Row between artist Jun Yang and MoCA Taipei stirs controversy in Taiwan’s artworld

Courtesy MoCA Taipei

Facebook posts, public statements, cyberbullying and legal threats – the two-year-long saga continues to make waves

A dispute between artist Jun Yang and the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei has turned into a larger debate in the Taiwanese artworld about internal politics and the lack of transparency in public art institutions, Art Asia Pacific reports.

The dispute recently escalated when MoCA Taipei uploaded a filmed talk of Yang discussing the conflict, originally shot at the closing event of Yang’s show on 31 March, to their Youtube channel. Yang subsequently shared the video on Facebook in a post titled ‘A director unfit for position’, building on his criticism against the institution and its director.

The two-year-long saga started back in 2019 when curator Barbara Steiner (then-director of Kunsthaus Graz) approached MoCA Taipei about hosting one leg of a simultaneous multichapter exhibition of Yang’s work, The Artist, His Collaborators, Their Exhibition, and Three Venues, alongside presentations at the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts and TKG+ Projects. The exhibition was negotiated and approved by then-director Yuki Pan, who resigned from her post later that year.

Although the museum team assured Yang the show would continue as planned, incoming director Li-Chen Loh allegedly attempted to cancel it without any negotiations with the artist’s team. After Yang threatened legal action, the museum and the city culture foundation revised their decision and came to an agreement with the artist to maintain the exhibition but shorten its run from three to one-and-a-half months.

In his post, Yang says that despite this compromise, the museum and Loh ‘were undermining the project with various roadblocks, delays, and bureaucratic excuses’, with Loh offering no support or communication and refusing to attend the opening. Yang also claims that the curator working with him on the project was fired, further compromising the exhibition.

Throughout this time, Yang and his family were victims of cyberbullying by anonymous internet trolls, in what he felt was ‘a coordinated campaign’ to discredit him. Furthermore, Yang called out Loh on a xenophobic rant she posted on Facebook, of which he believed himself to be the target (Yang was born in China and is now based between Austria, Taiwan and Japan): ‘The world is full of villains who pretend to be victims but really just want to take advantage of you,’ it read. ‘Fake foreigners who think they’re superior come to Taiwan and take all the resources.’

On 31 July, MoCA published a statement in response to Yang’s allegations, arguing that the museum did not interfere with Yang’s concept and decisions and claiming there had been some oversight in the directors’ handover, which meant Loh had not been informed properly about the agreement between Yang and the previous director.

‘We insist on maintaining the neutrality of art and preserving the artist’s rights,’ the museum told AAP. ‘All the museum staff made their all-out efforts to ensure the smooth execution of the show. As for the screenshots of director Loh’s private post, the director feels sorry for it, but no specific person was named in the post. We have re-examined and improved our work procedures, and learned about the importance of the museum’s ability to receive public criticism.’

The dispute has elicited a strong response from the Taiwanese artworld, in particular through the anonymous Facebook page Kaobei Art, with commentators debating the need for greater transparency in public institutions in Taiwan and calling for better working protocols to protect and respect the work of artists and curators.

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