Taipei, Nov. 12 (CNA) Under questioning from a legislator, the head of the National Palace Museum (NPM) revealed for the first time on Monday a potentially controversial plan to shut down the museum's Taipei branch for three years starting in 2020 for a major overhaul.
Kuomintang Legislator Ko Chih-en cited the minutes of an NPM meeting to quiz NPM Director Chen Chi-nan about the possibility of the shutdown and the move of the museum's collections to its southern branch about 250 kilometers away in Chiayi County.
Ko said the plan that Chen described in the private meeting is for the Taipei museum to stop accepting applications for exhibitions after July 1, 2019 and then begin an overhaul of its temporary storage facilities.
The main building in Taipei would then be closed in 2020 and all of its collections moved out in 2021, with the renovation to be carried out in 2022 and 2023, Ko said at a legislative hearing.
Chen responded that while details of the plan have not yet been finalized, "we are basically moving in this direction." He added that an assessment of the need to fully close the NPM in Taipei is underway.
Chen contended at the hearing that because the Taipei facility and southern branch are both part of the NPM, there would be "no issue of closing the NPM" and that renovating the Taipei branch would simply mean changing the exhibition venue.
It would be the first time that the NPM's main complex would be completely shut down since it was opened in 1965, and Ko expressed concern that the move could adversely affect tourism in Taipei and hurt the museum's finances.
The NPM in Taipei has a huge treasure trove of artworks and is one of Taipei's main tourist destinations, attracting nearly 5 million visitors per year, and Ko questioned whether the NPM has come up with measures to complement the closure and renovation.
Chen acknowledged that the Taipei museum draws 4-5 million visitors a year, with 75 percent of them overseas visitors, but said the museum hoped that more overseas visitors could be drawn to the southern branch during the Taipei museum's renovation.
The Executive Yuan approved a new NPM plan in December 2017 that consisted of overhauling its main building in 2022 and 2023, but the plan did not include completely shutting down the entire complex, according to Ko.
The southern branch of the NPM, originally conceived to focus on Asian art and culture, has seen a steady decline in visitors since opening on a trial basis in December 2015, falling from 1.47 million in 2016 to 970,000 in 2017.
It was expected to draw 780,000 to 800,000 people this year.
One museum expert said the plan was highly unusual because most major museums in the West may close off some of their buildings for renovations but almost never the entire facility.