Nov-Dec 2003/Jan 2004
Last issue in this column we ran an item about the galleries of Hell’s Kitchen and mused that they might indicate a trend for at least some fine art venues to move beyond the confines of established gallery districts such as Soho and Chelsea. Since, we have discovered other fine art venues in unexpected places: in the former rectory of the oldest Catholic church in the city (now the basement of an upscale tea house and espresso bar in Chinatown)…
We discovered The Gallery at SilkRoad Place, 30 Mott Street, quite by accident one recent Saturday night, while strolling through the main commercial thoroughfare of Chinatown, on our way to dinner. In the window of an establishment that seems to have sprung up overnight in the storefront of a building that housed the Rectory of the Church of the Transfiguration a hundred years ago (and which for the thirty years was the site of the popular Fung Wong Bakery Shop), we noticed a poster for “In the Shadow of 9/11: A Chinatown Memorial Exhibition.”
That the show was being presented by the Asian American Arts Centre, a major cultural force in Chinatown, in collaboration with SilkRoad Place, tipped us off that it would be well worth seeing. Still, stepping inside, we were surprised to see am original photo-based work called “WTC Fountain” by the well known installation artist Donald Lipski on the wall right inside the restaurant, Lipski being the kind of artist one normally encounters in museums. Nearby, we also saw a characteristically humanistic group of photographs by Corky Lee, whose exhibition in a local museum we reviewed awhile back. Upstairs, on a mezzanine where the exhibition continued, we were greeted by a man who introduced himself as “Mr. Choy,” one of the owners of the building and the restaurant, and offered to escort us through the exhibition.
In the spacious basement, the main exhibition space at SilkRoad Place, an installation by an artist named Chee Wang Ng symbolized the economic effect that the terrorist attack on the nearby World Trade Center continues to have on the people of Chinatown two years later, effectively epitomizing the show’s title. “In the Shadow of 9/11.” In Ng’s piece, two miniature towers rise out of the center of a large rice-bowl surrounded by memorial candles in red white and blue holders.
As Mr. Choy pointed out, in Chinese culture the rice bowl symbolizes one’s very livelihood, and the proximity of Chinatown to the World Trade Center had a devastating effect on restaurants and other businesses that depend on tourism in general. Chinatown, where wages are generally low and where many jobs were lost, has never fully recovered.
Another powerful work, resembling a contemporary fresco, with the silhouetted figures of a adult and a child poised against a ghostly, fragmented New York sky-line was by an artist named Lambert Fernando, whose father was one of the architects who designed the Twin Towers, according to Mr. Choy. Other powerful piece included a wood block print and elegiac poem by Su-Li Hung, well-known artist/writer in the literati tradition from Taiwan; a calligraphic work by Chieng Chung Li, an 80 year old Chinese artist who spent years in Paris and is famous for combining elements of East and West; a large yet fragile wall piece created with delicately stitched-together book pages created by Katarina Wong, who was so traumatized by the event that she had to “regain her equilibrium.” Mr. Choy says, by engaging in the “fundamental task” of sewing; and an Expressionistic painting of a bereft little girl viewing the destruction of the Towers from the Brooklyn Bridge that, in its own way, was as harrowing as Munch’s “The Scream.”
Although “In the Shadow of 9/11” was organized by Robert Lee of the Asian American Arts Centre and the aforementioned Chee Wang Ng, both gave credit to “Mr. Choy of SilkRoad Place for being a shopkeeper/businessman whose foresight and concern for the whole of Chinatown has enabled this kind of cultural activity to occur.” In fact, Mr. Choy, is a great deal more. As a culturally curious CPA for over two decades, he befriended a great many artists. ranging from the famous traditional Chinese painter C.C. Wang to Donald Lipski, whose piece he acquired for this show.
Knowledgeable and passionate about art, he vows to make the Gallery at SilkRoad a neighborhood cultural hub with future exhibitions, including a posthumous show of work by his dear friend C.C. Wang, who died earlier this year.
"I want Chinatown to be known as a place where people come for more than just a bowl of cheap noodles, I want them to come for culture as well,” he says.
And his enthusiasm seems contagious enough to make that happen.
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