“See the world while living in Taiwan” is the motto of the Chi Mei Museum, located in Tainan’s Rende district.
Though the museum’s impressive art collection may focus on seeing the western world, the museum’s scope extends well beyond fine arts to include a truly international selection of antiquities, furniture, musical instruments, arms and armor, fossils, meteorites, and taxidermy.
Yes, taxidermy. The museum, housed on four floors of the Chi Mei Corporation’s headquarters in an industrial park, devotes a large part of two floors to stuffed animals from the world over. Taiwan’s native species are well represented, but no continent gets short-shifted. Included are several massive walruses, elephants; and two polar bears, one standing on his hind legs, frozen at full height. All of the animals are displayed in natural (if a bit overcrowded) scenes and poses, save one: a tiny taxidermied orchestra of white bunnies, each holding a miniature instrument, is conducted by a stuffed squirrel. No wonder Forbes magazine once called the Chi Mei Museum “one of the world’s most surprising art collections.”
The tiny rabbit orchestra is housed in a case not far from the museum’s musical instrument collection where, several times a day, visitors can see a performance of the museum’s many player pianos, nickelodeons, and similar automated musical boxes. Ever seen a “player banjo”? Well, the Chi Mei Museum has one. It’s gigantic, and it’s a fair bet this is the only place in Taiwan, if not the world, where you can still see and hear such a thing in operation.
Among the museum’s more traditional musical instruments are several renowned string instruments, including a cello and violin made by Antonio Stradivari. The museum loans these instruments to well-known musicians, such as Yo Yo Ma, and in the gift shop, visitors can purchase CDs with recordings made using instruments from the collection.
The bulk of the museum is devoted to painting and sculpture, primarily European. Some of the big names from the Renaissance through Post-Impressionism can be found here, including El Greco, Rodin, and Picasso. However, the galleries are dominated by the museum’s treasure trove of Neoclassical and Romantic portraits and landscapes. Of course, only a portion of the permanent collection is exhibited at one time, so it is possible that with each visit to the museum, visitors will have a chance to “see the world” from an entirely different angle. No matter what, there are many truly breathtaking pieces here. The galleries are, in general, kept quite dark, which no doubt preserves the paintings’ life, and also helps to make the many vibrant oil paintings look particularly beautiful. Most of the pieces include written introductions in both Chinese and English.
The art in the Chi Mei Museum is all privately owned by the corporation, and the museum is entirely free to visit. Reservations are required and may be made by phone, or online using the website’s convenient calendar. The museum has a gift shop and a branch of Chi Mei Café serving meals, desserts, coffee, and tea. The museum also has its own orchestra, which performs on select weekends.
The museum is about fifteen minutes’ drive from Tainan city center, and can also be reached by taking a train to Bao-An station, then transferring to a taxi. Buses from Tainan city also reach the industrial park. More information is available on the museum’s website.
Hours: Daily, 10:00 AM ~ 5:00 PM; viewed by appointment only
Location: No.59-1, Sanjia Village, Rende District (仁德區), Tainan City