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A new exhibition at the Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College, Understatements: Lost and Found in Asian America, on view from September 28 through January 6, 2023, will explore the evolving layers of identity represented by the term “Asian American.”
Expressing themselves through such mediums as sculpture, painting, video, and paper, the eight artists in Understatements encourage intimate, yet impactful interpretations of their work. The exhibition is the inaugural presentation made possible by The Thomas Chen Family/Crystal Windows $1.1 million endowment to help establish the Queens College School of Arts and support Asian contemporary art at the college.
The show is organized by Herb Tam, curator and director of exhibitions at the Museum of Chinese in America, in collaboration with Godwin-Ternbach co-directors Maria Pio and Louise Weinberg. A public opening reception will take place on Wednesday, September 28, from 6 to 8 pm at the Godwin-Ternbach Museum. For information on campus entry, please email gtmuseum@qc.cuny.edu. Visit www.gtmuseum.org for museum hours, location, and directions to campus.
“We are deeply grateful to the Chen family for making this exhibition possible,” says Queens College President Frank H. Wu. “It blends the mission of the endowment with our mission as educators-to support art that inspires the viewer to consider diversity on a more complex level; to explore the nuances of culture and history that may exist beneath an umbrella term and forge new interpretations of the scope of diversity. It is the first in what we anticipate will be a continuing and productive series of events that explore Asian and Asian American talent and creativity.”
“Bringing together many artists around a central theme-the search for identity-is a powerful way to celebrate contemporary Asian American art,” says Thomas Chen, Crystal Windows chairman and an entrepreneur and philanthropist, who emigrated to the United States from Taiwan in 1982. “I am very excited that this inaugural exhibition supported by me, and my family will spur imaginations and dialogue within the community.” Today, Chen is a major supporter of educational initiatives for immigrants.
In the 1980s and 90s, artists of Asian descent were typically featured in ethnic-specific group shows that addressed biography, family history, and identity politics, increasing visibility for and defining the overall Asian American experience. By contrast, the artists in Understatements-Mika Agari, Emmy Catedral, Xingjian Ding, Kiani Ferris, Megan Mi-Ai Lee, Jeremy Yuto Nakamura, Sharmistha Ray, and Yu-Wen Wu-operate on a more personal scale. Their work comprises humble daily gestures, reflecting the way they individually navigate their cultural history.
The artists in Understatement span backgrounds and disciplines. Mika Agari assembles surprising constellations that are suspended lightly or rest precariously on the ground, suggesting vulnerability. Emmy Catedral draws inspiration from long walks through her Elmhurst, Queens neighborhood. In her video, Dear Shirley, Catedral imagines a dialogue with Hong Kong actress Shirley xx, whose role was cut from Wong Kar Wai’s film Happy Together, interwoven with scenes from a neighborhood walk to someone’s idea of the center of New York. Xingjian Ding paints with deliberate, attentive slowness. In Doom, dabs and longer passages of muted blue, ranging from purple to sky, congeal to form the lower realms of an ice skater. Kiani Ferris uses materials-rice grains, glass work formed from rice molds, and arrangements of kenzan, the spiked forms that keep flower arrangements in place-that nod to her personal history. Megan Mi-Ai Lee examines the symbolic possibilities of common items that seem to have been emptied of all cultural value: house slippers nestled inside each other, subway seats and a story about ponytails, and star-bursting eyelashes in bronze. Jeremy Yuto Nakamura’s postcard-size paintings of landscapes and cityscapes from daily journeys around New York and in his travels focus on scenes that would otherwise go unnoticed. Sharmistha Ray’s Blindspot series represents hours of writing piled upon itself, turning a daily meditative ritual into a mechanism for automatic drawing. Yu-Wen Wu’s Walking V and Walking VII take the form of a hand scroll or accordion book, simultaneously documenting the act of walking and connecting it to storytelling and memory.
Coined in the late 1960s to empower people from different ethnic Asian backgrounds, the term “Asian American” subsequently offered an umbrella for a new culture that centered Asian American points of view. Understatements: Lost and Found in Asian America comes at a time when a disturbing increase in anti-Asian violence has spurred a re-examination of the shared histories, political views, and cultural forms that embody the Asian American identity.
“The tragedy and pain of anti-Asian violence along with the calls for racial justice by the Black Lives Matter movement has reignited an urgent examination of the shared histories, political views, and cultural forms that hold an identity together,” says Tam. “I see Understatements as part of a continuum of exhibitions that seeks to name an evolving set of Asian American positionalities and sensibilities through the work of artists that have a lot to say about how we should see, hear and feel.”
Understatements: Lost and Found in Asian America is an initiative of the Queens College School of Arts and made possible by a generous grant from The Thomas Chen Family/Crystal Windows Endowment. Additional support is provided by the Milton & Sally Avery Arts Foundation, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, Kupferberg Center for the Arts, and Queens College, CUNY.
The Godwin-Ternbach Museum, a part of Queens College’s Kupferberg Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, presents contemporary and historical exhibitions and programs that provide exciting educational opportunities and aesthetic experiences to the college community and residents of Queens, Manhattan, and Long Island. As the only museum in the CUNY system, and the only encyclopedic collection of art and artifacts in the borough housing over 7,000 global objects that date from ancient to modern times, the museum introduces visitors to works they might not otherwise encounter. Virtual and in-person programs complement and interpret the art on view to serve the needs and interests of local and international communities. All exhibitions and programs are free.
Entrepreneur Thomas Chen is a true American success story. Speaking no English and with little money, he immigrated from rural Taiwan to the US in 1982 and worked several menial jobs. Soon however, his drive and ambition led him in 1990 to launch his own very modest manufacturing company, Crystal Window & Door Systems in Queens. Through his hard work and leadership, the company grew, expanded numerous times, and prospered. Today as Chairman, Thomas continues to lead the Crystal family of companies, providing vision and strategic guidance. His business acumen and accomplishments have been spotlighted over the years by national business publications, television news shows, and industry media and organizations. Thomas remains a strong and prominent role model in the Asian-American business community.
Crystal Window & Door Systems has grown from 10 employees in a small Queens commercial garage to one of the top window and door manufacturers in North America. Crystal has nearly one million square feet of production space at five major facilities in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Riverside (CA), and Scranton (PA). The company produces over 500,000 vinyl and aluminum products annually with a workforce of 750 employees across the country. Thomas’ son Steve, President of Crystal, has now taken the reins of the national organization, and directs daily operations.
Early on in his business career, Thomas believed it was important to share the fruits of his company’s success with the community and established The Crystal Foundation for his charitable activities. The Chen Family is supportive of many not-for-profit organizations, with an emphasis primarily on celebrating and preserving Asian culture and art, and educational initiatives for immigrants to the US. Thomas is a founding member of the Taiwanese American Arts Council, which collaborates with the Queens Museum, and supports Asian artists for exhibits there and throughout New York City.
With a love of both art and nature, Thomas established Crystal Park, a 200-acre property in Dutchess County, NY, that is a private outdoor art park and nature preserve. Crystal Park sponsors local and international contemporary artists and exhibits their works along wooded trails for guests and local visitors to enjoy. The latest installation at Crystal Park is a life-size bronze statue in honor of former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, a long-time mentor and friend to Thomas, Steve, and Crystal Windows.
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