From railway signs to perfume bottles to Taiwan’s official passport stamp, the artist is giving ancient lettering a modern twist. How will her work go down at Honk Kong’s controversial new M+ gallery?

The most striking thing about Tong Yang-tze, sitting inside her modest Taipei studio residence, is her confidence, and the sense that she’s had it all along. Now in her late 70s and considered one of Taiwan’s foremost calligraphers and artists, Tong grins and jokes over cups of green tea and local sweets, belying her fame and cultural significance. “Of course I’m good!” she laughs at one point, recalling an offer early in her career from her former university to teach. “I said no, I don’t want a teaching job. At that time, everybody needed a job but I wanted to be an artist. No regrets.”

Last week Tong’s calligraphy with a modern art twist greeted visitors to the hotly anticipated M+ museum in Hong Kong, an ambitious decade-long project to create what has been dubbed Asia’s Tate Modern. The 33-gallery space, in a harbourside building designed by “starchitects” Herzog & de Meuron in collaboration with TFP Farrells and Arup, opened last week.

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