Monday, June 27, 2005

Ju Ming, Taiwanese Sculptor (or, In pursuit of a dream, Part 1)

Caught an episode of the "Crossings" series on Discovery Channel this afternoon. It told the story of the world-famous Taiwanese Sculptor, Ju Ming.

Great storytelling, partly because a wonderful story was there waiting to be told.

I did not know who Ju Ming was until today. He appeared genuinely humble and approachable on TV. I'm very much impressed and inspired by his life story. To me, he's an artist, a logical thinker, a businessman (he built his own museum!), an entrepreneur/ risk-taker, a pragmatic dreamer.

Ju Ming has been designated as Taiwan's living treasure (he's still very much alive and kicking). The Caltex (a sponsor of the programme series) press release gives an excellent overview of his humble beginnings and road to success:
Life Journey of Ju Ming

Ju Ming started out as an apprentice to renowned craftsman Lee Chin Chuan in his homeland of Taiwan. He went on to set up a crafts workshop and was earning a lucrative living as a woodcarver, but artistically Ju Ming was becoming increasingly unhappy.

At the age of 30, he sold his thriving workshop and set off for Taipei where he hoped to study under Taiwan's foremost modern sculptor Yuyu Yang.

With no academic credentials and four young children in tow, Ju Ming was hardly a choice candidate for a sculptor but Yuyu Yang saw potential in the earnest young man and took him in as an apprentice.

Eight years later, Ju Ming stunned Taiwan with his debut solo show at the National History Museum of Taipei where his 'nativist' sculptures of folk heroes and rural life met with immediate approval and gained widespread acclaim. Ju Ming, the unknown woodcarver from Miaoli County became a national icon overnight.

Yuyu Yang played another part in Ju Ming's path to fame, for it was at the prompting of his mentor that Ju Ming took up the art of Taichi boxing.

What started as a quest for physical strength and fitness soon evolved into a journey into the heart of Chinese aesthetics and philosophy – Ju Ming became fascinated with the principle of Yin and Yang that governed Taichi boxing, and started creating sculptures based on the Taichi strokes.

Taiwan's art community, favouring his nativist works, was dismayed by Ju Ming's new preoccupation and vehemently opposed his desire to exhibit the Taichi sculptures abroad.

But Ju Ming proved his critics wrong. Bold and energetic, quintessentially Chinese yet universally appreciated, the Taichi sculptures clinched Ju Ming's place as a Chinese sculptor of international merit.

Ever restless in his search for artistic breakthroughs, Ju Ming left Taiwan for New York City, the hub of international art. Famous in Taiwan but totally unknown in New York, Ju Ming had to build his reputation from scratch.

For a year, he had to work out of a garage and struggled to gain exposure in this foreign land. Ju Ming's persistence paid off when the Max Hutchinson Gallery hosted his first solo show in the USA and sold 2 of his works. New York City completed Ju Ming's transformation into an international artist and it was here that he came into contact with avant garde artistic movements such as performance art and pop art.

Inspired by the free-reining spirit of pop art, he started experimenting with different materials for his Living World series including wood, bronze, stainless steel and styrofoam.

In 1987, Ju Ming bought an acre of land in Jinshan county, an hour from Taipei city, intending to use this space to store his life-sized sculptures but these plans soon evolved into a 12-year quest to build a museum and an outdoor sculpture garden.

During this time, Ju Ming faced several seemingly insurmountable obstacles and even ran out of money but once again he persisted and in 1999, the Ju Ming Museum opened its doors to the public. Covering more than 11 hectares of land, the museum showcases the full range of Ju Ming's works and is testament to why he is considered one of Taiwan's living national treasures.


Incidentally, the Singapore Arts Museum (SAM) staged his works from 1 July to 19 September in 2004 in Singapore.

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