full of wonderful treasures was so fascinating that I spent most of my time after school there. This museum not only gave me vivid childhood memories, but also inspired me to later build a museum for the public. The founding essence of the museum has always been ‘to promote music comprehensible to the common ears, and to collect paintings beautiful to the common eyes.’”(source) For twenty years the privately owned museum was free of charge to visit. While there is a ticket fee to the museum now, local Tainan city residents and students can still enter for free.


Chi Mei Museum is a remarkable treasure trove of Western art in Taiwan, created with children and new museum visitors in mind. I hope to travel to Tainan again soon and return to the museum on a sunny day where I can spend time exploring the grounds. All in all, I completely agree with the title given to Chi Mei by Forbes as “one of the world’s most surprising art collections.”


~~~
Works Cited:
Crook, Steven. “Chimei Museum's Violins and Tools of Violence.” Taiwan Business, AmChan Taiwan, 20 July 2016, LINK


Perrault, Giles. “Chi Mei Culture Foundation, from Passion to Museum.” Gilles Perrault, 6 May 2021, URL


Wong, Maggie Hiufu. “Taiwan's Museum 'for the Poor' Home to World's Largest Violin Collection.” CNN, Cable News Network, 4 Oct. 2018,URL








   

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