To James Cohan Gallery,
We are writing to you as a collective of artists, activists and community residents to condemn your current exhibition August, in which the facade and interior of the gallery have been transformed into “the waiting room of a Chinatown business with an eclectic aesthetic.” This “eclectic aesthetic” decidedly includes purposely constructed dents and holes in the wall and furniture, graffiti, broken ATMs, Chinese menus and a tarnished awning. Not only does this guise have little to no bearing on the actual works being shown, the choice of visual signifiers is a racist aggression towards the community of Chinatown that James Cohan Gallery is currently gentrifying.
As a gallery representing the non U.S., non New York based artist Omer Fast, it is reprehensible that you see fit to support this exploration of “temporal space” while contributing to the displacement of low income tenants and business owners in Chinatown. The artist may be heavily invested in ideas of ambivalence, ambiguity and the theatrics of performing authenticity, but let it be known that there is no ambiguity in the critical conditions residents here are facing today. The relative ease with which the gallery has greenlit this “futile gesture” and the tone deafness with which the artist creates his poor facsimile belie a deep ignorance of what’s at stake in immigrant communities of color and our efforts to cement humane, sustainable living conditions. It is not the first example of gentrifiers using appropriated histories of violent oppression to garner cultural or artistic clout. This exhibition is a hostile act towards communities on the front lines fighting tenant harassment, cultural appropriation and erasure.
The conception and installation of this show reifies racist narratives of uncleanliness, otherness and blight that have historically been projected onto Chinatown. We cannot underscore enough how offensive this is to the people who live and work here. The artist’s choice to ignore the presence of a thriving community filled with families and businesses reduces their existence to poverty porn. This has a real and negative impact on how Chinatown is perceived by non- residents, politicians and developers who view low-income communities as wastelands ripe for investment and exploitation.
We firmly believe in the transformative power of art and culture to amplify--not undermine--the struggles to protect and preserve our neighborhoods, our homes and the businesses who serve us. As an art collective, we are outraged at this public display of privilege masquerading as art. Your appalling exhibition should be shut down.
We are horrified by your actions,
Chinatown Art Brigade