Tony Wong, Deluder, 1985, oil on canvas, 69 1/2h x 72w in.

“Discourse and power are mutually constitutive, and determining who is legible and visible in the art world” – Howie Chen, curator

A unique exhibition is on display in a time when racial and cultural acceptance is at a crossroad. GODZILLA: Echoes from the 1990’s Asian American Arts Network – on view at Eric Firestone Gallery in New York City through March 16 and curated by noted art historian Jennifer Samet – defines an important movement in Asian-American art history, and how issues of exclusion still manifests itself for Asian Americans artists and their communities.

Around 39 artists, all from diverse regions and backgrounds, come together as part of a history that was first created in New York City around 1990 – channeling the complexities of representation within a predominantly white art world, and how these issues were, and still are, relevant prerequisites for creative protest and expression.

The exhibition, split between two locations, presents an elaborate array of works, directing its attention not only to messages of a much-needed outlet, but also touching base on a still myopic Western view. As the art critic Dawn Chan said in 2016: “I leave most art shows still looking for my own face in the present.” In lieu of such needed dialogue, this show couldn’t have come at a better period.

The first work, The Great Mesmer (1992-2023) by Indo-British artist Uday Dhar, is an elaborate painting done in a hodge-podge of studio sweepings, sand, oil and encaustic (just to name a few) – most powerful in scope and a beloved reminder of his South Asian roots. What appears to be a portrait of the artist becomes more of a hypnotic series of swirls, darting eyes and shapes, all floating around a body suspended in space. Most striking of all is the color: intense reds, purples and blues permeate the work, all weaving within a gust of excitement.

Hung Liu, Cookie Queen, 1994, oil on shaped canvas, 67h x 48w in.

Adjacent to it is Cookie Queen (1994), by the late China-born artist Hung Liu. It is an exquisite piece of what appears to be a female bakery plant worker gazing at the viewer. Liu directs the viewer’s attention toward what she calls “weeping realism,” a technique of brush washes and drips done with linseed oil which permeates throughout the canvas, adding to the impression of nostalgia and memories within the details of its subject matter.

Vietnam-born artist An Pham leans toward references to displacement, political turmoil and war. The mixed-media Miss Hanoi (1993) incorporates materials such as wood, neon light, fabric and resin (see image) to create a kind of world where solid shapes, colors and images of upright woman fighters, comes in connection with the tragedy of the Vietnam War. The self-titled caption, blazoned on top of a pink camouflaged figure and in huge capital letters, makes the work all more apparent. 

An Pham, Miss Hanoi, 1993, wood, neon light, resin, fabric, acrylic paint, metallic formica, 114h x 64w x 4 1/2d in.

One artist I found most striking is New York-based Nina Kuo, whose work entitled Pigtail Family Boombox, Color Chart, (1999-2006) presents a take on the role of women, feminism and identity within the scope of Asian American art. Utilizing various media, in this case drawing on acrylic rag, Kuo shows a world of the traditional and the modern: two figures interconnected by a long, continuous ponytail, while a radio boombox lays in the foreground, and Mondrian-like squares shining above. Interweaving amongst these images are swishes of various blues, yellows and browns, making this small piece contemplative and engaging to look at.

Skowmon Hastanan, Victory of the Goddess, 2001, digital photo-collage, 32h x 31 1/4w in.

Tony Wong’s work Deluder (1985) is a huge painting full of vibrancy and color, done with thick daubs of oil which literally stretches beyond the edges of the canvas, giving it a powerful presence. What I found interesting is that the figure in the middle reminds me a little of Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare – in this case, a nude body is carrying (or fighting with) a demonic-like being (perhaps representing deception) as it struggles blindly to walk through the rough forces of what clearly is either water, wind or both.

Back and Fourth (2016) by Indonesia-born artist Diyan Achjadi, is a neat yet powerful display of a large dragon-like silhouette, centrally placed and containing various frames of meticulous hand-painted patterns and images flowing in different directions. All of this activity becomes stifled on the left side of the work by a huge, teeth-like cut, while the right side are brush washes of clay pink color with two or three sketches of dragons roaming about.

Another great looking piece, Victory of the Goddess (2001) by Thailand-born Skowmon Hastanan, speaks to the notion of “Asian Fetish” – images of a famous Thai model who appeared in Playboy magazine is juxtaposed with historical / mythical figures and imagery. These graphic interpretations present the viewer with a deep understanding about feudal colonialism as historical context on violence, and the present-day objectification and exploitation of Asian women. 

Nina Kuo, Pigtail Family Boombox, Color Chart, 1999-2006, drawing on acrylic rag, 14h x 16w in.

Lastly, making my way toward the back of the gallery, Happy World (1984-2010) is a huge, whimsical work by Korean artist Lk-Joong Kang. In what appears to be a combination of painting, installation and optical performance art, the artist presents a wall-covered assortment of various items normally found at a traditional Chinese curio shop – a world synonymous with objectification and stereotypes that the Western world still associates with anything Asian and Asian American. Yet, as this grand visual experience takes hold, a gold-hued Buddha sits peacefully meditative in the foreground.

In a nutshell, this fine show should not be missed and do plan to see it if you can.

The exhibition will be on view at the Eric Firestone Gallery (4 and 40 Great Jones Street in New York) till March 16th.

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