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  • Oct 23, 2017

Omer Fast Exhibition in New York Generates Controversy

Installation view of OMER FAST’s "August" at James Cohan Gallery, New York, 2017. The exhibition recreates the interiors of a rundown Chinatown store, which has garnered backlash from the local art community and anti-gentrification activist groups.

Three days later, James Cohan Gallery released a statement to address the controversy, stating that the artist’s exhibition “provides an intentionally uncomfortable look inward,” and that “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.” Concurrently, Fast also shared a statement via the gallery’s website, calling his transformation of James Cohan Gallery’s facade and interior a “symbolic and temporary act of erasure” meant to “recreate what the space looked like before the gallery moved in almost two years ago.” The artist defended his work by saying that it draws a parallel between the gallery’s entry into Chinatown and the immigrant experience, describing the gallery as “a transplant that tries to affect an appearance and blend in, even while its essence is undeniably foreign.”

Facing criticism, Fast said he would expect the protestors’ characterization of him as “a non-US and non-New York artist” from “right-wing trolls carrying tiki-torches and howling for walls to be built.” He has asked the staff at James Cohan Gallery not to take down any of the protestors’ posters.

Omer Fast’s “August” is on view at James Cohan Gallery, New York, until October 29, 2017.

Look out for ArtAsiaPacific’s November/December issue, which includes regular contributor Mimi Wong’s essay on how a new generation of Chinese diaspora artists and curators in New York are tracing the footsteps of their forebears by operating their own spaces, in turn tackling the cultural limitations of institutional support.

Brady Ng is the reviews editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

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