The Pier-2 Art Center, Kaohsiung’s Art District

An optical illusion comprised of red containers, one of multiple sculptures across Pier-2 Art Center

photography by: Omri Westmark

In a city whose harbor is among the world’s 20 busiest container ports, bulky hangars are a common sight throughout the dockside. Defying this humdrum scenery, however, is a series of repurposed warehouses along Kaohsiung’s time-honored wharf. With eye-catching murals, quirky sculptures, trendy shops and copious art venues, Pier-2 Art Center offers a fascinating glimpse of the city’s emerging avant-garde scene.

Since its establishment in the 17th century, Kaohsiung has rapidly grown from a tiny fishing village into Taiwan’s main port city, accounting for nearly 70 percent of its maritime trade. Given the port’s ginormous scale, large swaths of land along the waterfront were dotted with massive storge facilities during the last couple of decades.

 

In 2000, the National Day Fireworks were intended to take place in Kaohsiung for the first time in its history. After several attempts to find the ideal location for the event, the local government allocated a cluster of abandoned warehouses around the old harbor. Few months later, a group of artists took a foothold at the area as they campaigned for its transformation into an artsy enclave by the name of Pier-2 Art Center.

 

It took no less than five years until their dreams came into fruition when Kaohsiung City Bureau of Cultural Affairs assumed control over the complex, ushering a new era of development and rebranding. In the following years, the area evolved from an unsightly place with little to no interest into a cultural hub, hosting dozens of festivals and exhibitions within its confines.

 

The once derelict hangars were renovated, becoming packed with little shops, buzzy eateries and perhaps most importantly, a glut of contemporary art galleries and studios, where some of the country’s most pioneering artists opted to fulfil their creative endeavors. The district’s innovative spirt culminates every year in a series of events, including the International Container Art Festival, Kaohsiung Youth Innovative Design Exhibition and the Iron Sculpture Festival, to name just a few.

 

Apart from the endless medley of creative spaces to explore, the district is also peppered with a slew of colorful murals and whimsical sculptures, the most notable of which are a red-hued dragon armed with intimidating fangs, a weighty transformer as well as a Penrose illusion made entirely of crimson containers.

 

Pier-2 Art Center is easily accessible by the Circular light rail, with a pair of tram stops located in the very heart of the district. One of the stations, Dayi Pier-2, sits in front of Great Harbor Bridge, purportedly Asia’s longest rotating bridge and a monument to awe at by its own right.