Articles

The Ten-Year Anniversary Celebration of Michael Ku Gallery

I cannot quite believe that this year marks the tenth anniversary ofMichael Ku Gallery.


I first knew Michael Ku as ayoung man, still in high school, who tagged along with his parents to attend one of my lectures. These lectures wereheld at a private art society on Nanjing East Road and hosted by a young manwho spoke of his artistic ideals. I am readily moved by the artisticaspirations of others, especially when they belong to the younger generation. Iagreed to give lectures on Western art as well as Chinese art at this artsociety, and the number of members grew. This continued until one day, the hostdisappeared with a substantial amount of tuition fees; it was said that he leftdue to an investment gone awry.

 

This unfortunate event caused me to be wary of idealistic youths;however, it was also through this event that I made the acquaintance of severalart-loving friends, including Michael Ku. After high school, Michael attendedTaiwan National University and, as a history major, took a Chinese Art coursetaught by Professor Chen Bao Zhen. In his spare time, Michael frequented TheNational Palace Museum and would often contact me to discuss what he saw.


A typical Sagittarius, Michael speaks his mind, often too quicklyand sometimes too acutely; and, of course, he has a tendency to stray intodifferent topics.


Michael was fortunate enough to have been raised by a good familywho instilled in him the importance of literature, art, aesthetics, andfashion. One could say that Michael is the archetype for a Taipeiend-of-the-20th-century dandy. Possessing many qualities that are not typicallyvalued in the huaren tradition — a trendy dandy with a hint of haughtiness andnarcissism — Michael can be perceived by the common and secular as extravagantor arrogant. Those who are sour with envy might even doubt his abilities due tohis narcissism.


In our discussion of Emperor Huizong’s Poem of Fragrance, we spoke about the emperor’s youth; his youthwas filled with riches and royalty and his glorious deeds and vanity ultimatelyled to the destruction of an empire. “The fluttering butterfly chased thefragrance till its end, dancing his last years away.” These words almost serveas a foretelling of Huizong’s destiny. As if predicted on a divination stick,his poem seemed to have sealed his fate as a narcissistic emperor who lost anempire to his vanity. The story of Huizong is now a cautionary tale in Chinesehistory, used to admonish against the dangers of obsessing over beauty.


Michael later decided to pursue a higher education in the US. Afterobtaining his degree in art history, Michael returned to Taiwan and foundedMichael Ku Gallery. I couldn’t help but smile at the name he chose for hisgallery, which can be translated into The Ku Mansion. Even to this day, no onein Taipei has had the bold ingenuity of naming a gallery as such. Theend-of-the-century glamor of 19th century Europe is still alive and well atMichael Ku Gallery. Michael must believe there is no better place to be a dandythan in Taipei.  

 

It is a little known fact that in the lavatory at Michael Ku Gallerythere is always a burning peony-scented candle. Its light shines through therosin placed in the corner, making it glow like amber. Of course Michael isvain; how could he not be if he wishes to have taste? How can one speak of artwithout first mastering taste? I can’t help but wonder if we have lowered ourstandards by tolerating galleries that are popping up like eateries and storesthat sell cheap goods. A gallery can no longer hold any value when the artworld has become as secular as a stock market. Ten years ago, when Icongratulated Michael on the opening of his gallery, I was also deeplyconcerned for his endeavors. I wondered how Michael Ku Gallery and its elegantvanity would fare in a city like Taipei.


I feared that Michael would be misunderstood in Taipei, just asLondon misunderstood Oscar Wilde and the ostentatious green carnation he woreon his lapel. Michael is also a lover of literature; in our discussions of YuDafu, Eileen Chang, and Bai Guang, his insights often cause me to wonder if hewas born in the right era. Michael is tireless in his efforts to keep abreastwith contemporary galleries and the art market. His discerning eye allows himto make correct business decisions without becoming a profiteer. 


Michael once stated that most Taiwanese art investments lackforesight and scale; with this I must agree. 


Michael is a rare gallerist who is dedicated to the discovery andcultivation of new creators. His gallery represents young artists — such as WeiJia, Luo Jr-Hsin, Jian Yi-Hong, Wang Shao-Gang, and Niu Jun-Qiang — whose worksare rarely shown at purely commercial galleries. Turning a profit is notMichael’s main concern. For example, Michael admires the work of director LouYe, so he paid out of pocket for a screening of Lou’s film and invited him togive a talk at the gallery. There is no other gallery in Taipei that wouldengage in such a money-losing endeavor. Taipei is trapped by its owncomplacency and lacks prosperity, without which it cannot afford the decadenceonce seen in the Southern Dynasties; all that is left is a sour taste.


These words might not seem appropriate for the celebratory eventthat is the ten year anniversary of Michael Ku Gallery; it is just that thetimes have changed. Sometimes Michael and I still recount the number ofgalleries in the Apollo building in the 90s. It was not so long ago that Taipeiconsidered itself an important member of the international stage but no onetalks like that anymore. Those who can afford to leave have left quietly. Thoseleft behind grow sour. I do not like sour; it is worse than being bitter. Beingbitter is to be burdened and pained, and these sentiments can lead tocreativity; but being sour will only eat away all that remains.


In recent years, Michael Ku Gallery has had the opportunity tocombine its resources with that of Tianmei Art Foundation. Together, they aimto introduce young Taiwanese creators to the world by bringing them to HongKong, Shanghai, and Beijing. This year, their goal is to go to London, Paris,and Basel. Michael has also given a certain amount of “homework” to these youngartists. A decade ago, Michael was a perfect dandy of thirty; now in hisforties, he is more grounded than ever, transforming his dandiness, haughtiness,and narcissism into passion. Michael has dedicated himself to giving the citythat nurtured him a chance to establish itself in the international art scene.Along with the younger generation, they are testing the waters of the outsideworld, bringing forth their curiosity, passion, and ambition in the hopes ofpropelling Taipei to the forefront of the international stage of the 21stcentury.


I hereby congratulate Michael on the ten year anniversary of MichaelKu Gallery and hope that Taipei will always remember the path which thisone-of-a-kind gallery follows.



Chiang Hsun in Paris, 05/04/2018