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The Museum of Chinese in America in New York. Photo: Jim Henderson/Wikipedia.
The Museum of Chinese in America in New York. Photo: Jim Henderson/Wikipedia.

Museum of Chinese in America Cancels Godzilla Collective Exhibition After Protesting Artists Withdraw

New York’s Museum of Chinese in America has canceled an exhibition of work by pioneering artist collective Godzilla: Asian American Arts Network after nineteen of the group’s members withdrew in protest of what they contend is the museum’s support for a large new jail in Chinatown, where the institution is located. The exhibition, “Godzilla vs. the Art World: 1990–2001,” was to open in May focusing on the efforts of the collective over the 12-year span of its existence, during which it published a newsletter, organized “slide slams,” and sponsored symposiums on Asian American art in an effort to elevate its presence on the national art scene and to foster intergenerational and interdisciplinary collaboration on a more local scale.

Under the city’s current plan, the existing 15-story Manhattan Detention Center would be torn down and replaced with a 29-story edifice in the same location. Multiple neighborhood organizations such as the Chinatown Art Brigade and their allies have campaigned strongly against the new jail on the grounds that its construction will disrupt commercial activity in the area, already decimated by the continuing Covid-19 crisis, and that it imperils the livelihoods of Chinatown’s mostly immigrant elderly residents and small-business owners. Godzilla points to a $35 million concession received by the museum from the city as evidence of “complicit support” of a criminal justice system that disproportionately targets Black and brown citizens, and further says that the museum has not been an active participant in the fight against the new jail.

In a January 28 letter from MOCA provided to Artforum by the dissenting artists of Godzilla, museum president Nancy Yao Maasbach argued that MOCA had consistently and clearly stood against the jail and supplied an additional statement to that effect which she said MOCA would shortly post to its website. Godzilla contended that the information was posted as a hard-to-find PDF and that it was only briefly available on the site, which was soon redesigned. According to the collective, the information did not appear on their new site until Godzilla pressured them to put it up.

“I want to be clear that what MOCA leadership is fighting for is the future of MOCA and the stories of immigrant communities and cultures it collects, cares for, and shares,” wrote MOCA curator Herb Tam in a letter to the artists made available to Artforum by the museum. “Their intentions regarding this are displayed in the daily work they put in to support the staff, build a solid foundation for MOCA, and lead us through uncertain times.”

Exacerbating matters is the recent shuttering of Jing Fong, a historic Chinatown dim sum banquet hall and art-world staple whose landlord, MOCA board member Jonathan Chu, is facing protests from the restaurant’s unionized workers. 

“We cannot, in good conscience, entrust the legacy of Godzilla as an artist activist organization, to a cultural institution whose leadership ignores, and even seeks to silence critical voices from its community,” said the dissenting collective members in a statement explaining their withdrawal from the exhibition.

Update, March 12: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Chu Enterprises evicted Jing Fong; the restaurant’s owner made the official decision to leave.