National Palace Museum Director Lin Mun-lee (林曼麗) speaks eloquently of her mission and vision to bring the renowned museum even greater prestige and visibility in the global village. Since assuming her post last January, Lin has applied her vision to the final stages of the museum's long-anticated renovation that is now nearly complete and has also proven adept at negotiating with other prominent museums around the world to bring the finest art collections to Taiwan. In an interview with Taiwan News reporter Hermia Lin, Lin discussed the museum's most important tasks for the 21st century, its grand re-opening in early February, the necessity of being a tough negotiator with other museum curators, and the art of art marketing.
Taiwan News: You have been on the job for one year now. Are you satisfied with the performance of the National Palace Museum and what do you think are its strengths and weaknesses?
Lin Mun-lee: I think the museum's changes have been steady and progressive. Last month, the National Palace Museum won a world-class prize - AVICOM, International Committee for the Audiovisual and Image and Sound New Technologies. It is a very good beginning, but something spectacular can be expected in the near future. The museum is full of potential, I believe. And with the re-opening of the NPM adding to the prestige it has already earned, it will embark on a new stage.
My mission and responsibility will be how to better connect the cultural treasures in the museum with people in Taiwan and promote the treasures as part of local residents' daily lives and the trends influencing them. I truly believe the museum is capable of handling this transformation.
Five years ago, the government began promoting the idea of digitalization, which the museum joined. I have to admit that the NPM in terms of management and modernization may not have performed as well as other world-renowned museums, but we have taken the lead in digitalization, which integrates the humanities and technology.
The most recent commercial commissioned by the museum, demonstrating the concept "old is new," actually won the American Association of Museums MUSE Award last April. The AAM was so impressed by the transformation of the NPM that it invited us to give a presentation at the upcoming AAM annual meeting in Chicago. I'll bring a 30-member delegation, including museum curators of all different levels in Taiwan, to attend the fair this May. If we can raise enough money, I hope to bring some of the best works Taiwan has to offer to Chicago.
Connection between museum, Taiwan
TN: Several international channels are reportedly very interested in shooting short films to introduce the NPM. How is the project going?
Lin: National Geographic Channel has talked to us about shooting a film about the National Palace Museum. I told them that the film has to be totally different from previous films introducing the museum, which focused exclusively on its cultural treasures. This time, I'd like the film to focus on the idea of "the NPM in Taiwan," to make a real connection between the NPM and Taiwan and on a new NPM that speaks for Taiwan, specificially presenting a technically-advanced, democratic, and open Taiwan. We will market Taiwan through the publicity of the museum.
TN: Has the NPM encountered major difficulties in negotiating the exhibition "Treasures of the World's Cultures" with the British Museum?
Lin: The NPM and world famous museums have frequent and close exchanges. We have close ties with the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the British Museum. This is the first time the museum has worked with the British Museum though, and the negotiation process for the exhibition took more than two years. The negotiations were not easy because the two sides eyed each other's best collections while also wanting to make sure they kept their best treasures at home. The British Museum was very protective of its cultural treasures and was very aggressive during the negotiations. So were we.
The British Museum has many Dunhuang cultural pieces but none were included in the exhibition to be shown here. Even though there is a gap between what we saw as the ideal exhibition and what we ended up with, I still think the "Treasures of the World's Cultures" is very much worth seeing. It's a golden opportunity for Taiwan's people to see world cultures and civilization through real objects. The exhibition will be a meaningful educational fair.
TN: You are talking about negotiations and international exchanges. What is the latest project you have been working on?
Lin: I went to Vienna last November and stayed there for three days. All I did was negotiate with the director of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History). I didn't even have a chance to see the city. We finally agreed that 17th to 19th century paintings, including works by esteemed artists such as Peter Paul Rubens, Albercht Durer, and Rembrandt Van Rijn, will be shown in Taiwan this November until the end of January 2008. Ruben's self-portrait, one of the Vienna museum's most precious paintings, will be part of the exhibition. It will be a seminal event for Taiwan because all of the selections are of vital importance in western art history. Taiwan's collection, on the other hand, will be displayed in Vienna next February through May. It is a very special exhibition, because this time, in addition to National Palace Museum works, the collections of the National Museum of Prehistory and National Taiwan Museum, two of the very most important aboriginal museums in Taiwan, will also be exhibited in Vienna.
TN: Which governmental agencies are to be responsible for the aboriginal collection?
Lin: I think the Executive Yuan, Ministry of Education, Council for Cultural Affairs, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, are working together in figuring out how to present the aboriginal collections. The design and presentation of the collections are still under negotiation.
Not a luxury
TN: This year, the National Palace Museum is cooperating with Starbucks, and paintings and calligraphy from the Sung Dynasty are printed on Starbucks products. How do you see the art marketing industry?
Lin: In the past, art was seen as a luxury. When I was the director of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, I came up with the notion that "art is a necessity for life." I've now changed that notion to "art is a consumer good for life." For some people, it's blasphemous for art to be "consumed." But to me, art shouldn't only be seen as an invisible treasure. It can also create enormous output value, thus bringing out its diverse dimensions. The cooperation with Starbucks is a small-scale venture, but the museum is heading in the direction of art marketing. One of our major tasks will be to give art different dimensions enabling it to reflect modern society.
I think the only way to differentiate people is through art and culture, and Taiwan and the National Palace Museum definitely have the advantage of being different.
TN: What are your expectations for the re-opening of the NPM that is slated for early February?
Lin: February will be a great month for fans of art, as a series of activities will take place, including the British Museum exhibition that runs from February 4 through May 27, but also the NPM's Outdoor Arts Festival which lasts for a whole week. From February 3 to February 11, Japanese Noh Theatre, Ming Hwa Yuan Taiwanese Opera, and the Ju Percussion group will present great performances, all for free, to celebrate the reopening of the NPM. The featured exhibition currently on display - Grand Views: Northern Sung Dynasty - has drawn thousands of people into the museum every day. Visitors from Japan, Holland, and China have flocked to the museum to appreciate the art of the Sung Dynasty. I am sure February will be one of the museum's best and busiest months.