Art and celebrity: a study of the celebritisation of artists in Taiwan 1987-2010

Lai, Y.H.N. 2011. Art and celebrity: a study of the celebritisation of artists in Taiwan 1987-2010. PhD thesis University of Westminster School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Languages

TitleArt and celebrity: a study of the celebritisation of artists in Taiwan 1987-2010
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsLai, Y.H.N.

This thesis examines the emergence of celebrity art in Taiwan in the postmartial

law period since 1987. It analyses the different forces that have contributed to

the construction of celebrity art as a prevalent phenomenon and explores its changing

significance in Taiwan’s contemporary art scene and society. Based on extensive

primary evidence from different kinds of materials, including journals and

newspaper articles, magazine reports, exhibition catalogues and reviews, television

programmes and Internet resources, gallery and museum visits, and interviews with

celebrity artists and curators, this thesis argues that the construction of celebrity art in

Taiwan demonstrates a constant negotiation between artists’ aspirations for celebrity

recognition, media, corporate business and political interests. I argue that in the

celebritisation process, businesses and corporations utilise art to cultivate a positive

brand image, generate commercial activities, accumulate cultural capital and

consolidate their power and influence. In this sense, celebrity art becomes an aspect

of business operations, in ways that are similar to those criticised by scholar Julian

Stallabrass’s in the Western context. However, the development of corporate art

intervention in Taiwan has distinctive features which are associated with the process

of democratisation and its strong impact on the emergence of celebrity art.

Furthermore, the government’s promotion of celebrity artists has enabled it to

promote its national political identity in the global arena. This relates especially to

the changing political scene in Taiwan since 1987 in which that celebrity art has

become a means for different political parties to express their political concerns. At

the same time, these processes have empowered artists to engage with larger social,

cultural and political forces, demonstrating the capacity of celebrity art to serve as a

vehicle of new social and aesthetic values about issues such as gender and

womanhood. Certain aspects of Taiwan’s celebrity art also contribute to a new

‘cool’, largely young, and socially distinctive urban taste culture in Taiwan, by

bringing innovative characteristics to Taiwan’s art scene that bridge high and popular

culture. The celebritisation of art in Taiwan thus has many similarities with those

discussed by Walker, Stallabrass and other Western scholars with reference to

Western tendencies, but is distinctive in its political and social-economic causes. The first chapter introduces my aims and arguments, and gives an overview

of the historical and political, media, institutional and global changes that facilitated

the emergence of celebrity art in Taiwan. This chapter also describes my research

methodology. Chapter two provides an analysis of relevant historical and theoretical

perspectives on the construction of the celebrity and celebrity art, and examines their

social, cultural and economic importance in both Western and East Asian societies.

Chapter three to seven respectively examine different cases of celebrity artists,

namely Lee Ming-sheng, Chu Cha-ray, Cai Guoqiang, Tang Huang-chen and the VT

Artsalon group. Each of the cases exemplifies particular features—overlapping with

and distinct from each other—of the concept of celebrity art in Taiwan. Through

close examination of these cases, the thesis investigates an important aspect of

Taiwan’s changing art scene that has not to date featured in scholarly work on

contemporary culture in Taiwan.

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