A Collector’s Vision: Kuo Su-jen Brings Art into Old City Streets


2017 / March

Sanya Huang /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Robert Green

Since returning from the United States in 1996 and buying her first collectible artwork (a figure of Sakya­muni Buddha by Liao Hong­biao), Kuo Su-jen, who will be 60 next year, has continued to expand her art collection and has worked to restore historic residences, combining architectural aesthetics with art promotion to infuse beauty into the daily lives of ever more people. Interweaving old and new in this way, she is opening a new chapter for urban aesthetics in Taipei.

In 1996, property developer Kuo Su-jen, a passionate lover of the arts and chairwoman of the Rich Development Company, set up the Kuo Mu ­Sheng Foundation and invited her father to invest in the venture. The following year, Kuo established the foundation’s art center, and in recent years she has helped to restore a succession of old buildings: Tai­pei Story House; the galleries Bloom and Gallery Life Seeding, located on Di­hua Street; old National Taiwan University dorms on Wen­zhou Street, which are tentatively slated to open at the end of the year; and the former residence of the philosopher Thomé H. Fang on Gu­ling Street, which is still being renovated.

Gallery Life Seeding:

From doctor’s digs to exhibition space

Ask Kuo about her collection and she can describe the items at great length. But if you ask her how she selects artworks, her answer is surprisingly simple: “I just follow my tastes.” Her collection, which is barely contained within three spacious rooms, is stored in a series of brocaded boxes. 

Liu Wen-­liang, Kuo’s husband and the current CEO of the Kuo Mu ­Sheng Foundation, explains why they opened Gallery Life Seeding: “She was dying to have her own art promotion space,” he says.

The gallery, which opened in December 2016 and is located in a row of old shops, was once the residence of ­Huang Zi­zheng, sometime physician to Puyi, the  last emperor of China. Repurposed into a living arts space by Kuo, the gallery is separated into three different parts—one selling artistic craft items, another selling coffee beans hand-roasted in earthenware, and finally a teahouse cum art gallery, which from time to time hosts exhibits by Taiwanese artists.

In December last year, the gallery invited flower-­arranging masters to practice their art in the earthenware jars and vases of potter Shih Chi-yao, enlivening the somewhat staid exhibition space in keeping with Kuo’s “let art enter life” aesthetic principle. Kuo raised a blue teacup and showed how cracks spread over the surface when it came into contact with water. When water of different temperatures was poured into the vessel, the original solid blue surface splintered into layers of crackling in various shades, giving life to the once-lifeless object. 


A riverside art salon

Kuo grew anxious during the three years it took for Gallery Life Seeding to secure a permit from the Tai­pei City Government. One day she walked further along Di­hua Street and up to the second floor of a building there, and looking around her she could see the potential to create a large space stretching across ten shops. Kuo brimmed with excitement, and in February 2015 Bloom was born.   

At Bloom, Kuo sells works by young artists, allowing the spirit of youth to infuse the space and enabling young artists to make a living by selling their own works.

“Our resources aren’t unlimited and we can’t buy the priciest artworks, but we have some means and can collect artwork we like and so allow young artists to keep creating,” Liu Wen-­liang says. “If we find just one great artist among 10,000, it’s worth it. Even if they don’t all become great artists, spaces like Bloom allow art to enter more people’s lives. In this way, won’t the arts be elevated over time?”

“Since Bloom’s opening the year before last, we have received an endless stream of exhibition proposals from young artists, and the exhibition schedule was quickly booked,” Kuo says.

So, why do young artists like to exhibit at Bloom? “To show your work in a museum or exhibition space, you need to have established a reputation, Kuo says, and galleries require artworks to fetch a certain price.”  While Bloom has no such restrictions, young artists have found sales to be rather good, and gradually trust has been built between artists and the gallery. But just what are Bloom’s criteria for selecting art? “Purely what we like,” Kuo says. Really, it’s just that simple.

Taipei Story House:

An arts classroom

Built in 1913 and located in Yuan­shan on the south bank of the Kee­lung River, the Tai­pei Story House reverted to Tai­pei City Government management in 2015 and its operation was then offered for public bidding. “My brother’s friend was looking for a place to display European porcelain and wanted to use the foundation’s name to apply for a permit to establish an exhibition space in the Tai­pei Story House,” Kuo says. “It seemed better to apply ourselves, however, than to have someone else apply in our name.”

Around that time Ismet Erikan, ­representative at the Turkish Trade Office in Tai­pei, got wind that Kuo had won the management rights for the Tai­pei Story House and they jointly organized a special exhibition last September: “The Soul of Hands: Kilims and Ceramics from Turkey.” Aside from the kilim woven carpets and ceramic arts, both very typical of Turkey, the exhibition also featured a Turkish ceramicist who demonstrated his art, lectures on Turkish culture and a Turkish bazaar. The exhibition proved highly popular.

“We expect ourselves to operate to museum standards,” says Wang Ya Ting, chief of Tai­pei Story House’s Exhibition Department. An important part of that is not to ignore the teaching of aesthetics. For example, when they planned the “Story of Majolica” event, they prepared a kit for decorating majolica tiles that would allow people to better understand the process of creating precious Victorian-style majolica through first-hand experience.

People’s lives cannot be separated from material things. Kuo Su-jen feels that if people could choose they would naturally prefer to use objects possessing artistic beauty. In the case of kilims and ceramics, people do not use woven carpets just to keep warm or pottery just to serve food and beverages. The artistry, colors and designs used in their manufacture are a microcosm of the life and culture of Turkey.

Tangible materials sustain the intangible past and serve as an extension of memory and a cultural medium. Perhaps they also embody our aspirations for the future.

Thomé H. Fang’s residence and the

university dorms of Wenzhou Street

Dadaocheng is zoned as a commercial district, where urban planning rules permit a high “floor area ratio”—the ratio of a building’s floor area to the land that it occupies. When old low-rise buildings are renovated, the surplus portion of their theoretical maximum floor area, plus an additional bonus amount, can be sold off and allocated to new buildings on other sites. This transfer mechanism provides an incentive for restoring historic buildings—one that Gallery Life Seeding also benefited from. Kuo’s involvement in renovations of old buildings in Da­dao­cheng began as a happy accident. She was looking to purchase surplus floor area to transfer to a new construction project, and in the process she discovered the beauty of the old buildings.

More recently, during a construction project on He­ping West Road, Kuo noticed an old building to the rear of the site, facing Gu­ling Street, that had fallen into disrepair. She was told that this was the former residence of Thomé H. Fang. Only later did she learn that he was not just a philosopher but also a kind of teacher for the nation. It is said that the late president ­Chiang Kai-shek often ­visited him. Kuo, who has taken an ­interest in Buddhism in recent years, also found great resonance in Fang’s self-directed Buddhist studies. She became ever more determined to restore his former residence, and she checks on the progress monthly.

The project brought Kuo into frequent contact with National Taiwan University, which holds the property rights for the Fang residence, and in this way she discovered that a number of old dormitory buildings along Wen­zhou Street and He­ping East Road were desperately in need of repair and rejuvenation. She was particularly attracted to seven pine trees, resplendent in their emerald-green foliage, that grow near the old buildings. She secured rights to manage the restoration through the government’s rehabilitate-operate-transfer program. The site is tentatively slated to open at the end of the year, and Kuo’s current plans envisage its hosting a museum for Theravada Buddhist arts and lectures on Buddhism and Buddhist thought.

Spaces that tell stories:

A duet between buildings and art

Restoring and preserving old buildings in addition to continuing to promote the arts takes significant investment capital. This prompted Kuo’s 17-year-old daughter to ask with concern: “Mom, won’t you end up going broke?”

“There’s no point in having too much money,” Kuo replied. “I love to do it, and I’m willing to do it, so I do it.”

In her daily operations Kuo runs a tight ship, adapting as needs demand based on daily financial reports and allocating resources in a flexible manner. She set up a separate room at Bloom, for example, to sell handi­crafts from various countries, including the Turkish carpets and traditional handpainted ceramics that proved popular at the Tai­pei Story House’s “The Soul of Hands” exhibition, thereby increasing the gallery’s revenues.

Kuo has never explained exactly what it is that she sees in the art that has captured her attention and interest for the past few decades. “When I look upon artworks and appreciate their beauty, I forget all my troubles,” she says simply.

So, just what would Kuo do if she could do absolutely anything? “If I could, I would like to build a museum like the Miho Museum in Koka, Japan, in Yang­ming­shan,” she says. Perhaps in that kind of vast, geometrically ordered space, Kuo’s art collection could be freed from its protective cases and at last be displayed for the entire world to enjoy. Just as in the old buildings that she renovates and revitalizes, it is not only the repair of the physical space, but also the infusion of an artistic sensibility that restores to their former glory the history and stories that had been buried and forgotten amid the decay and desolation.                                 

繁體中文 日文

城市美學在街尾 郭淑珍讓藝術走入生活

文‧黃淑姿 圖‧莊坤儒 翻譯‧Robert Green















此時,駐台北土耳其貿易辦事處代表艾瑞康(Ismet Erikan)獲知郭淑珍取得台北故事館經營權,因藝術而結識數年的兩人,在去年9月攜手促成「土耳其手作之美」特展,除了展出土耳其最具代表性的奇林(kilim)織毯與陶瓷藝術,更邀請土耳其陶藝家現場示範創作,舉辦土耳其文化講座、土耳其市集,大受歡迎。加上台北故事館原本有茶藝、陶藝系列講座,人氣更高。














暮らしの隅々に美学を ——郭淑珍の描く夢

文・黃淑姿 写真・莊坤儒 翻訳・久保 恵子




























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