The Museum of Chinese in America
I recently visited the newly re-opened MOCA–Museum of Chinese in America. Drawn partially, I’ll admit, by the museum’s architect, Maya Lin, I was also interested in seeing what, if any new design ideas on how to present this history–“Chinese in America”–an example of these unique groups building museums to tell specific cultural identity stories. Firstly, I find the title of this museum interesting–“Museum of Chinese in America,” not “Museum of the History of Chinese Americans” or “Museum of American Chinese,” but “Museum of Chinese in America.” The words “Chinese in America” suggest to me a purposeful separation of “Chinese” and “America” and does not imply overlap or inclusion. Perhaps that is part of the point, that for most of the history of Chinese immigrating to the U.S. our culture separated and labeled them as “Chinese” and not “American.” I thought that this was particularly relevant to our class conversation about the growing presence of such group and identity-specific museums. I have to question, who is the audience? Throughout my visit I felt as though the museum made no effort to connect this “Chinese” experience in America to any other immigrant group (other than a brief commentary on the Japanese interment during WWII). If museums keep telling these specific stories and do not connect them out to a larger point or group, aren’t they missing part of the point of the very history they are trying to present? Regardless, some of the objects on display in the museum, e.g. a candy box for “Fu Manchus” or a copy of “The Good Earth,” were great tools that could speak about racism without use of many words. I wish the current section, instead of having a wall of famous Asian Americans–Maya Lin, Yo Yo Ma, Ang Lee, they might have discussed current immigration or racial issues because this story is still ongoing–just because we have museums that discuss these issues historically, does not mean they are not still alive and relevant today.
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Roxy Paine's "Maelstrom" at the Met
Roxy Paine’s Maelstrom transforms the Met’s rooftop into a wonderful web of art, nature, machinery and people. Stainless-steel branches spread and weave in ways that constantly evoke organic and inorganic references. Visitors negotiate paths through Paine’s play of thick and thin, heavy and light growths of steel, revealing Maelstrom’s ability to appear to be constantly moving, changing, growing. Paine is able to maintain an elusive quality, much like real maelstroms, or whirlpools, do in nature–one is never quite sure if this is truly evoking nature or not. For, when observed closely, the elegant silver-like branches are not natural at all–instead, they are industrial tubes soldered together, some still bearing the blue letters of the factory that made them. Another interesting detail appears in Paine’s decision to connect sections of the piece to the water spigot’s located on the walls. When I asked one of the guards the purpose of that connection, he explained that there was no functional purpose, expect maybe to help ground the piece from the wind. In addition to problems with the wind, the guard also mentioned museum’s concern of lighting striking the piece. Thus, anytime it rained, the guard explained that they had to shut the rooftop down and prevent visitors from walking around a literal “lighting magnet.” Hearing these stories furthered my impression of Paine’s ability to blur the lines between art, machines and nature–which is really in control?
Watch the video showing the installation process.