Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei an art playground for everyone

The entrance of MOCA Taipei.
MOCA Taipei director Shih Jui-jen speaks to the Taiwan News in front of art pieces by Indonesian artist Heri Dono.
A view of the lobby.
A multimedia art piece by Taiwanese artist Chu Chun-teng.
An art piece by Japanese artist Sako Kojima.

The entrance of MOCA Taipei.

MOCA Taipei director Shih Jui-jen speaks to the Taiwan News in front of art pieces by Indonesian artist Heri Dono.

A view of the lobby.

A multimedia art piece by Taiwanese artist Chu Chun-teng.

An art piece by Japanese artist Sako Kojima.

There are several reasons why you ought to pay a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei (MOCA). One, if you are an art addict, two, if you enjoy contemporary art, and three, if you are curious to know what the former Taipei City Hall looks like, or, if none of the above, simply to look at something provoking.
Located in Taipei City's heartland, MOCA is where Taiwan's new generation of artists displays their works after the 90-year-old building transformed from the former Taipei City Hall to an incubator of contemporary art in May 2001.
The building was designed by Japanese architect Kondo Juro, who also takes credit for designing Taipei's Red House Theater and the National Taiwan University Hospital (original building).
In 1921, during the Japanese colonial period, the building was home to Jan Cheng Elementary School whose student body was predominantly Japanese with only a handful of Taiwanese students. After WWII, the Kuomintang government took over the island, and the building was appropriated for use as Taipei City Hall from 1946-1993.
When Taipei City Hall found its new home in the Hsin Yi District, the building was appropriated again to Jen Cheng Junior High School since the school's other section was earmarked for urban planning. In 1996 it was listed as a municipal cultural heritage.
After another refurbishment in 2001, the main structure and the hall became MOCA Taipei, and the wing structures were retained for school use. This is the only case in Taiwan in which a museum and a school share the same building, and it is the first historical site to be turned into a museum.
The two-story brick building is a model of architectural symmetry. The central hall is spacious with its high ceiling. A bell tower rises from the center of the roof highlighting its distinctive style.
Connecting art with community
Contemporary art is life. According to MOCA Taipei director Shih Jui-jen, who assumed his post in early 2008, the museum's focus is to promote innovation and artistic creations, revitalize heritage, and connect with contemporary culture.
"Shortening the distance and eradicating the intangible or tangible gaps between art and the lives of Taipei citizens is a significant mission of MOCA Taipei," he said during a radio show aired earlier this year. "We work to resonate with people as much as we can."
MOCA is touted as more than a museum displaying artwork, but as the art playground for everyone. The museum holds a series of activities for visitors of all ages, especially during the weekends.
"I think the spirit of contemporary art lies in the present moment and the uncertainty. Time, space, and the interpreter are elements shaping it all the time,"?said Shih.
At MOCA, series of fun or educational activities are held in addition to exhibitions season after season. Seminars, talk to the artist sessions, and do-it-yourself activities accommodate visitors with different fancies.
This August, MOCA launched a "Market Music Movie" drive combining a flea market selling hand-made commodities, street dance performances, and thematic movie screening at its outdoor square every Saturday evening. The activity runs through October.
Meanwhile, MOCA Taipei's exhibits are now seen in the Underground Book Street at the MRT Zhongshan station, which Shih explained, is a way to bring art to people's daily lives.
"If this approach receives positive responses from the general public, I can ask the competent authority for more budget to hold exhibitions at Zhongshan station regularly," he said.
Willingness to share
Walking around inside Taipei MOCA, you would notice that every exhibit has its own care-taker. They are volunteers of the museum, mostly youngsters passionate about contemporary art, and are willing to contribute their time for public service. To be a volunteer, one has to sign up, be selected for an interview, and complete the training hours before becoming an "intern volunteer", which lasts for 3 months. Those who perform their duties well can move on to become an official volunteer.
Ahead of every exhibition, volunteers join seminars held by the museum to learn about the artworks. Thus they can answer all the questions visitors may have if they prefer not to follow the guided tours also provided by the museum.
According to Syu Ge-yuan, specialist of Public Service who manages volunteer affairs, there are around 200 volunteers contributing their time to MOCA regularly. "Passion and sincerity are the main criteria we use to screen the applicants," he said, "volunteers contribute not only their time but also their spirit to fulfill their duties."
At MOCA Taipei, the volunteers'?ages range from 18 to 60. They get a free meal for every 4 hours of work, the minimum time for a shift in a week, in addition to free entry to all the exhibitions, as well as some tickets for their friends. Birthday celebrations and outings are held from time to time.
"They are willing to help, are strongly curious about things in general and especially contemporary art," said Syu, a former volunteer who later joined the MOCA staff.
"My job requires me to get to know every volunteer, which is interesting because I work with different people everyday," he added, "my experiences being a former volunteer has been very helpful."?
Tu Chi-wen spent 8 months working as a volunteer after graduating from the National Chengchi University. Her shift was every Sunday, when the museum receives more visitors. She enjoyed taking care of the art work she was assigned to look after in every exhibition.
"I have always wanted to be a museum guide,"?said Tu, "sharing art with others satisfies me spiritually."
"I think contemporary art is friendly," she added, "the viewer's participation helps to complete the work as a whole."
Tu thinks enjoying exhibits at MOCA is different from doing so at the National Palace Museum or Taipei Fine Arts Museum, because MOCA offers a sense of warmth which reduces the alienation visitors in general usually have in museums.
"Contemporary art is often interactive, making it easier for me to get involved," she said.
Tu went on to work in an art gallery after graduation, where she was responsible for introducing the artworks to clients, among other tasks.
"For me it was more than trying to sell them a painting," she said, "I shared the spirit of the artwork, and the artist's message with my clients."
MOCA Taipei is at No.39, Changan West Road, Taipei, a few minutes walk from MRT Zhongshan station. It offers four to five themed or experimental exhibitions in a year. Per entry costs only NT$50. Pay a visit next time you feel like you need some stimulation for both eyes and mind.

Updated : 2021-04-13 18:46 GMT+08:00