Shirts ‘n Skins

A lot of years ago, I decided to stop making art. Not because I didn’t like doing it. On the contrary, I was nearly addicted to sitting in front of a painting, getting lost in every last inch of it, obsessing over the relationship between forms and colors, sorting out the next best move. But something changed when I began curating, or it might have been that the decision to curate was a symptom of a larger shift in my own thinking about art and my function within it. In any case, I began to question the very notion of making art into something physical. And that’s when it became clear that I had outgrown artmaking. Because the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like going to the studio to produce art was just an excuse to listen to some new rap on my old Sony boombox.

At that time, curating was an exciting new way to approach art. It was a medium unto itself and its rules seemed as nebulous as any art practice. Over the years, having worked with or in various institutions, I’ve realized that curating is not an alternative way for me to make art. Instead, it’s an administrative discipline involving bureaucracy, management, research, artistic creativity, networking and publicity. Curating is soft coercion, a choreography of information, resources and material towards the production of production. Shows are perpetually in a state of development until that month-long flurry of activity funnels the scraps of work into a cohesive meta-work.

I sometimes wonder how much longer I’ll be a curator, if some other ‘practice’ will overwhelm this interest in organizing exhibitions like how curating usurped artmaking for me. But then I realize that I’m sitting at the convergence of Jeremy Lin’s rise, my own role at the Museum of Chinese in America, and the much touted (and feared) China century. Basketball has somehow renewed and refreshed the substance of what I do. Basketball, through the electric play and hype of Jeremy Lin, has now engaged my racial cognizance, which, now that I think about it, is why I started making art in the first place.

Every time Lin splits a double-team, looks around for open teammates, and goes up hard for a contested layup, I hold my breath, pouring all my stockpiled hopes into the next split second, hoping the ball drops because if it doesn’t, if he gets blocked or turns it over looking to pass, suddenly it would seem that we had lost so much of what he had gained. So much that it would take years for us to get it back, this progress in the perception of Asian Americans, but for him all it would take is a sweet dime to number 7, or a three in the fourth quarter. That’s how much he means, that he can effect my own perception of curating by making it happen on the hardwood.

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One Comment on “Shirts ‘n Skins”

  1. As a former wannabe curator, I see the allure of the practice. As one who never made art or wanted to, I was attracted to the concept of the curator as a catalyst (as Hans Ulrich-Obrist put it). Now I’m a dealer, which has its own challenges and a dynamism that I don’t think I could ever find in a museum. But I don’t think a museum or a gallery is a way of challenging racial perceptions. I’ve lost my idealism about that along the way. I remember when I was an idealistic lass, I wanted Asian Americans to become more visible in creative and media oriented fields (outside of being local newscasters, we know we are good at that). I believed then that what we needed in our television and internet oriented world were Asian Americans who could become stars in mass media in order to change perceptions in a meaningful way. The attention on Jeremy Lin has done that. The inter-racial, inter-generational, seemingly classlessness of competitive sports has converged upon this one figure, and it’s created all of these new social and political possibilities that we never had before. It’s an exciting time for us. The question is: how long is the Linsanity going to last? How long will it be before he fades from the imagination of the world, and us along with him? How do we make this moment last?


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