Controversial Chinatown Gallery Exhibit Forges on Despite Accusations of ‘Poverty Porn’

Posted on: October 24th, 2017 at 5:06 am by

The James Cohan Gallery is not deterred by the vociferous opposition to its latest exhibit, which transformed the showroom into a “Chinese storefront.” Artist Omer Fast’s August will run its course through the end of the week (October 29).

Last week, a grassroots action by the Chinatown Art Brigade protested the installation – what they called “Poverty Porn” – accusing Fast of perpetuating negative stereotypes about Chinatown. The team assembled on the sidewalk then entered the gallery, carrying bilingual signs like “racist art has no business here” and “racism disguised as art.”

“James Cohan gallery is profiting off of racist stereotypes, narratives and images of a dirty, filthy ridden Chinatown ghetto,” Chinatown Art Brigade organizer Betty Yu previously told us. “It’s yet another example of how gentrifying institutions appropriate histories of violent oppression to garner cultural, monetary and artistic clout.”

Photo: Chinatown Art Brigade

Cohan and the artist are together doubling down, though. In response to the charged rhetoric, The eponymous gallerist told the New York Times last week, “People are free to draw their own conclusions about art, but they should also be given the opportunity to do so — without censorship, barriers or intimidation.”

Fast himself told the publication, “I’m truly sorry that some persons find the installation insensitive or offensive” and that he “expects this sort of characterization from right-wing trolls carrying tiki-torches and howling for walls to be built. I don’t expect it from left-wing activists in Lower Manhattan.”

The Brigade was quick to respond with its own comment, in part:

The Chinatown Art Brigade is not surprised that James Cohan gallery’s immediate reaction to Sunday’s organized action would be to cry censorship, and also simultaneously claim that our protest was exactly what their artist intended. In an attempt to avert any substantive dialogue, both the gallery and artist have chosen to ignore our concerns and assert that they are the victims in a debate about artistic freedom.

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