Protesters at James Cohan Gallery this past Sunday. Photo: KahEan Chang
By Alex Greenberger
Following a protest this past weekend, Omer Fast has responded to criticisms of his show at New York’s James Cohan Gallery, which features an installation that attempts to return the Lower East Side space to its pre-gentrified state and includes objects associated with Chinatown in some stereotypes. The Israeli-born artist could not be reached when ARTnews reached out for a comment on Sunday evening; he now suggests the condemnations of his show might be misplaced. His statement, along with one from the gallery, appeared earlier tonight on the gallery’s website without an official announcement.
This past Sunday, a group of protesters, including representatives from the activist collectives Chinatown Art Brigade and Decolonize This Place as well as Chinatown residents, occupied the James Cohan Gallery’s space in the neighborhood. They brought with them signs that labeled the work “racist” and urged the gallery to shut down the exhibition. “It’s on them to figure out how to respond appropriately to the Chinatown community that is deeply offended by their racist show,” Chinatown Art Brigade told ARTnews earlier this week.
The installation at the center of the debate resembles what a release calls a “waiting room,” complete with shoddy tiling, dents, graffiti, and Chinese menus. A glass display with phone cases replaces an assistants’ desk, and the facade of the gallery has been covered in cement. Visitors can sit on cheap folding chairs to watch Fast’s 2008 video Looking Pretty for God (After G.W.) on a flatscreen monitor. (A hallway connected to the “waiting room” leads visitors to a space where Fast’s 2016 3-D video August is being screened.) But the installation does not resemble the market that was previously on the ground floor of 291 Grand Street before James Cohan Gallery opened its doors there.