Artists Push to Pull Works from Collection of Museum of Chinese in America

July 14th, 2021

Just months after New York’s Museum of Chinese in America (MoCA) was forced to cancel an exhibition by pioneering artist collective Godzilla after nineteen of that group’s members withdrew over what they contended was the institution’s support for a large new jail near its premises, artists Colin Chin and Nicholas Liem are asking that their work be removed from an upcoming MoCA exhibition and from the museum’s collection, Hyperallergic reports.

The pair limned their request in a July 12 letter to MoCA leaders, naming their photo series “Documenting Persistence in Oakland’s Chinatown” as the work they are seeking to withdraw. Centering on the California neighborhood’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the series was slated to appear in the exhibition “Responses: Asian American Voices Resisting the Tides of Racism,” opening July 15.

Chin and Liem pointed to the $35 million concession received by the museum from the city as evidence of MoCA’s support of city’s plan to tear down the 15-story Manhattan Detention Center and replace it with a 29-story edifice in the same location at the edge of Chinatown. Multiple neighborhood organizations such as the Chinatown Art Brigade and their allies have campaigned strongly against the new jail, claiming that its construction will disrupt commercial activity in the area, which took a tremendous hit in the past year owing to the Covid-19 crisis, and that it imperils the livelihoods of Chinatown’s mostly immigrant elderly residents and small-business owners.

“We believe MoCA’s complicity with mass incarceration—which disproportionately affects Black and Latinx people—and the gentrification of Chinatown undermines its aforementioned purpose,” wrote the duo. “It is contrary to the expressions of solidarity between the Asian American and Black communities against police violence and gentrification highlighted in our work.”

MoCA president Nancy Yao Masbach cast Chin and Liem’s decision to withdraw as “guided by misinformation,” noting, “MoCA has always been opponents of jail construction in Chinatown which we have made public.”

Chin and Liem additionally accused MoCA cochair Jonathan Chu of contributing to the gentrification of Chinatown through what they cited as his role in the closure of two unionized restaurants, Jing Fong and Silver Palace. Chu was the landlord of the former restaurant, which shuttered earlier this year, and has contested his role in the closing. His grandfather Joseph Chu in the early 1970s bought the building that housed the Silver Palace and later the New Silver Palace, both of which saw workers demand justice in relation to tip stealing and union-busting at the beginning of the millennium. Breaking ground in 2013, the Chus erected a twenty-two-story Hyatt on the site.